The Vikings completed their regular season on Sunday with what amounted to a glorified exhibition game that enabled them to get in a tune-up before the playoffs and allowed the host Chicago Bears to finally complete one of the most miserable seasons in franchise history.
Both teams got what they wanted.
The Vikings’ 29-13 win gave them a 13th victory for the third time in franchise history; the Bears secured the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
Minnesota exceeded all expectations in its first season under coach Kevin O’Connell. Highlights included Kirk Cousins turning into one of the top clutch quarterbacks in the NFL, wide receiver Justin Jefferson cementing himself as one of the league’s best with a record-breaking season and an 11-0 mark in one-score games.
But none of that matters now as nervous Vikings fans await the start of the playoffs against the Giants next weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium. The uneasiness comes naturally for a fan base that hasn’t seen its team make a Super Bowl appearance since the 1976 season and has watched numerous difficult-to-stomach postseason defeats, including five in the NFC title game since 1987.
When you combine the tendency of this Vikings team to win the majority of it games in down-to-the-wire fashion with the fact it suffered two embarrassing losses to Dallas and Green Bay and possesses one of the NFL’s worst defenses, there’s a reason why the Purple faithful likely will have antacids nearby come kickoff next weekend.
The national pundits have spent much of this season calling the Vikings frauds and 37 and 24-point losses to the Cowboys and Packers only provided more fuel for their case. But playoff success would quiet the critics and also present an opportunity for O’Connell and his team to take advantage of a successful regular season.
As much as the Vikings want to believe first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have the franchise on the right track, guaranteed success from season to season isn’t promised. Success in one-score games can be fleeting and the inevitability of roster turnover and injuries can take a team from division favorite in September to also-ran by December.
O’Connell got the Vikings job in part because he was the offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams last season. The Rams were 5-11 entering Sunday’s game against Seattle and long ago were eliminated from the playoffs. Injuries to quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offensive line changed the Rams’ season.
The unknown of next season is why the Vikings will begin the playoffs with a level of pressure on them. The 2017 Vikings went to the NFC title game after a 13-3 regular season only to get blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Minnesota then signed Cousins to a rich free-agent contract assuming he would be the final piece of a Super Bowl puzzle in 2018. At least that was the thought process. It didn’t come close to happening and Cousins’ only playoff appearance as a Viking came in 2019. Minnesota beat New Orleans in the opening round before getting beat up in Santa Clara by the 49ers.
Cousins will get a second chance in his fifth season with the Vikings. Does it come with a perfect team? Absolutely not. But the Vikings have 13 wins and good fortune, not to mention offensive talent, on their side.
If O’Connell wants his first season to be memorable, a victory over the Giants will be the start. Otherwise, the positive vibes surrounding the success of this season will be quickly forgotten, replaced by an acknowledgment that the skeptics were right and this team’s win total was more a mirage than reality.