The Vikings and Eagles will get some primetime exposure tonight on Monday Night Football that will likely turn one of them into early NFC post-season favorites.
With the NFC West teams having taken a step backward this season (Rams, Cards) or at least last weekend (49ers), the Vikings cruising past the Packers and the Saints falling to the Bucs, the winner of tonight’s game will likely become a popular alternative to the Bucs as the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles managed to make the playoffs last season and returned this season healthier and with a slightly improved roster. The Vikings meanwhile attracted a little buzz as a potential playoff team whose new coaching staff and scheme may be just the ticket, and that got more fuel with a convincing win over the Packers to start the season.
The Vikings will remain atop the NFC North win or lose tonight, based on tiebreakers, but a win would not only help solidify them as favorites to win the division, but also vault them into the top rankings in the NFC alongside the Buccaneers. A win tonight would give the Vikings wins over two of the preseason division crown favorites in Green Bay and Philadelphia, which alongside a 2-0 record, would give the Vikings the advantage in key tiebreakers when it comes to post-season seeding. But more than that, starting the season 2-0 against two NFC playoff-caliber teams would show that the Vikings belong as an early conference favorite.
An Eagles victory would also get them into the discussion of early NFC favorites, especially as their competition for the NFC East crown is diminished with Dallas losing Dak Prescott for several weeks, and Washington and the Giants unlikely to contend. But their claim may not be a strong as the Vikings’ should they prevail, as their only other victory was a close one against the Lions. A win would certainly help them, as does an easier schedule, but perhaps not to the extent a Vikings’ win would help them to early NFC Super Bowl contender status.
Too Early to Talk About NFC Super Bowl Contenders
Of course week two is too early to talk seriously about which teams will contend for the Super Bowl, particularly less proven teams like the Vikings and Eagles. It’s a long season, injuries happen, and teams that look strong out of the gate can eventually fold as the season wears on- just look at the Cardinals last season.
But on the other hand, with many of the preseason favorites in the NFC off to a slow start, and many returning with lesser rosters than last season, just which teams will contend in the NFC is a legitimate one.
For the Vikings, there have been more question marks than answers going into the season. What difference will the new regime make? What kind of head coach will Kevin O’Connell be? The Vikings offense seems loaded at the skill positions, but how far can it go with Kirk Cousins and an unproven offensive line? Defensively the roster has improved with Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter in the lineup, and they have some well-known but older players in the secondary with Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson, but how well can they hold up? The Vikings’ defense has been the weak link the past couple seasons, and now they’re moving to a Fangio-style 3-4. Will that work? Will the defense improve enough to make them contenders?
Week one against the Packers began to answer some of those questions, but another strong showing against the Eagles on the road will help answer more of them.
If the Vikings are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, this is a game they can and should win. A loss would be far from fatal to their playoff chances, but a win would generate a lot of buzz as an early favorite alongside the Bucs to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
This will be a legitimate test for the Vikings, and particularly the Vikings defense. I have mixed feelings about which team will come out on top, but if the Vikings can win the turnover battle (and I like their chances) that may prove the difference.