The Vikings can win their division for the first time since Brett Favre arrived to save the day and sing “Pants on the Ground” in the locker room.
They have a chance to prove to their big brother that the fight is no longer one-sided. And they can continue to gain steam barreling toward the postseason.
And yet some Vikings fans sheepishly hope they lose on Sunday night?
Talk about a defeatist attitude.
Oh, the logic in their argument makes some sense on the surface. Lose to Green Bay in the finale and the Vikings likely would play at Washington instead of playing host to Seattle in the playoff opener next week.
The theory being, the two-time defending NFC champion represents a more formidable obstacle than an NFC East champ that will be no better than 9-7, and so the Vikings would be better off losing to Green Bay and not winning the division.
That’s a milquetoast train of thought. Besides, the NFL rarely follows conventional wisdom. Careful what you wish for.
Are the Seahawks better than Washington? Most people outside the nation’s capital probably would say yes.
And, yes, the Seahawks thumped the Vikings so convincingly here in early December that a mercy rule would have been a kind gesture.
But all that guarantees nothing. Doesn’t mean the Vikings would even be favored to win at Washington. Or that they can’t possibly beat the Seahawks in a home playoff game.
Whatever the outcome Sunday, the Vikings aren’t drawing Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The positives gained from being division champs and a home playoff game trump any matchup scenario.
Vikings fans provided the best home-field advantage in two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday night against the New York Giants. The place was rocking.
It would be foolish to not want the comfort of that environment with the volume and venom turned up even higher for a playoff game.
Teams with championship aspirations don’t dodge. They prove.
They don’t really care who they play because any path taken in the postseason will be taxing. It’s a waste of energy worrying about which opponent poses a greater challenge because there are no slouches.
The Vikings themselves look like a different team than a month ago. Their defense is healthy and one of the stingiest in the NFL. And their offense makes more sense now that Teddy Bridgewater has found a groove in a quick-hitting passing attack.
They pushed the Arizona Cardinals — the best team in the league — to the final gun in a close loss and then trampled the Chicago Bears and Giants in blowouts.
The Vikings seem to be peaking. Imagine the slingshot effect they could gain by winning the division title at Lambeau Field over their nemesis to secure a home playoff game.
I’m finding it hard to see a downside in that scenario, fully aware of Seattle’s championship pedigree.
“I definitely think we’re peaking at the right time,” veteran corner Captain Munnerlyn said. “We didn’t peak too soon. We’ve got a chance to win the NFC North. Let’s see how this goes and let’s keep this thing rolling.”
That happens sometimes in the playoffs. A team gets hot late in the season and carries that momentum into the postseason and makes a run. The Giants, Packers and Steelers followed that path in recent years.
That’s why this winner-take-all against the Packers feels doubly important, beyond the obvious reward of the NFC North crown. Late-season success can do wonders for a team, especially a young team, with their confidence boiling, believing that anything is possible.
“If you look at some of the Super Bowl champs over the past decade or so, most of them got hot going into the playoffs,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “It’s definitely about getting everything going at the right time.”
The Vikings carry that opportunity to Green Bay. The Packers are a wounded team that looks vulnerable, but they’re also a proud bunch. They remain king of the division until toppled.
The mood in the Vikings’ locker room Sunday night reflected that reality. The Vikings had just clinched a playoff berth, but their celebration was fairy measured. Players were happy but not over-the-top euphoric. There was a maturity in their demeanor that felt refreshing.
“It’s always great when you know you’re already in the playoffs, but this team wants more,” Munnerlyn said. “We’re not just settling for a playoff spot.”
They want the division and a home playoff game. Those two things matter more than their next opponent.