It’s been hard to put into words the significance of this week’s game against the Chicago Bears. Following another missed opportunity against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, labeling this game a “must-win” feels a bit hollow. While that sentiment is technically true for the Minnesota Vikings’ playoff hopes, we’re now onto what seems like at least the third or fourth rendition of this narrative.
While I contemplated this oddly vexing matchup, like any normal Vikings fan looking for an escape, I decided to kick back and binge-watch some TV. I loaded up Lost, which for those who aren’t familiar with the show, follows the survivors of a plane crash on an island and sprinkles in many references to the island being a purgatory for those characters.
While in the midst of an episode it hit me; This week’s game between the Vikings and Bears is a battle to escape football purgatory.
Simply put, a loss would put the loser in a position where the playoffs are out of the picture, but so is a top draft pick. It’s the epitome of mediocrity in the league, and in many ways is worse than having a bad football team.
This is especially tough in a year where the top of the draft is loaded with franchise-altering talent. I have many friends who happen to be New York Jets fans, and they have taken this idea of rooting against their team to a new level. Tanking is all the rave, and of course, neither of these teams sitting at 6-7 can even do that right.
It’s a frustrating spot to be in for fans and players alike. Keyboard warriors love to throw Kirk Cousins under the bus, and would love to find his successor, but the Vikings can’t do that if the right prospect doesn’t fall to them. From an organizational perspective, it’s hard to move on from a roster when it seems like it’s almost there, especially when the team could just as easily be comfortably in a playoff spot if they had won a handful of one-point games.
So how the Vikings pick up the broken pieces and escape the island (for those still following the Lost analogy)?
This may seem obvious, but it starts with a win on Sunday. The Vikings likely need to win out, and if they do so they have more than a gambler’s chance at making the playoffs. From there, all bets are off because no team really jumps off the page in the NFC. The New Orleans Saints are the only team that stands out, but in this scenario, Zimmer will have beaten them Week 16 to go 4-2 in his career.
If the Vikings lose on Sunday, however, the forecast muddies.
Public enemy No. 1, for better or for worse, would be Cousins. While the argument can be made that a change at quarterback could help, the Vikings would not be in position for one of the top four prospects at the position.
Now, sound logic would have the Vikings attack another need such as replacing one of the turnstiles on the offensive line, but recent history says this isn’t the case. Following a disappointing 6-10 season in 2010, it was time for the Vikings to move on from Brett Favre. The problem was they were picking in the No. 12 spot, and by the time they were on the clock three quarterbacks were off the board.
Instead of taking the best talent available, the Vikings reached for Christian Ponder. That next season the team finished 3-13 and Ponder was out of a job once the Vikings decided to draft Teddy Bridgewater. Minnesotans don’t want a repeat of the Ponder experience.
While one would hope the team could learn from its mistakes, there’s no guarantee that’d be the case. In a twisted, messed up way it would be perfect for the football gods to reward Vikings fans’ lack of appreciation for Cousins with some reincarnation of Ponder.
Chicago, on the other hand, finds itself in a very similar spot. Despite having a defense capable of contending now, they are stuck with a messy quarterback situation. Mitch Trubisky is just a continual reminder of what could have been if they had drafted Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, and Nick Foles has seen better days.
On the surface level, this game will determine whether or not the Vikings are still in contention for that final playoff spot, but in reality, it means so much more. It has the potential to cement one team in relevancy, and one team in a vicious cycle. Is this angle a bit dramatic? Maybe, but that’s been the story of this entire season.
It’s been a long time coming, but judgment day has finally arrived for the Minnesota Vikings.