The first two weeks of the 2021 Vikings season have felt incredibly familiar in all the worst ways. They lost their first two contests by a grand total of four points. On back-to-back Sunday afternoons, fans were poised to celebrate a thrilling victory only to get punched in their collective jejunums at the last moment. Both games featured a play—Dalvin Cook’s overtime fumble and Greg Joseph’s missed field goal, respectively—that turned out to be the single biggest swing in win probability in the league that week.
As terrible as both losses were, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan over the age of 25 that would rank either defeat in the top 25 worst Vikings losses of their lifetime. I personally found myself involuntarily chuckling at the conclusion of each game. After nearly four decades of Vikings fandom, laughter has become my macabre defense mechanism following particularly gut-wrenching Vikings defeats. These last-minute losses stopped being shocking years ago; now they just feel like listening to familiar tracks from a Greatest Hits album you have already heard a hundred times before.
When you think about it, the Vikings basically do have a Greatest Hits of Heartbreak. The Spotify track list would probably look something like this:
“Graspin’ Defeat (From The Jaws Of Victory)”
“Wide Right (Wide Left Remix)”
“Oh-fer (The Super Bowl Song)”
“Star On The IR”
“PFF’s Lowest Graded Guard”
“(Losing) On The Road Again”
“The QB’s Knees”
“Down To Their Level”
“The Dirty Dozen (Men On The Field)”
“Drowning In A Poole Of Tears”
“Garbage Time” (“Closing Time” cover ft. Kirk Cousins)
“Forty-One Donut, Thirty-Eight Seven”
“Pearson Pushed, Darren Dropped, Gary Goofed”
And thanks to recent iterations of the NFL scheduling formula, the deluxe version of the album features a new bonus track: “Seattle Sadness.” (It sounds kind of like “Summertime Sadness”, but somehow even more grating and depressing.)
For the past three seasons, the Vikings have made the trek to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seahawks. After all three visits, they left singing the blues. With the concert venue changed to US Bank Stadium, will the dulcet tones of the Gjallarhorn finally signal a victory hymn over the Seahawks for the first time in twelve years?
It would be a lot easier to change the tune if Russell Wilson wasn’t still so irritatingly good. A week after chasing Kyler Murray all over the State Farm Stadium like Rocky Balboa training with chickens, the Vikings have to face another diminutive yet impossibly talented quarterback from the NFC West. The Seahawks signal caller has a perfect 7-0 career record against Minnesota. We won’t dig into too much film on Wilson and the Seahawks here for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
- We have seen the Seahawks for three straight years. I think we’re all well aware of what they’re capable of.
- NFL Game Pass still can’t get its head out of its ass, which means all-22 footage has to be passed between writers over VPNs and and shared Google Drive folders like modern-day Prohibition bootleggers.
- There are a ton of people out there that have already broken down the film much better than I could. (I highly recommend the Twitter feeds of Luke Braun and Nick Olson for informative deep dives.)
That said, there are still throws that Wilson makes on a weekly basis that must be seen to be believed, like this one against the Titans:
Nobody throws a better deep ball than Wilson, and the numbers back it up. According to Next Gen Stats, Wilson has completed 162 deep passes (37 more than any other QB) for 5,673 yards (1,278 more than any other QB) and 60 TD (13 more than any other QB) since 2016.
His receiver on that pass, Tyler Lockett, has started the season with equally ridiculous numbers. Lockett already has 278 yards and three touchdowns from twelve receptions, catching 75% of the passes thrown to him despite averaging an insane 17.6 air yards per target.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s the small matter of the very large receiver opposite Lockett, D.K. Metcalf. The man that answers the question “what would it look like if Danielle Hunter played wide receiver?” caught two touchdowns in the 2020 meeting with the Vikings, including the game-winning fourth down score with 15 seconds remaining. The Seahawks offense is basically a big play waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, “a big play waiting to happen” is also an apt description of the Vikings defense through the first two weeks. Despite holding opponents to six of 23 third down conversions, the Vikings are 28th in total defense, due in large part to significant breakdowns before halftime of each game. Minnesota has allowed a whopping 24 points in the last two minutes of first halves alone, which seems almost impossible after only two games. Of the 103 qualifying cornerbacks graded by Pro Football Focus, the Vikings’ top three corners rank 73rd (Patrick Peterson), 95th (Mackensie Alexander), and dead last (Bashaud Breeland). Cameron Dantzler looked like a marked improvement over Breeland in limited action last week, and the second year corner could be in line to see more action on Sunday. But Wilson and his pass catchers lit Dantzler up to the tune of seven receptions on eleven targets for 91 yards and a score last year.
To quote Pete Campbell from Mad Men: not great, Bob!
With so many new pieces on the overhauled Vikings defense, perhaps it was a little unfair to assume that they would immediately jell and snap back into a top-tier unit. There is still reason to believe that they can improve as they get more familiar with one another, even if Sunday’s matchup is extremely difficult. Reinforcements could be on the way as well: Anthony Barr participated in practice on back-to-back days for the first time in over a month, albeit in a limited capacity. Getting Barr back would be nice, but I’m still in a “I’ll believe it when I see it” mindset with him. Now over a year removed from his last game action, Barr feels like the old college buddy that you still invite on guys trips every year, but you never really expect him to show up.
