The Vikings were getting ready for last Sunday’s kickoff in Los Angeles about the same time Eli Manning was on the opposite side of the country taking his final bow in front of the Giants’ home crowd.
Manning’s victory over the Dolphins raised his career record to 117-117. With rookie Daniel Jones back from injury, Manning’s .500 record should serve as a poetic ending to his Giants career and a potential Hall of Fame reminder to scarred NFL pessimists — hello, Vikings fans! — that it doesn’t take a large sample size of greatness to squeak out a Super Bowl win. Or even two.
So, if your team is pretty good but doesn’t look perfect, don’t whine about a weakness, which every team has; a key injury, which every team has; or a quarterback who’s not great in prime time and hasn’t won a playoff game, which, by the way, once described Peyton’s little brother until he became a giant thorn in Bill Belichick’s side.
Twelve years ago this week, Manning was 9-5 en route to 10 wins and a fifth seed in the NFC. He was five games over .500 for his career and 0-2 in the playoffs.
The Giants were an OK bunch with a strong pass rush. The Patriots were 18-0 and gunning for just the second undefeated, untied season in league history.
But timing and momentum was everything. So it was imperfect Eli — and David Tyree’s helmet — that denied Patriots perfection.
Four years later, Eli and the fourth-seeded, nine-win Giants did it again, felling the top-seeded, 13-win Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Yes, sustained greatness helps in hording the hardware. The Patriots have six Lombardi Trophies in 18 years to prove it.
But in the NFC, it’s been a wide-open battle for years. Twelve different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl the past 22 years. And that includes the 2010 Packers, who joined the 2005 Steelers as sixth-seeded teams that won a Super Bowl.
Just something to think about as Vikings fans await Monday night’s Packers game while beating Kirk Cousins over the head with his 0-8 MNF record. Or his 7-14 prime-time record. Or the widespread concerns about him being 44-41-2 and 0-1 in the postseason.
Vikings fans tend to brace for the next time their hearts will be stomped upon. And rightfully so. But this year’s team has a lot going for it when it comes to having what it takes to play its best football at this time of year. First of all …
“It’s about, No. 1, hopefully you’re healthy,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “So you’ve got your good players playing.”
Yeah, Dalvin Cook is nursing some injuries. But they don’t appear to be long-lasting. And, besides, the Vikings’ overall health is extraordinary considering the team has played 1,773 snaps in a bone-breaking, ligament-tearing sport.
Four teams sit atop the NFC at 11-3, a game ahead of the Vikings.
But last week’s top seed, San Francisco, is this week’s No. 5 seed because it lost at home to an Atlanta team that had four wins and was thrashed by the Vikings. The 49ers are 3-3 in their past six games.
The Saints are the current No. 3 seed. But they also lost at home to Atlanta.
The Seahawks are the current No. 1 seed. But they have nine wins by fewer than eight points, a league record through 14 games. One of those narrow escapes was a one-point win over the Bengals, now 1-13.
And the Packers sit No. 2. But they’ve had a couple of road clunkers at San Francisco and against the Chargers, a real head-scratcher considering Los Angeles isn’t that good and has no home fans to speak of.
The Vikings destroyed the Chargers 39-10 and are 8-2 in their past 10 games. Three of their four losses are by one score.
“Number 2,” Zimmer said of playing well this time of year, “it’s about execution. Making sure that everybody’s on the same page. I think good teams, when they get going this time of year, they still harp on technique and fundamentals and hand placement and footwork and things like that.”
Are the Vikings a great team? Not really.
Do they need to be? Not really.
Does Kirk Cousins need to be Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl? Ask Eli.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org