Like a good (I use that term loosely) Rocky movie, the Vikings face the Patriots as a decided underdog. Brett Favre is injured and questionable to start Sunday's game. The Vikings are suffering defensively from the absence of Cedric Griffin. There is no pass rush as teams have found a way to minimize the Vikings' front four. At 2-4, Minnesota trails both Chicago and Green Bay by a game and a half. And now the team is on the road, where they are 0-3, having lost to the Saints, Jets, and Packers.
New England is undefeated at home. They are scoring nearly thirty points a game. Tom Brady has thrown for eleven touchdowns with only four interceptions. Wes Welker is back, as healthy as ever. Deon Branch has replaced Randy Moss quite nicely, having thirteen catches for one hundred thirty-seven yards and a touchdown in two games. The Patriots defense has stopped the run better than Minnesota in its' first six games.
It looks tough for Minnesota to pull off an upset.....
Adrian Peterson is back in 2010. Presently AP is on pace for near 2,000 yards, averaging just short of 5 yards a carry. Peterson is on pace for nearly 50 catches. He has no fumbles to his name in six games. While the Minnesota offense has stalled through the air, they are averaging nearly 137 yards on the ground per game. He looks better than ever.
For Minnesota to pull off an Italian Stallion type effort it will have to rely on Adrian Peterson. That is not to say Minnesota should not throw. On the contrary, New England has surrendered over 280 yards per game through the air, and the Vikings will need to exploit that shortcoming. Hopefully, Randy Moss will be given opportunities to burn his so-recently-former teammates. Favre will almost certainly be at the helm, and he will need a performance closer to 2009 than 2010. But the Vikings' strength so far this year is Peterson. He has totaled 828 yards (running and receiving) in six games, or 138 yards per game.
Minnesota has lost many close games so far this year. An optimist would say that the Vikings were in each game, and could easily be undefeated as opposed to 2-4. A pessimist would say the offense is sputtering through the air, and that we deserve our present record.
One thing is for certain today. If Minnesota pulls off the Rocky-like upset, it will be because of Adrian. Peterson has 157 touches of the ball in the first six games, or more than 26 a game. He may need more today.
Minnesota is desperate, Favre a question mark, and the defense a little suspect. The Vikings need to reach inward and find what has been missing in so many games so far this season. They need a little extra. They need ,,, me?
I will make my first call of the year...
Minnesota 27 New England 24.
We remember. It was a season coming off of one of the harshest losses the Minnesota Vikings had ever suffered in an NFC Championship. Beaten on the road after a decisive win at home in the previous round. Fans who disliked the coach for his lack of playoff success grew. But their was hope by many as the team had a new quarterback who had played very well in getting the team to the NFC Championship.
And then, tragedy struck.
A player would not be available to start the season. It would be a blow to the offense, who had counted on this player for its' success. They would start poorly without him, losing their first two games. Then they would win one they should at home to be 1-2 in the standings. A tough schedule lay ahead.
The 2010 Minnesota Vikings you say?
Or maybe the 2001-02 Vikings. Back then it was Daunte Culpepper, fresh off his successful first year with the team. The much maligned Denny Green had disappointed in the playoffs again. The New York Giants disposed of Minnesota 41-0 at the end. During the following training camp, Korey Stringer died tragically, and the team was scrambling to replace such an important member of the offense.
They started the season by losing 24-13 to Carolina. The Panthers would win only one game the entire year. Next, Minnesota lost 17-10 to Chicago. After a 31-26 win over Tampa Bay, they stood at 1-2. The city was nervous. Things were not clicking like they had in the previous year. And they were right to be nervous. Minnesota would make it to 3-3, and then proceed to lose nine of the last eleven games, to finish at 5-11.
Dennis Green was let go before the end of the year. He had not done enough with the talent he was given. That final year, Minnesota had an exceptionally poor Draft, with Michael Bennnett being the top selection with the 27th pick. Mike Tice replaced Green in the final game, and would go on to a mediocre few years before being let go. Both Green Bay and Chicago had success in those years while Minnesota floundered.