While the Vikings’ defensive outlook might not be all that rosy on Sunday, the Seahawks have plenty to worry about on that side of the ball as well. Seattle allowed a whopping 532 yards of offense in a home loss to the Titans in Week 2, including 212 on the ground. The best way to keep Wilson and the Seattle offense at bay is to keep them on the sidelines, and the Vikings might be able to do that on Sunday. Matthew Coller of Purple Insider had a great film review of how the Vikings utilized a variety of pre-snap motions and formations to keep the Arizona defense guessing for most of the first half. They even had a few successful second and long runs, forcing me to bite my tongue in regards to my usual hatred for those plays. It looks like Klint Kubiak’s play calling is a lot better when they aren’t constantly behind the chains like they were in Week 1—go figure!
Kirk Cousins made the most out of many of Kubiak’s play calls in Arizona. Even the most zealous Cousins detractors had a hard time picking apart his performance last Sunday. His touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson was a thing of beauty, from the pocket awareness to throwing his receiver open on the run just before getting walloped by a defender.
Of course, for as well as the offense played in the opening two quarters, the second half performance wasn’t nearly as great. Only 127 of their 419 total yards came after halftime. But even with Joseph’s missed extra point and field goal last week, one would think that 33 points should win most games for a team coached by Mike Zimmer.
Well, at least that used to be the case. Here is the Vikings’ record under Zimmer when scoring 30 or more points, broken down by year:
It’s indisputable that the defense needs start carrying their weight going forward, even against an offense as explosive as Seattle’s.
It’s also indisputable that recent history is not on the Vikings’ side heading into this game. Wilson and the Seahawks have ripped the Vikings’ hearts out like Mola Ram in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom for nearly a decade. Dalvin Cook hasn’t practiced yet this week, and the fulcrum of the offense probably won’t be 100% if he does play on Sunday. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Seattle will win their eighth straight game in this “rivalry.” (You can’t really call it a rivalry if only one team wins.)
But even the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters a few times. The 2004 Red Sox finally beat the Yankees. One of these days, Charlie Brown is going to actually kick the football that Lucy is holding.
Why can’t it be this Sunday?
With fans back in US Bank Stadium for the first time in 636 days—I will be one of said fans in attendance—I truly believe that the long-overdue homefield advantage could make the difference. The atmosphere should be certifiably insane, especially with the late afternoon start giving tailgaters a few extra hours of revelry before kickoff. If the Vikings can avoid their all-too-familiar pitfalls from the first two weeks and press pause on that Greatest Hits of Heartbreak album, they’re more than capable of preventing the death knell of an 0-3 start.
It’s time for the Vikings to start singing a different tune. Because if they don’t, “Hit The Road Jack” might be their next bonus track.
Vikings 30, Seahawks 27
And now for the rest of my Week 3 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):
Got the layup Thursday night pick right. (Still got the spread and over/under wrong though.) The Panthers are surprisingly 3-0, but may have lost a bunch of stars in the process. All the Davis Mills neck memes on Twitter were a lot more entertaining than the game itself.
BILLS over Football Team
I’m enjoying the Taylor Heinicke mini-renaissance as much as anyone, but Washington’s defense hasn’t been nearly as dominant as everyone expected through the first two weeks. I’ll take the broken tables over the broken doors.
BROWNS over Bears
Justin Fields is probably going to terrorize us for years to come. Hopefully he doesn’t start right away with a road upset in his first career start.
Ravens over LIONS
Jared Goff is now 0-9 without Sean McVay as his head coach. There’s a definite chance of a letdown game after Baltimore finally slayed the Mahomes dragon last week, but I still think that Goff losing streak hits double digits on Sunday.
TITANS over Colts
If the Vikings can’t break their Seattle losing streak on Sunday, I think Indianapolis and Carson Wentz’s glass ankles will give them some company in the “best winless team” conversation.
CHIEFS over Chargers
The Chargers always seem to play KC tough, but there’s no way I’m going to pick the Chiefs to fall to 1-2, especially at home, and especially after the Chargers reverted back to their last-second losing ways last week.
Saints over PATRIOTS
Look—I don’t have a great explanation here after how bad New Orleans looked in Charlotte last week. I just think New England’s offense has been pretty lackluster thus far with Mac Jones. Plus, I have picked mostly favorites the first two weeks and I have a .500 record to show for it. I’m mixing it up just in case the Week 1 Saints reappear on Sunday.
GIANTS over Falcons
We have an early contender for Non-AFC South Most Unwatchable Matchup of the Year! Both of these teams have sucked out loud through the first two weeks, so give me the Giants at home on extra rest.
Bengals over STEELERS
I’m still not sold on the Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger is already banged up. This pick will probably look really stupid after the first three Joe Burrow turnovers, but I’m picking the upset anyway.
Cardinals over JAGUARS
This could be a textbook trap game with a big game against the Rams looming for the Cards, but I’m not sure that Urban Meyer and Jacksonville are capable of setting a trap without it first snapping on their own fingers.
BRONCOS over Jets
My Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 2-0 after the Browns took care of business against Houston. I can’t envision the Jets getting more than about 10 points unless the New York defense or special teams make some big plays.
RAIDERS over Dolphins
Las Vegas looks pretty legit. Of course, this is usually the exact moment when Jon Gruden’s teams lay a big fat egg, and the current four-point spread seems suspiciously low, but I’m picking them anyway.
Buccaneers over RAMS
Packers over 49ERS
Speaking of the Packers, San Francisco has historically dominated Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. But I get the feeling that the calls for more Trey Lance will be getting a little louder after this one.
COWBOYS over Eagles
Death, taxes, and an NFC East prime time matchup. At least there’s the Manning Cast to help distract us now.
Week 3 so far: 1-0
Last week: 10-6
Season so far: 17-16