The Minnesota Vikings enter Sunday’s final game of the 2021 season in full Groundhog Day mode after the disaster in Green Bay ended Minnesota’s playoffs hopes. However, unlike the 1993 box office hit, there is no end in sight. Regardless of Sunday’s outcome against the Chicago Bears, the Vikings have now missed the playoffs for the third time in four years.
Years from now, the 2018, 2020, and 2021 seasons will blend in the memory of the Minnesota faithful. Each of the three seasons saw the Vikings enter the year with lofty expectations but fall short because of many reasons. Some point the finger at Kirk Cousins and the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the franchise quarterback label. Others lament a coaching staff that failed to keep up with the league and thus fell behind.
The reality is there isn’t necessarily one correct answer. There are so many shades of gray with every single character within the franchise. While writing off disappointment as a single person’s fault is easy, the reality is just as simple: The Vikings have had systematic failures from the front office down to the players.
People throw around the word “rebuild” as a negative term, but sometimes it’s precisely the medicine a team needs. With increasing talk of impending changes coming as soon as Monday, it seems like the Wilfs are prepared to move in a new direction.
But before the Wilfs are going to make any changes, there’s a football game to be played. Nobody is talking about the Bears game, which is mind-boggling because it could have just as many implications as any game Minnesota has played all season long.
Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve learned to live by one rule: Expect the Vikings to do exactly what you wouldn’t ever expect them to do. By rule, this means that a week after getting handled by the Packers, Minnesota will make a statement win on the last day of the season by dismantling the Bears.
Now, before I go on, I’d just like to say that I would never advocate for a team to throw a game. It goes against everything that makes competitive sports so great and feels slimy even to observe from afar.
With that disclaimer out of the way, winning on Sunday is the worst thing that could happen to the Vikings.
For one, it would hurt the team’s ever-so-precious draft pick. Right now, the Vikings are slotted in at No. 12. But that could change by three or four spots in either direction. With Minnesota potentially entering some sort of rebuild, being in the top third of the draft rather than the middle third is massive. It allows you to get the No. 1 or 2 guy at a position of need or trade down in the first round for value.
The draft implications are more obvious. The entire draft order will be set in stone come Monday. But draft picks are not the only thing on the line in Minnesota.
If you’ve ever heard of the idea of recency bias, it’s a real thing that takes place in all sorts of social situations every single day. Without getting too stuck in the weeds of psychology, the premise is that when our brains process information, we store roughly five to nine bits of information within our short-term memory. The information that’s stored is made more readily available for recall than other aspects of our memory.
That might have been a little bit more of a psych lesson than you expected. But the reason for bringing up the science is because whatever happens on Sunday will be top of mind for the decision-makers heading into the offseason. If the Vikings look like garbage against the Bears, it won’t be too difficult to send Zimmer and Co. packing. But what happens if Minnesota goes out and looks good?
The Wilfs might think to themselves, Well, maybe Zimmer still has something left in the tank. After all, an eight-win season where the Vikings were on the wrong side of most one-score games doesn’t sound too bad. Give Cousins a little more protection, patch up the secondary, and this could be a playoff team. Right?
This is the logic that has delayed the rebuilding process for years now, and it’d be highly naïve to think that it couldn’t happen again. The NFL is a business, and a team that might make the playoffs is ultimately a lot more profitable than one that just blew things up.
That there haven’t been any reports of Zimmer being told that he’d be relieved of his duties on Monday. Therefore, this is a distinct possibility. If the Wilfs had made their decision already, they would give Zimmer the courtesy of knowing.
To be clear, I don’t think that Zimmer is truly coaching for his job on Sunday because it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to get fired after a win. But a victory against the Bears could complicate matters and make it a lot easier for the Wilfs to talk themselves into running it back.
Nobody enjoys watching football between two teams eliminated from the playoffs. But calling this game meaningless would be with complete disregard to the definition found in any English dictionary. Although it might be meaningful for all the reasons fans don’t like to hear about, Sunday’s game is full of import. A loss would be the catalyst for an entire franchise rebuild, while a win could help give reason to cling onto any faith left in the current regime.
The season started with a heartbreaking road loss to the Cincinnati Bengals filled with sloppy play and mistakes in the kicking game. It set the tone for one of the most emotional seasons in recent memory, with tight losses to some of the best teams in the league. It only makes sense that the season ends on a jarring 180-degree performance against the Bears.
I don’t make the rules; this is just how it is. The Vikings never cease to create chaos, so don’t expect anything different in the final week of the season.