After a 7-9 season filled with ups and downs, the Minnesota Vikings missed the playoffs, finishing third in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. Despite a 1-5 start, Minnesota managed to climb back into the playoff picture in the middle of the season, winning five of six games after the bye week before losing three straight and getting eliminated from the playoffs.
The question now becomes who to root for in the NFC. My choice is the nameless team from Washington. Below are my favorite NFC playoff teams, ranked from most likable to most hated.
#1 Washington Football Team
Who doesn’t like a good underdog story? The Washington Football Team made the playoffs after finishing 7-9 in the worst division in football, and what an incredible story it was. They were led by Ron Rivera, who was diagnosed with cancer in his lymph nodes and showed resilience and toughness, coaching while getting IVs at halftime during games.
They also were led by probably the greatest comeback story with quarterback Alex Smith returning from an injury that nearly resulted in his leg being amputated. In games that Smith has started, Washington is 5-3, and Minnesotans all feel a bit more connected to Smith’s story after seeing everything Teddy Bridgewater went through.
They also have a young defensive line loaded up with future superstars in Montez Sweat and Chase Young who can create pressure, something the Vikings defensive line sorely lacked this season. They also have one of the most underrated and hard-working star wideouts in Terry McLaurin.
Despite all the allegations surrounding the owner Dan Snyder, Washington is the ultimate underdog story to root for in the playoffs.
#2 Los Angeles Rams
The Rams serve as the antithesis to what the Vikings are under Mike Zimmer. With a young, forward-thinking head coach in Sean McVay, the Rams offense is willing to air the ball out early and often, getting it to their three-headed wideout attack in Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds and Cooper Kupp. Los Angeles serves as what Minnesota might be able to do if they updated their offensive philosophy, as both teams have middle-of-the-road quarterbacks who are inconsistent at times.
The Vikings have no ill will with the Rams as their last game against them was a high scoring regular-season matchup that ended with Los Angeles winning a close Thursday night game.
The Rams have probably the best defense in the NFL, headlined by game-wrecking pass rusher Aaron Donald and lockdown corner Jalen Ramsey. Despite the Rams finishing the season at 10-6, they were wildly inconsistent, beating the Buccaneers in prime time but also losing to the New York Jets, handing Adam Gase his first win of the season. Watching the Rams should be interesting regardless of what they end up doing in the postseason.
Washington gets the slight edge over Los Angeles on the list due to the incredible story of Smith and Rivera along with the hilarity that was Dwayne Haskins’ situation.
#3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Vikings fans will remember that this year the season started to go completely off the rails at Tampa Bay, the start of a three-game losing streak, which officially ended their season. Minnesota was in the game until Dan Bailey had the worst outing of his career, missing three field goals and an extra point.
It has been fun seeing Tom Brady in a new place separated from Bill Belichick and with a team much more focused around explosive offensive plays enabled by weapons like Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski.
It should be fun to see Tom Brady’s first run in the NFC and watching the Buccaneers make it back to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Despite the team having big-name superstars across the board, Tampa Bay has had their share of struggles, losing to the New Orleans Saints twice this year.
The only reason why the Buccaneers are so low on this list: I don’t want to see Brady win another Super Bowl.
#4 Seattle Seahawks
Death, Taxes and the Vikings losing a primetime game in Seattle. This year the Vikings came closer than ever, playing perfect football for 3.5 quarters. It came down to a fourth and short non-conversion, followed by a late game-winning touchdown by Seattle.
Their putrid run against the Seahawks includes the infamous “Shank at the Bank” playoff game, which was Teddy Bridgewater’s last meaningful game in Minnesota, where Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard game-winning field goal he never recovered from mentally. But despite all this, it would be fun to see Russell Wilson revert back to his early-season form and carry this defense to the Super Bowl.
#5 Chicago Bears
This one just hurts to write, knowing that if the Vikings won the Week 15 matchup against the Bears, they would be the seventh seed. You have to give credit where credit is due, after a six-game losing skid Chicago managed to climb their way back into the playoffs with an 8-8 record — albeit after the Arizona Cardinals lost their Week 17 matchup against John Wolford and the Rams.
The Bears offense has had a complete turnaround, scoring 30 or more points on five of the final six games and could be a dark horse, even with a .500 record.
Chicago has a 5-1 record in the last two seasons against the Vikings. Despite grabbing the 7-seed from Minnesota, a deep run by them might help the Vikings in the long run. With their improbable comeback to make the playoffs, the Bears might choose to bring back underwhelming quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and not capitalize on this potentially historic quarterback class.
#6 Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers do not finish at the bottom of my list. Just hear me out.
By no means does this mean that I am rooting for the Packers. The Packer and Vikings rivalry has been reignited in recent years from Mike Zimmer’s attempts to stifle Aaron Rodgers to Anthony Barr’s hit on Rodgers that shattered his collar bone and changed the rules about hitting quarterbacks.
Despite the bad blood between these two franchises, a Packers Super Bowl run will come with some hilarious consequences for the franchise. Rodgers’ incredible season may culminate in an MVP, which would make it tough to turn to first-round pick Jordan Love any time soon. Green Bay’s front office may find itself in a bind.
#7 New Orleans Saints
The Saints are by far the team I would most hate to see make any run in the playoffs. From their arrogant superstars to their smug coach, there is almost nothing likable about them. Vikings fans won’t soon forget about the travesty of Bountygate where New Orleans landed multiple uncalled cheap shots on an aging Brett Favre that helped them win a game that Minnesota dominated.
Watching the 40-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley sail through in overtime after a phantom pass interference on Ben Leber left a feeling of nothingness. It only was made more painful in the first game of the 2010 season when Favre came out and said that the Saints were the better team when the Vikings came a coin toss away from winning the game despite turning the ball over five times.
In recent history, karma has bit the Saints, with the Vikings winning the last two playoff contests dramatically with the Minneapolis Miracle and last season’s overtime win to beat the first-ever 13-win 3-seed. But even the last two wins have done nothing but further my contempt for this franchise with a multitude of incidents. From Alvin Kamara laughing into a camera with 25 seconds of the Miracle game, to Sean Payton mocking the Skol Chant before the winning pass to Stefon Diggs, to Cam Jordan saying, “which Kirk Cousins will we get” before the last playoff game, to Michael Thomas‘ Twitter antics, there is no love lost between these two teams.
If you needed any more reason to hate the Saints, look back to Week 16 on Christmas Day when Payton decided to run up the score in a 52-33 win, allowing Kamara to rush for a record six touchdowns.