Aug 24, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hands the ball to running back Dalvin Cook (33) during the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at US Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
If you’ve watched the NFL for several seasons, you’re probably familiar with a particular pattern. Every year, some teams play excellently in the opening weeks of the year. Other teams play badly. Inevitably, some who initially do well will fade into the background. Some that start off badly show up as playoff teams. This season will be no different.
Let’s just start at home. Not long ago, a certain purple team started their season 5-0. Respected voices prophesied a truly special 2016 season. I certainly felt optimistic. Those feelings of hope were quickly undone. We ended the year at 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
Looking at the broader NFL over the past few seasons, we can find many more examples. After week 5 of the 2020 season, the Chicago Bears were 4-1. They had just beaten eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bears had a magical season, right? No, they finished with a modest 8-8 record and lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
Washington is on the other side. I understand they didn’t really dominate for the rest of the season, but few would have picked them as a playoff team after dropping to 1-4 in Week 5. After week 6 it was 1-5. However, they won their division with a 7-9 record. Like Chicago, they didn’t have playoff success. Still, it’s remarkable that they were able to climb out of this gap and make it to the playoffs.
Go back to 2019 and discover a similar scenario playing out. The Tennessee Titans were a modest 2-3 after their first five games. They finished their season at 9-7, securing a playoff spot. Heck, they even made it to the AFC Championship Game. On the other side were the Cowboys. The Cowboys started pretty solid at 3-2; they missed the playoffs at 8-8.
Perhaps the most dramatic example from recent memory is the 2018 Colts. They came off a 1-5 start to make it to the playoffs. While unusual, it’s clearly possible for a team to start off horribly and still get in.
I won’t continue with the boredom, because you probably get the point. Earlier I argued that teams can’t win the Super Bowl in September, but they can certainly lose it. The basic idea is that you can dig a hole so big it’s impossible to get out (or nearly so). I still think that idea is true, but our Vikings are not in that hole.
We have very winnable games against the Lions and Panthers. Neither opponent should be overlooked, and yet we can’t help but think our Vikes are the favourites. As it stands, Minnesota is a pretty big Sunday favorite. Of course there is a reason why they play the game. Forecasters and gamblers don’t really matter; what the players do on the field is what matters.
The main point I’m trying to drive home is that our season is far from over. We can make the playoffs; we can going on a playoff run. The ball is in our court. If we take care of our own affairs, we are in a nice spot at the end of the season.