On Sunday afternoon, the Vikings will suit up in Atlanta’s new $1.6 billion palace in search of their 10th win, behind a quarterback they signed to back up the quarterback they traded for after their first-round pick got hurt.
Nine-hundred and twenty-seven miles north, the Green Bay Packers — they of the charmed quarter-century of quarterback play — will take to Lambeau Field trying to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive, behind Brett Hundley, the backup QB whom coach Mike McCarthy has staunchly defended since Aaron Rodgers broke his right collarbone at U.S. Bank Stadium on Oct. 15.
Since the Packers’ renaissance began with Brett Favre in 1992, there’s perhaps been nothing more galling to Vikings fans about the team they love to hate than its consistency at the game’s most important position. After Favre’s 16 seasons produced three NFL MVP awards, two Super Bowl trips and one title, the Packers turned to Rodgers, who’s won two regular-season MVPs and hoisted a Lombardi Trophy of his own.
But while the Packers continue to see how the other half lives while hoping for a late-season Rodgers return, the Vikings are steamrolling toward the playoffs with what’s become something of their own quarterback trademark: resourcefulness.
Injury misfortune, bad decisions and an occasional dose of stubbornness have largely left the Vikings without a mainstay at the quarterback position over the past 25 years, when 14 different players have led the team in passing yards.
In that time, though, only four teams — the Packers, Patriots, Steelers and Colts — have qualified for the playoffs in more seasons than the Vikings, who are tied with the Broncos, Cowboys and Steelers with 13 postseason appearances in the past 25 years.
In just five of those seasons — 1997, 2000, 2004, 2012 and 2015 — did the Vikings have a quarterback they drafted starting the majority of their games.
The 2017 team won’t become the sixth such squad, as it looks for its 10th win with Case Keenum seeking to continue the latest great act of impromptu quarterbacking in Vikings history.
The 29-year-old was named the NFC offensive player of the month this week, after throwing for 866 yards and seven touchdowns against two interceptions during four November wins. He’s the fifth QB in franchise history to win a Player of the Month Award; only one of the previous four (Daunte Culpepper) was drafted by the team.
Dennis Green made eight playoff appearances with seven different starters (Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George and Culpepper). The Vikings drafted two of them.
The 2008 Vikings turned to Gus Frerotte when Tarvaris Jackson was injured, and the 2009 Vikings came an eyelash from the Super Bowl by signing Favre — the patron saint of Packers quarterbacking stability himself.
For all the Vikings’ ability to scrounge up successful quarterback play, they’ve rarely reaped perhaps the biggest benefit of a mainstay at the position: deep playoff runs. Their 13 playoff trips have produced just 19 total games (six of them wins), while Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have played a combined 143 playoff games in that time, with 17 conference championships and nine Super Bowl titles.
The Vikings have lost two overtime conference title games with quarterbacks they signed from other teams in that time, and probably should have gone to the Super Bowl in both cases (1998 with Cunningham and 2009 with Favre).
Having a top-flight quarterback, though, typically means more occasions when that player can elevate his team to the next round. More games with an elite QB means a greater likelihood that eventually a team will break through the malaise of bad luck and botched opportunities (ask Peyton Manning about that one).
Still, that the Vikings have been able to put themselves in the postseason so consistently over the past 25 years speaks to the resourcefulness they’ve shown when their plans for a homegrown quarterback haven’t materialized.
The nine other teams to make a dozen or more playoffs appearances since 1992 have consistently fielded the following names: Favre, Rodgers, Bledsoe, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Luck, Elway, Aikman, Romo, McNabb, Young, Kaepernick and Wilson.
And then there are the Vikings, with a list that’s certainly less decorated but is in many ways unique in modern NFL history.
Keenum figures to be the next name on that list. Perhaps, in a year where up is down and down is up across the NFC, he’ll be the one who can finally put the Vikings over the top.
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @GoesslingStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org