It’s amazing the difference a week makes. We’ve gone from “nobody is giving the Vikings a chance to win a game” (to paraphrase Mike Zimmer and a lot of local fans) to “could they make a playoff run?” all on the strength of one imperfect but impressive victory at New Orleans.
The Vikings have already beaten the NFC team that, according to some advanced metrics like Pro Football Focus’ overall rating and Football Outsiders DVOA, was the best in the conference. So sure, why couldn’t they take down San Francisco on Saturday?
Once you’ve allowed yourself to make that mental leap, you’re only one game away from putting the Vikings into the Super Bowl. But then you stop to think: What if that wasn’t just an NFC title game berth as the next step?
What if it was an NFC title game against the Packers at Lambeau Field?
It’s a scenario that seems to be both terrifying and exhilarating to Vikings fans (much more of the latter, according to an unscientific Twitter poll I’ll share in a minute, which surprises me).
The two border rivals have never met in the NFC title game, of course. And in doing a little historical research, I came across this nugget: this is just the third time in history that both the Vikings and Packers have even reached the division round in the same year.
They’ve never played each other in the division round, either — just twice in the wild card round (2012 and 2004, splitting a pair of games at Lambeau) — and they of course won’t this year. The Vikings are at San Francisco on Saturday while Green Bay hosts Seattle on Sunday.
But we are just two outcomes away — wins from both teams — from an epic NFC title game. We’ve only come this close two other times: 1997 and 1982.
In 1997, the Packers had a bye into the division round while the Vikings made it there thanks to an upset of the Giants in the wild card round. Green Bay made it to the NFC title game, but the Vikings’ run of upsets ended … at San Francisco. (The Packers beat the 49ers in the NFC title game before losing to the Broncos in the Super Bowl).
In 1982, the odd strike year in which teams played just nine regular-season games, both the Vikings and Packers won their opening round games before losing in the division round to Washington and Dallas, respectively.
That’s it, even though this is the 11th time both have made the playoffs in the same year (with 10 of those times coming since 1993). They would have both made it to this round in 2015 if Blair Walsh’s kick had split the uprights. Or 2009, if not for a strip sack fumble returned for a TD in overtime by the Cardinals over the Packers. Or 1998, if not for a last-second TD pass from Steve Young to Terrell Owens tripping up Green Bay.
In all three of those years, the Vikings and Packers would have been on opposite sides of the bracket and primed for a title game showdown if both advanced.
But it’s never happened. And I’m stunned that so many of you say you want it to happen — a full 74% of you (out of 789 votes) said “yes” to the question of whether you’d want the Vikings to play the Packers in the NFC title game if they win Saturday.
Three-fourths of you are either emboldened by last week’s win … or believing that Green Bay would be an easier place to win than Seattle … or embracing what would be, win or lose, a game for the ages … or some combination thereof.
But like the headline says: We’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Vikings are underdogs by a touchdown at San Francisco, and Seattle has Russell Wilson’s second half magic on its side.
There will be plenty of time to ruminate about this next week if the thing that has never happened ends up happening.