The Vikings enter the playoffs having barely improved their odds to win the Super Bowl prior to the start of the season. At that time, they were 36-1 long shots to win it all, with a 9.5 over/under win total. Five months and 13 wins later, they’re 35-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl.
The prevailing view is that the Vikings may beat the Giants this weekend, but beating the 49ers, Eagles, or Cowboys isn’t likely- or the AFC representative in the Super Bowl. After all, the Vikings were beaten soundly by both the Cowboys and Eagles, and the 49ers may be the best team in the NFC right now. And any look into efficiency metrics for the Vikings isn’t encouraging.
But the favorites don’t always win and some pundits are beginning to say that the NFC could be more wide open than previously thought. Every team has flaws, every team has been beaten at least three times this season, and any given Sunday rules apply.
The Vikings are a team this season that if they can keep it close, they can beat any team. They haven’t always done so, but there are circumstances with the Eagles and Cowboys losses that would be unlikely to be repeated should they face either team in the playoffs. The Eagles surprised the Vikings with man coverage they weren’t ready for week two, which was also un-scouted, and the Cowboys game was simply a let-down game after the big win over the Bills the previous week- capping a 7-game winning streak.
In any case, let’s look at how the Vikings might navigate through the next four games and achieve that long-awaited championship.
Wild Card Round: Beat the Giants
I’m not going to get into too much detail on each game plan but beating the Giants would be the easiest task on the road to hoisting the Lombardi trophy for the Vikings. They beat them once a few weeks ago, and no reason they can’t do it again. As I’ve mentioned in other pieces, no home playoff team with a +2 PFF team grade over their opponent has lost in the last five postseasons. The Vikings are the home team and have a +24 PFF team grade advantage over the Giants, who have the worst PFF team grade of any playoff team in the PFF era.
Secondly, the Giants’ Daniel Jones is starting his first playoff game against a QB with previous playoff experience. QBs in that situation are 14-35-1 against the spread and the Vikings are also 3-point favorites.
Divisional Round: Beat the 49ers
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the 49ers will beat the Seahawks this weekend, which means the Vikings would travel to Santa Clara for the divisional round if they beat the Giants. That said, the forecast is for rain on game day - and the 49ers managed to lose to the Bears week one in rainy conditions, so weather could be an equalizer that benefits the Seahawks. Should that upset happen, the Vikings would host another playoff game. Not counting on that, however.
The prospect of the Vikings facing the 49ers again in the playoffs brings back memories of the beat-down in the trenches the 9ers gave the Vikings in 2019 en route to a 27-10 victory.
But this Vikings team is a better matchup in the trenches against the 49ers. The 49ers may have Nick Bosa, but the Vikings now have Christian Darrisaw. And while it would be better to have Brian O’Neill at right tackle, Oli Udoh has given up just 2 hurries in the two games he took over for O’Neill. He’s a prototypical tackle in every respect, and maybe new OL coach Chris Kuper has been able to develop him and eliminate the inconsistency and miscues that have plagued him in previous years. The interior line in 2019 featured a bad Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Josh Kline. This time around Bradbury/Reed, Cleveland and Ingram may be a little better. And the 49ers no longer have DeForrest Buckner.
Defensively, the Vikings have a stout front with better interior defenders in Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips and Khyiris Tonga. They also have Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter off the edges. The 49ers interior offensive line is not as good as it was in 2019.
And then there is 49ers QB Brock Purdy. Rookie. Last player drafted in 2022. No team has ever made it to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback. Purdy has played well, but how long will that last? A bad game against the Vikings and the Vikings could advance. Purdy hasn’t been a wunderkind either. He’s played within himself, with minimal requirements and a good team around him. Presenting him with un-scouted looks and lots of moving pieces could unsettle him, and turnovers would make it worse. The 49ers have lost every game this season in which they’ve had 2 or more turnovers.
But let’s also talk about the 49ers defense. Yes, they’re the highest rated, but also one of the worst best-rated defenses in many years by DVOA. They also had the second easiest schedule by DVOA. The key is if the Vikings offensive line can protect Kirk Cousins reasonably well, and the run game can at least be a viable distraction, the 49ers secondary ranks 27th against deep passes this year, and 30th against WR3 and WR4 this year by DVOA. Maybe KJ Osborn and a surprise from Jalen Nailor could catch the 49ers defense off-guard. Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson will get their touches too.
