Xavier Rhodes stood on a chair in the locker room, organizing the Vikings’ secondary. Andrew Sendejo yelled for a camera. He forgot what that means in 2017.
Suddenly a bank of mini-cams was training lenses on a photographer taking a picture of players taking phone selfies. The Vikings’ revolution will be recorded redundantly, frame-by-frame.
With a 34-7 victory over Cincinnati at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, the Vikings have staged a coup in the NFC North, which has historically served as a party vehicle for the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings have won the division two of the past three seasons and wrapped up this title with two games remaining while playing their backup quarterback.
“I don’t know if it’s exceeding my expectations because I expect to win every game,” Mike Zimmer said. “But it’s pretty darn good.”
Sendejo put it more succinctly, using his best Jon Snow impersonation to scream, “Kings of The North!”
Having ensured that their first playoff game will be played at home, the Vikings quickly adopted winning the NFC’s No. 1 seed as their goal. “Absolutely,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “Now that we’re in, we’ve got to keep winning. We’ve got to win next week. We’ve got that No. 1 seed in our sights.”
Let us not waste time on the Bengals. Let us instead speak of professional football — specifically The Frostbite Bowl scheduled for Minneapolis in February.
What began as a hope and grew into a possibility is moving somewhere in the vicinity of becoming a probability. The Vikings may be the team most likely to represent the loaded NFC in the Super Bowl.
They are No. 2 in the current seedings. The only team ahead of them, Philadelphia, beat a bad Giants team 34-29 on Sunday, in Nick Foles’ first start at quarterback since Carson Wentz’s injury.
To secure the No. 1 seed, the Vikings have to win at Green Bay and at home against the Bears (think “Bengals West”), and have the Eagles lose to both Oakland and Dallas.
Even as the No. 2 seed, the Vikings may become the NFC favorites unless Foles looks as impressive in late December as Wentz did all season, which is unlikely.
In the strange way of team sports, the most important event of the month for the Vikings may have occurred as they were grumbling following a loss to Carolina in Charlotte. A couple of hours later, Wentz tore his ACL. The Vikings may have gained much more than they lost that day.
Are they now the favorites? Are they the NFC’s best team?
Home-field advantage may mean more this season than most. U.S. Bank Stadium is remarkably loud. The Saints in the Drew Brees years have been markedly better at home than on the road. The Eagles are 6-0 at home this season; the Panthers are 5-2.
Playing at home could be vital for a Vikings team lacking recent postseason success and breaking in a quarterback who has never played in an NFL playoff game.
The second question requires guesswork. The Vikings have won nine of their past 10 games, but they aren’t the only surging team in the conference.
The Vikings dominated the Saints on opening night, but New Orleans was trying to figure out how to use Adrian Peterson and breaking in a new defense. With Peterson gone, the Saints have the best running back combination in team history in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and their defense has become a force.
New Orleans has won 10 of its past 12 games and features a quarterback and coach who have won a Super Bowl together.
The Vikings weren’t ready to compare themselves to potential future playoff opponents. They were wearing championship hats.
“This is uncharted territory for me,” Keenum said. “I don’t take it lightly.”
“It was the first box we wanted to check,” Thielen said. “We’re going to enjoy it for a little bit, and then check some more.”