Amid the Minnesota Vikings’ five-game winning streak, it’s almost impossible to remember how frustrating and hopeless things felt five weeks ago.
Minnesota’s defense was a mess and seemed to struggle mightily to adjust to Brian Flores’ wild new schemes. The offense was inefficient and couldn’t stop fumbling, leaving many opportunities on the field. And, worst of all, Justin Jefferson went on IR, leaving this team without its best player. It was the pit of despair. Time to tank, right?
Well, as terrible as it was for Vikings fans, imagine how Denver Broncos fans must’ve felt. The Broncos weren’t just 1-4; they started the season 1-5, which included one of the worst losses in NFL history, a 70-20 drubbing by the Miami Dolphins on the road. If the Vikings were in the pit of despair, the Broncos were in the abyss of agony.
And yet, both these two squads now find themselves in a similar position: in the mix.
The Vikings are one of the most fun stories in football right now. Josh Dobbs mania has swept the league. The five-game heater this team is on without Justin Jefferson only has fans giddy thinking about what they could be once he returns. Minnesota has more momentum than we ever could’ve dreamed of after the injuries to JJ and Kirk, and it feels like they’re just getting started.
And on the opposite sideline this Sunday, the home team will also have reason to feel confident. The Broncos beat the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, sending them into organizational disarray. They just beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago. Broncos fans finally see signs of hope that the Russell Wilson experiment may not be a colossal failure. The organization and roster are rallying together to play good football.
These are two teams that suddenly could be playing on Wild Card weekend. However, stumbling in this game could have significant repercussions.
The Broncos are hot right now, but they face a tough stretch of their schedule starting this weekend. They’ll have to take on the Vikings, Cleveland Browns, and Houston Texans over the next three weeks, all of whom have winning records. But the Broncos are only two games back in the Wild Card hunt. They also benefit from playing the Browns and Texans, two teams currently in front of them in that specific race.
But if they stumble to 4-6 this weekend, it’ll be tough to overcome even a muddled AFC.
Meanwhile, the Vikings hold the seventh seed and have a nice two-game lead on the bubble teams chasing them. However, they still have tough matchups against a frisky Las Vegas Raiders team, a spicy Cincinnati Bengals squad, and two games against the division-leading Detroit Lions. On paper, the Vikings can afford a loss this weekend much more than the Broncos can. But the stakes might be just as high for the Vikings.
I’m not sure this Vikings team can afford to let the vibes crash back to Earth. This team has overcome so much adversity and have seized the moment.
Brian Flores’ defense is so insane that I can hardly wrap my mind around it. Abandoning all “base defense” for a scheme built on three-man pressures or sending the house on the blitz is so wild. And I fear that, one day, an opposing offense will figure it out and create a blueprint for the rest of the league. Flores may be able to adapt again when that day comes, but I do fret about how sustainable this hot streak is.
And while discussing sustainability, we have to mention Josh Dobbs. As incredible as The Passtronaut has been the past few weeks, what happens when the magic runs out? What happens when defenses get tape on how to slow him down? What if all the juice is gone once he learns where to find the bathroom or what his left guard’s name is?
That’s the thing, though: The magic doesn’t have to run out yet. The lightning doesn’t need to leave the bottle. Vikings fans may be convinced that the football gods are waiting to strike them down when they least expect it — but what if they don’t? What if the momentum keeps building?
I’m not suggesting that opposing defenses will never be able to stop Dobbs. We basically saw the New Orleans Saints do that in the second half of last week’s game. But what if he continues to build confidence for himself and his teammates this week with a successful game, and then gets to add Jefferson to his assortment of weapons? Opposing defenses may find ways to hinder his mobility and force him into difficult situations. However, I’ll bet those situations are much easier to navigate if you’ve got the best receiver in football to help relieve that pressure.
The league may eventually solve the Flores defense. But in the meantime, this success is building the confidence and speeding along the development of players like Cam Bynum, Ivan Pace Jr., and Mekhi Blackmon. When Flores eventually needs to adjust and counterpunch, he could have much-improved pieces to work with.
Minnesota has shown it can grow throughout the season as they find ways to win and build on that success, which is a sign of great coaching. But let’s continue that trend for a few more weeks. Don’t let that train slip off the tracks this weekend against this spunky Broncos team desperate to keep clawing out of the trench of agony.
This Vikings team can build off their momentum again this Sunday. They can get better, stack another win, and give the fans the satisfaction of beating the hated Saints and Sean Payton in back-to-back weeks. It’s a stiff test, but if the Vikings want to continue this magical ride they’ve been on, they need to find a way to keep it rolling another week.