The loss of Sidney Rice just before the season has had an obvious impact on Minnesota. The Vikings are 29th in total offense. Brett Favre, who tore the league up in 2009, has a 60.4 passer rating (that's really low). He has only 597 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games. Despite the number two rusher in the NFL, the offense is just not getting it done.
Brad Childress is a coach walking the plank, so to speak. He has had improved success in regular season each year, but little in the playoffs. Minnesota fans are not happy with just getting there. Childress has been given plenty of talent to obtain that elusive first Super Bowl. Positive drafts have yielded players like Adrian Peterson, Rice, Percy Harvin and much more. Acquisitions, like Favre and Steve Hutchinson, have given the team elite offensive talent. Their are many veterans on the defense who are candidates for All-Pro consideration this year. It is now or never for the coach.
Some are hoping that Childress' trend of improvement every year will also apply to the playoffs. Most fans would concede that the Vikings certainly had the team necessary to win one. The humbling of the Cowboys and the strong effort in New Orleans demonstrated just that. But this year's slow start, or more specifically, the loss to the Dolphins at home, has fans on edge. The Childress haters are convinced we have no chance. The realists see a very tough schedule in the upcoming weeks and more talent on both the Bears and Packers than a true Viking fan could stand. And the optimist correctly assessing available talent, is sure that this is still the strongest team in the NFC North. They remember that this team was a play (or huddle) away from winning the NFC Championship. And they have faith that Brett Favre will begin to return to last year's form.
We did experience 2001. It was not fun. This season's start has been somewhat depressing, given the talent and expectation coming into the opener in New Orleans. If it is to be deja vous all over again, it will probably come at the expense of a head coach. Many would like that. Sacrifice a season to get a new head coach. But what if the next one is Mike Tice? I think we should just start winning again with the same coach.
We will find out soon after the bye week is over.
Thursday is the first game of the NFL season, a prized contest that features the two NFC Championship combatants of last year, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints.
During these summer months there has been talk of the Green Bay Packers suddenly being the cream of the NFC crop. Minnesota fans feel confident that as long as Brett Favre is slinging the ball, there are hopes of a fifth Super Bowl visit. Others think the Dallas Cowboys or maybe the Atlanta Falcons will be this year's NFC representative. Long-shot lovers select teams such as the San Francisco 49ers or the New York Giants. But the reigning NFL Champion is the Saints and that will not change for many more months.
Quarterback Drew Brees is playing at an elite level and right now he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Names like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Marques Colston remind us that the offense of New Orleans is multi-talented. Combine that with a defense that forced over two turnovers a game and you have your champion. They handled the Indianapolis Colts much easier than most thought possible. They are good.
Those opportunists that create the NFL's schedule saw a game worthy of opening night. The dramatic overtime finish was quite possibly a better game than the Super Bowl follow-up. Media played up the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as the impetus for a feel good story. They could have just as easily told the story of Archie Manning and a failed franchise. That was nearly as disastrous.
A good story. But there is a better one.
It would start tomorrow with Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson righting a wrong. Instead of getting attacked every which way, throwing late interceptions, and limping around the field, this story would have Brett leaping into the arms of Greg Camarillo, Visanthe Shiancoe, or Percy Harvin as they catch another TD pass from Favre. It would show Adrian Peterson running over would-be tacklers while holding onto the football. It would star the offensive line protecting their quarterback, and defensive backs making big plays late in the game. The defense would bottle up the Saints for the entire game. And everyone would be healthy.
This story would unfold much like last year's tale. It would find Minnesota once again in the NFC Championship. Only this time they would hold onto the football and end up winning the Super Bowl with Brett Favre as their quarterback.
A tall task given the injury situation of Minnesota as well as the hype surrounding opening night for the Super Bowl Champs. The makings of a really good story.
