It’s 2017, Week 1.
Sam Bradford is leading the charge out of the gate in the season opener. They end up thrashing the New Orleans Satins 29-19. It’s a brutal game.
It’s a brutal game.
In the week after the season opener, Bradford develops soreness in an already busted up and strung together knee. As a game time-decision, Bradford warms up the next week at Pittsburgh, but he’s just hobbling around out there.
The team knows his injury history, and in an effort of (what would be fruitless) injury management, the ball is turned over to backup QB Case Keenum.
In the weeks to come, the team would be Keenum’s as well.
The Minnesota Vikings are down to their 3rd and 4th string QBs in Keenum and Ryan Quigley (that’s a name). After a tough opening game in Pittsburgh, Keenum responds well enough against Tampa, for a week anyway before a demoralizing loss at home against Detroit.
He’s 1-2 in his first 3 games, in charge of a 2-2 team at week 4.
What would follow reminds me a lot of the 2023 Vikings. The team went on an absolute tear after Keenum and WR Stefon Diggs developed a chemistry that would lead to the most Minneapolis of Miracles.
The team jumped from 2-2 to 10-2, had the state of Minnesota rocking, and any opposition knows it would be a tough game. Humbled by a great Carolina team on the road in week 14, the Vikings wouldn’t drop another one until the NFC Championship game.
Starter gets injured. Backup gets injured not long after. The Vikings are down to their 3rd string... Sound familiar? Even if it is a similar tale, there are some main differences that must be acknowledged when comparing the two seasons.
Keenum and Dobbs are two very different styles of QB - Dobbs more mobile, Keenum more of a pocket passer. Keenum had the luxury of knowing the playbook quite well - he signed the prior spring, and had a whole offseason as a Viking.
Another key difference is the immediacy of the impact each had. It took Keenum a couple games to get fully up to speed, whereas Dobbs’ impact was felt immediatley after his first couple of drives.
Also, the Vikings were less incentivized to have Keenum be mobile as those Vikings had a better run game (Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon, a rookie Dalvin Cook) than the 2023 squad.
That 2017 Vikings squad was also largely carried by its defense with an eventual 5 pro bowlers on the roster, including Xavier Rhodes, who also earned 1st team All Pro honors.
While the defense for the 2023 Vikings is coming into better form, I have to give the edge to 2017’s defensive group. Defense was more that team’s specialty than this year’s group.
Although the run game was at least competent in 2017 - sorry Alexander Mattison - both teams were completely built around their passing attack.
Keenum was throwing to an unbelievable combo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Dobbs will be throwing to an also unbelievable Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison. The constant here is absolute god-tier receiving talent in Minnesota - at least the team sets up their backups with unreal weapons.
Another similarity is a relatively tough early season schedule and accordingly slow start. 3-2 is quite a bit different than 1-4, but the same quarterback hysteria was also running rampant in 2017 during those first weeks.
2017’s team faced off against 2 playoff teams to open the season. The schedule got a bit easier after that, but Keenum and company dropped a bad one to Detroit and squeaked one out against a bad Bears team. There wasn’t much positive momentum and many fans were complaining about the direction of the team 5 weeks into the season - sounds a lot like 2023.
Then the teams started to win. 2017’s streak started in week 5 and would see 8 straight wins. 2023’s streak is currently at 5 and started in week 6. It’s really hard not to get a sense of deja vu there.
The middle weeks of each season were particularly light on schedule difficulty. During that 2017 mid-season streak, only 2 of the 8 wins came against eventual playoff teams.
In 2023 at least one of the wins will have come against a playoff bound squad (the San Fransisco 49ers). It is also very possible the Saints may end up stumbling into the playoffs. It’s very possible the Vikings enter the bye at 8-4 on the heels of a 7 game win streak given games against Denver and Chicago.
Also, one other funny thing concerning the defense: Anthony Barr was on that 2017 team, as was Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter. Barr and Smith were eventually pro-bowlers that season. It is hard not to see Hunter as a likely pro-bowler this year.
In his first two games Keenum went 1-1, threw the ball 70 times for 45 receptions, 536 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. He took 2 sacks (-21 yards) and held a passer rating of 101.8. Keenum rushed 6 times for 18 yards (3.0 Y/A).
In Dobbs first two games, he went 2-0, threw the ball 64 times for 43 receptions, 426 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. He has taken 4 sacks (-17 yards and a safety), given up a fumble, and held a passer rating of 101.4. Dobbs has rushed 15 times for 110 yards (7.3 Y/A) and 2 TDs.
While we all know Dobbs is better at rushing the ball, it is eerie seeing how similar these two performed over their first two games. Virtually the same passing volume and percentage, the same TD/INT ratio, and the same passer rating.
Obviously Dobbs has run more than Keenum, but Keenum did pass for significantly more yardage... I’m sure Dobbs would have had more yardage had Jefferson been in the lineup, but that would have likely limited the likelihood of scrambling/rushing attempts on any given play. Still, two very similar performances.
The Bottom Line
While there are a ton of similarities between Keenum/Dobbs and the 2017/2023 teams, what we can’t be sure of is it will end in a similar fashion. Technically, 13 wins is still on the table, but the 9-10-11 win range is much more likely for this year’s team with a wildcard spot instead of a division title.
That answer though, is up to the football gods... But what do you think? Are you seeing any similarities between the two, and where do you think that will lead?