FROM OUR BLOGS: SOUHAN ON SPORTS Jim Souhan
By the transitive theory of playoff football, the Vikings may not be that far from being good enough to contend for a championship.
They should have beaten Seattle, which made a strong second-half comeback against Carolina, which whipped Arizona to advance to the Super Bowl.
Carolina blew out the Cardinals as quarterback Carson Palmer had an erratic game.
So how close are the Vikings?
They should have beaten Seattle. If they had, they would have played at Arizona. I think they would have won that game, considering how poorly Palmer played in the two playoff games. The Vikings bring even more pressure than Carolina and probably would have created turnovers similarly.
That would have led to the Vikings playing at Carolina in the title game. I think Carolina wins that game. The Panthers are easily the best team in football this year. They're 17-1. Their only loss was in an emotional divisional matchup at Atlanta late in the season. They have one of the NFL's two best defenses and the best quarterback at the moment. Cam Newton should be the NFL MVP.
They also play well at home on turf that seems to create problems for visiting teams.
There's no reason to think the Vikings would have won an NFC title game at Carolina this year, but there are many reasons to think they would have given Carolina a much tougher game than Arizona.
Teddy Bridgewater's primary fault these days — his cautiousness — is also his greatest strength. He rarely turns the ball over. He would not have given the Panthers a chance at a feeding frenzy as we saw Sunday.
The Cardinals' David Johnson could have been a bigger factor in the game, had the score remained close. He's an excellent, powerful back. Adrian Peterson likely could have produced a solid performance against Carolina, although Johnson is a much better receiver than Peterson.
The Vikings' defense played very well against Seattle's resurgent offense in the playoffs, while using players to spy on Russell Wilson. That approach likely would have slowed down Carolina's offense, although Newton is bound to make a certain number of big plays every game.
Knowing what we know now, I think Carolina would have beaten the Vikings something like 24-16. I think it would have been a game.
Read Jim Souhan's blog at startribune.com/Souhan_on_Sports.