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Is Sunday a must win game?

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For week four, it’s about as close to a must win as you get for this early in the season

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings meet the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, a hard place for the Vikings to find wins at in recent seasons. It’s an early season test for both teams, and for an early season game, there is a lot at stake for both clubs.

Getting out of Chicago with a win is critical.

On paper, these two teams are almost the ‘Spider Man Pointing At Each Other’ meme—outstanding defenses, nerve wracking kickers, questions surrounding the quarterback, both have identical records of 2-1, and both currently reside behind Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North standings.

It’s hard to say that Sunday is a ‘must win’ game, as there will be 12 games remaining for both teams at the conclusion of Sunday’s action, regardless of the outcome. But let’s consider the ramifications of a loss moving forward.

For one, both teams also have a loss to Green Bay, and sit 0-1 in the division. Losing Sunday for either means 0-2 in the division, against what is considered to be their two biggest rivals for the division title. Yes, yes, Detroit is 2-0-1, but they’re Detroit, you know? I’m not saying they aren’t going to be any good, I’m just saying I want to wait a bit before I declare them a contender. Detroit still has yet to play any division games as well, so I want to wait until they have one or two under their belt before I think they’re legit, although that road win in Philly was really impressive.

And 0-2 in the division is 0-2 in the division, but for the Bears it would also be the double whammy of two home losses. With three of their four remaining division games on the road, it would be hard to get to a .500 record against NFC North teams, and that will loom large as the season draws to a close.

Secondly, 3-1 gives you a much better chance to make the post-season than 2-2 does. Historically, teams that start out the year 3-1 go to the playoffs 63% of the time, while teams that stumble out of the gate 2-2 only make the postseason 36% of the time. Here, look for yourself:

538 Playoff predictor and ProFootballReference.com

If you’re a fan of the 538 Playoff predictor (I am), you don’t like what you see for the Vikings. Right now the Bears have a 40% shot to make the playoffs, while the Vikings sit at 37%. For either, a loss is crippling, and a wound that could very well be mortal, just four weeks into the season. With the Packers sitting at 3-0 (probably 4-0 after tonight’s game), and a two game lead in the division on the Vikings and Bears...yeah that’s just not a hole I want to see the Vikings try and climb out of.

And yeah yeah, 12 games remain after Sunday, but let’s look at the next four for Minnesota after the Bears game. They have the suddenly dangerous New Jersey Giants on the road, the Eagles at home, at Detroit, then a quick turnaround Thursday Night game at home against the Redskins.

The next two games after that? Back to back road games against the Chiefs and Cowboys. An early third win will be critical as the Vikings enter this next stretch of games.

For people who believe it’s still way too early in the year to say the Vikings season will be doomed with a loss, to a large extent you’re right. 12 games is a lot of football, and there are tons of variables that will still be injected into the season that have yet to happen. Injuries will probably occur to a key player on multiple teams, and that can alter the course of an early trajectory. Other teams may need an extra week or two to put everything together and get on a run. The 2017 Vikings are a prime example of both those scenarios, for instance. Two years ago they lost Sam Bradford in week one, then Dalvin Cook in week four, and sat at 2-2 with one loss in the division. If you were like me, a home loss to the Lions on a day when Dalvin Cook tore his ACL was as discouraging a feeling I’ve had with the Vikings mid-season in quite awhile. I mean, just re-read this Emo opening to the Lions SMR after that game:

In a way, there’s almost a sad comfort in being a Vikings fan. At some point, you know the inevitable gut punch is going to come, like an old friend who’s been away from home for awhile. You begin to miss your friend, and think fondly of your friendship. And just when you think that maybe, just maybe, your buddy has left for greener pastures, he comes knocking. Whether it’s a Hail Mary throw, a mind bogglingly dumb penalty, a field goal that goes wide left at the most inopportune time, or one of 312 knee injuries, he’s there, knocking on your door with a smile and a six pack. Just like he has been for the past 57 years. Constant, unyielding, and omnipresent.

LOL get a grip, buddy. And remember how after that game the only glimmer of hope we had amounted to treading water on the life jacket that was the possibility of Sam Bradford returning?

HA! Good times, good times.

Yet the Vikes overcame those injuries and ended up ripping through the league after that, winning eight in a row and 11 of their last 12 to finish up at 13-3, in what became one of the more enjoyable seasons in recent memory.

Still, what happened in 2017 is most definitely the exception, and not the rule. 3-1 will be way better than 2-2, and the Vikings need to go into Soldier Field and come out of there with a win. I don’t care how.

Just win.

Skol Vikings, beat the Bears.