If the 2020 Vikings didn't exist, the ghost of Pete Rozelle would invent them.
After taking the subterranean elevator to play down to the level of the 1-11 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Vikings are the definition of average, whether you consider the word a compliment or slur, and are helping to fulfill the mandate of the NFL's most important commissioner.
Rozelle fought for parity and economic equality between teams, to maximize the number of games that would matter, the number of teams that would stay in contention, and the number of fans who would tune in because of the league's enforced unpredictability.
If he were alive in 2020, he would be wearing Helga horns and a Dalvin Cook jersey, because the same team that was often unwatchable on Sunday while pulling out a 27-24 overtime victory over the horrid Jaguars is now in position to make the playoffs.
The Vikings are 6-6. They own the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot for now. The Vikings have won five of their past six games. They have also lost to the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys at home, and they needed to work overtime — and make Cook work far harder than is healthy — to beat a team whose ownership was probably rooting for a loss to enhance their draft prospects.
This Sunday, the team that has allowed three return touchdowns in two weeks, that is plus-1 in point differential over the past three weeks against three bad teams, will travel to Tampa knowing that a win would put them in the NFC's No. 6 position.
NFL media love to use the word "resilient." It's an empty compliment. What the 2020 Vikings are good at is hanging around while others fail. Which is a skill, just not one you'd put on your résumé.
"We have a lot of stuff to fix," said rookie receiver Justin Jefferson.
The Vikings picked the right season in which to be average. The NFL has expanded the playoffs by one team per conference, and the middle of their schedule has been soft as flan.
"I have mixed feelings, to be honest with you," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Vikings have paid a price for playing all of these close, almost must-win games, and the bill has yet to come due.
During their 5-1 surge, they have ridden Cook as if he's a rental car on which you took out maximum insurance.
Until the Vikings came out of their bye week and Cook tore apart the Packers defense in a season-preserving victory at Lambeau Field, Cook had registered 30 touches twice — once in 2017 and once in 2019.
Starting with the Packers game, Cook has averaged 30 touches a game, touching it 32 times or more in four of those games. On Sunday, the Vikings would have greatly benefited from a blowout that would have enabled them to rest Cook and receiver Adam Thielen for the stretch run.
Instead, Cook had a career-high 38 touches, including eight consecutive runs in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal.
Credit Cook for becoming the Vikings' most essential player. But if Zimmer had full faith in his quarterback and kicker, would he have wanted to see Cook carrying it eight straight times in overtime?
The Vikings threw a pick-six, fumbled inside the Jacksonville 5, were called for a false start on the opponent's 1-yard line, missed two extra points and a long field goal and required their overmatched opponent to throw two interceptions, take a safety and commit 10 penalties to have a chance to win in overtime.
For the Vikings, this victory was what golfers call "UBU" — ugly but useful, like a skulled shot that hits the flagstick.
"The whole football team needs to get better," Zimmer said. "Usually after you win a game, there's a lot of hootin' and hollerin'. The last two weeks it hasn't been like that. … I think right now they feel fortunate to be where they are but they understand — I know they understand and I continue to preach it — that we have to stop doing these things."
The Vikings are average and ascending. In 2020, that's not a contradiction.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.