Bottom line, if the Vikings can generate a couple takeaways, hit a couple deep shots offensively, rattle Brock Purdy, and not make many mistakes of their own, they could beat the 49ers and move on.
The Eagles will be the home team with a greater than 2-point PFF team grade than either the Cowboys or Bucs, so I’ll go with recent precedent again and assume the Eagles win their divisional round matchup and host the NFC Championship. If for some reason they don’t, that would mean the Vikings would host the NFC Championship against either the Bucs or Cowboys, should they win their divisional round game. But I’m not counting on that either, as I’ll assume the favorite Eagles win.
This would be a rematch of the Vikings week two game in Philadelphia, which didn’t go so well for the Vikings. On the positive side, the Vikings defense held the Eagles scoreless in the second half. The only problem was the first half, and the fact that the Vikings didn’t score in the second half either. The real issue was the coverage surprise the Vikings got from the Eagles, which they weren’t prepared for. That led to interceptions and a poor offensive showing that’s unlikely to be repeated as the Vikings have since faced the same coverage in multiple games and have been able to have success against it. The Vikings also now have TJ Hockenson, while the Eagles will be without a couple starting defenders from week two.
The Eagles have not been playing as well lately, and Jalen Hurts has been, well, hurt. He played week 18 against the Giants because they needed the win to clinch the top seed, but the game plan was limited and his injured shoulder was still sore. That could impact his performance in the playoffs and perhaps the Eagles gameplan as well. Using Hurts on designed runs may not be as big a part of the gameplan as it was earlier in the season, and Hurts’ throwing ability could be impacted as well. We’ll see.
Also compared to week two, the Vikings will be more aware of AJ Brown. It was less clear in week two what kind of impact Brown would have on the Eagles offense, but those questions have been answered- Brown is Hurts’ go-to receiver, so limiting his production will be key. The Vikings are also better acclimated to their scheme and the addition of Duke Shelley is a bonus too compared to week two.
Even with some nice additions for the Vikings, and a couple losses for the Eagles, along with more experience for the Vikings in their new schemes, this would likely be a tough game. The Eagles are a pretty complete team without a lot of holes in their roster. But They’re also prone to be stagnant at times. Keeping them off-balanced, generating some turnovers, and making some key plays could be enough to get the Vikings to the final round.
Super Bowl: Kansas City Chiefs
It’s anybody’s guess who’s going to make it to the Super Bowl from the AFC, but I like the Chiefs, Bengals, and Bills in that order. The Chiefs are the top-seed, so they have home-field advantage unless they play the Bills in the AFC Championship, in which case it will be at a neutral field.
Should the Vikings make it to the Super Bowl and face the Chiefs, at first glance it doesn’t look like a great matchup. The Chiefs top offense vs. the Vikings near-worst defense. And that’s true enough. But the thing about the Chiefs is that every third game or so, Patrick Mahomes/Chiefs don’t have a good game. They don’t always lose those games, but sometimes they do. The Chiefs lost to the Colts week 3. The Bills week 6. They won in OT against the Titans week 9. Won a close game against the Chargers week 11. Lost to the Bengals week 13. Went to OT against the Texans week 15. Won a close one against the Broncos week 17. So, when the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes are at the top of their game, they’re tough to beat. But when they’re not, they can lose just like any other team.
The Chiefs lost to the Colts and went to OT against the Texans and Broncos- three of the worst teams in the league this year. They also had a total of ten one-score games this season- only one less than the Vikings. They went 7-3 in them. The difference with the Chiefs is that they won all their more-than-one-score games, while the Vikings lost most of them. The Chiefs also had the 3rd easiest schedule this season by DVOA.
But if the Vikings could manage to keep the game close, as has been done ten times against the Chiefs this season, it would make a fitting end for this Vikings season for them to pull out a close game to win the Super Bowl.
Among the longer shots to win the Super Bowl, which team has the best value odds? (i.e. team that has a better chance to win the Super Bowl than the odds suggest)
This poll is closed
Vikings at 35-1
Buccaneers at 20-1
Giants at 66-1
Seahawks at 75-1
Ravens at 40-1
Chargers at 22-1
Jaguars at 40-1
Dolphins at 60-1
Cowboys at 14-1