First glance of the history of the NFC Championship points to two teams: the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. Between the two, they have participated as 26 of the possible 78 entrants. In other words, every three years, we have averaged seeing one of these teams twice.
Next on the list is the combination Rams (Los Angeles - seven, St. Louis - two) with nine. After that, the next highest team is Minnesota. In this the 40th year of the NFC title game, the Vikings will be participating in their 8th conference title game. Our record is presently 3-4, and an additional 1-0 record in NFL Championships. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints will be entering their 2nd conference title game, and as a franchise tied with the Lions for thirty-nine years of conference futility, are 0-1.
After the first four teams the list drop quickly. Both the Redskins and the Eagles have been to six. Next, the Bears and Packers with four visits. This means that as of this year the Vikings have been to twice as many NFC Championships as either Green Bay or Chicago, or as many as both combined. In the conference title game, Green Bay and Chicago are 2-2. The Packers did win two NFL Championships in the first two Super Bowl years.
It has been a long time since the Vikings have won the conference championship. At one point we were 4-1 if you include 1969. But we have lost the last three times, including the longest conference game on record, the dreaded overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It has been hard to return to the Super Bowl since we did it four times in less than ten years under Bud Grant.
In 2010 we now travel to New Orleans to play the Saints. Emotions are high on both sides as each team blew out their opponent to get here. Minnesota is filled with a long history of getting to this game. The Saints are relatively new to this world. New Orleans comes in the home-favorite, looking for their first Super Bowl visit. Minnesota enters looking for their first Super Bowl win.
And the 40th NFC Championship will be played this Sunday in the Superdome, home of 40-year old Brett Favre's only Super Bowl win (and the Packers only since 1967).
A topsy-turvy Week 16 leaves NFC fans wondering. Philadelphia is on a roll, the Cowboys hot, and the playoff teams determined. Tonight's game versus Chicago means a whole lot more to all the teams than at week's beginning...
New Orleans is still the one seed. But they will travel to Carolina. The Panthers trounced the Giants in their last game in their stadium 41-9, pounded Minnesota the week before. I think most people will pick Carolina to win. The Saints are reeling, and only former-Redskins' kicker Suisham missed chip-shot has them still the one seed.
Minnesota is the two seed. Wins over the Bears tonight, and at home against the Giants will lock the two seed, and probably give them an improbable one seed. Can they right the ship in the cold of Chicago? Will New York mail it in next week?
Philadelphia is the three seed, the hottest team in the NFL. They beat us last year in the playoffs in the Dome. They have Brian Westbrook back, DeSean Jackson to go with rookie sensation Maclin. Donovan McNabb is on fire. The defense is outstanding. Most talking-heads have them now winning the NFC playoffs, but they may have to do it on the road.
Arizona is settled in the 4th spot, though they could rise much further. They play at 3:00, after the other games will decide if theirs' is important or not. Whatever happens, they will play at home at least once. Who knows which Cardinals team will show, but they have ultra-talent in Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Beanie Wells gives them two decent backs. Their defense is opportunistic.
Dallas has it all in their own hands. They can stop the Eagles and take the division. Tony Romo is hot, Miles Austin gives them a go-to receiver. The defense is improving rapidly. The big game is in Dallas, so the Cowboys may just pull it out. Easy to pick them, but do not forget they have not won a playoff game in more than a decade.
Green Bay is also ready. Ryan Grant is better than last year, Aaron Rodgers as productive as Drew Brees. The 3-4 defense is suspect, but the offense so good they can get away with suspect (just like the Saints). In fact, if they play New Orleans in the playoffs, it might be a 50-49 game.
Minnesota is worried. They have stumbled of late, and now must win on the road to keep home field for divisional round. Brett Favre and Childress are fighting, Percy Harvin has headaches, and the defense has looked Saints-like at times. But this is the Bears, they are hurting. Matt Forte has been stymied, Jay Cutler not the answer. It will not be easy, but it should not be hard, either.
I guess we will learn a lot tonight. Who are we?
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