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Is Sunday ‘do or die’ for the Vikings?

I’m going back and forth on this one.

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

After a shaky start that had fans concerned, the Minnesota Vikings seem to have found a small groove with a modest two game winning streak. Yet after six games and a 3-2-1 record, I’m still not sure what to make of this team. Hall of Fame coach (and Mike Zimmer mentor) Bill Parcells has famously said ‘you are what your record says you are’, and that usually gets to the heart of the matter for most teams in the NFL.

For the Vikings this year, I don’t know if that phrase applies yet or not. I mean it does, but it kinda doesn’t, because they have been as schizophrenic a team as there is in the NFL so far in 2018. They beat the defending Super Bowl champion on the road, but lost to a bad Bills team with a bad rookie QB at home. They vomit up yards and points on defense against Buffalo, Green Bay and Los Angeles, but they pretty much shut down the Eagles, Cardinals, and 49ers. So how they play Sunday against the Jets should give us an idea of what we’re dealing with from here on out.

‘But Ted’, you say, ‘it’s just the Jets. How is this the barometer to determine how the season will turn out?’

Maybe ‘do or die’ from the title is a bit dramatic of a phrase, as there’s plenty of football left after the Jets game, win or lose. And if you believe 538’s projections, the Vikings have a 57% chance to make the playoffs right now, and a 43% chance to win the division.

So things are probably a little better than I personally think they are.

Yet...this is a game that historically has been a tough one for the Vikings to overcome—outside, on the road, and it’s against an opponent they’ve never beaten as the visiting team. Ever, in franchise history. A loss here doesn’t doom the season, but it more than likely confirms that the Vikings as a serious Super Bowl contender are probably gone with the wind, barring a dramatic turnaround.

Yes, yes, I know what happened in the 1980’s or whatever doesn’t apply to today, and under Mike Zimmer the Vikings have really slayed a lot of the underachieving demons this team was generally known for, like winning outside on the road, for example.

Even though the Vikings were 6-2 as they headed to the bye last year, we really weren’t sure what to make of them yet. Well, at least I wasn’t quite sure. They had defeated one good team (New Orleans), lost to another (PIttsburgh), and had beaten a slew of mediocre to bad teams (the Green Bay win was the famous ‘Rodgers walks into A Barr game, and Brett Hundley took over). They were working with a backfield by committee and essentially a third string QB as well, so the vibe that team was giving off was a little different than the one the 2018 team currently has.

But the game that made me think Minnesota had something going last year was their first game out of the bye, against, ironically enough, the Kirk Cousins-led Washington Redskins. At the time the ‘Skins were 4-4, playing at home, and very much in the discussion for a playoff spot. Minnesota’s historical performance in Washington is really up (Toby Gerhart goes HAM after AP had his knee shredded game in 2011) and down (Robert Griffith III is still running from 2012, Sam Bradford keeps getting sacked on the final drive from 2016). The Vikings took it to Washington early, opening up a 35-17 lead, and then managed to hold on as turnovers made the game closer than it should have. The Vikings managed to fight through that second half adversity, went on a game clinching drive in the fourth quarter, and won a big game.

Sunday’s game has a similar feel for me. The Jets are 3-3, and rookie QB Sam Darnold looks like he’s a legit NFL starter so far. They’re holding their own in the AFC New England Division, and a win really gives them momentum heading into two big road games against the Bears and Dolphins.

A convincing win by the Vikings and I think Minnesota is firmly back from the early season ups and downs, and will be riding a three game winning streak as they go home to face New Orleans and Detroit before their bye week.

A loss? 3-3-1 probably means they’ll need to go 7-2 to get to 10-5-1 and assure themselves of a playoff spot and a home wildcard game. Would you have faith a 3-3-1 team with losses to two rookie QB’s could win seven of their last nine?

I’m not sure I do.