Miracles in rounds that aren’t the respective sport’s championship game can lead to letdowns the following week. It may seem like destiny for a team when they pull off something special or miraculous, which was the case with the Minnesota Vikings when Stefon Diggs took a slot corner route designed to go out of bounds into the end zone as time expired, giving the Vikings a 29-24 win over the Saints. Despite letdowns occurring to teams that experienced previous great feats, whether it was an upset, miracle play, or comeback, I don’t believe this will occur with this Minnesota Vikings team.
Now what do I mean by a letdown? A letdown results from a lackluster performance or loss the week after something miraculous happens. Sometimes, you can see them coming, other times you can’t. I thought the Arizona Cardinals’ overtime win on the Green Bay Packers in the 2015-16 playoffs was destiny for Larry Fitzgerald. They ended up losing 49-15 to Carolina the next week. I also, on the other hand, have seen it coming. When Wisconsin beat 38-0 Kentucky in their Final Four matchup, I didn’t think it would carry over to beating Duke, which it didn’t, as Duke won 68-63. But throughout sports history, both far back and recent, there have been many examples of letdowns. The 1999 Tennessee Titans that pulled off the Music City Miracle lost to the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl. The 1972 Steelers that pulled off the Immaculate Reception lost to the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game. Even going more recent, the Mississippi State Women’s Basketball team that shocked UConn at the buzzer lost their title game to South Carolina. The New England Patriots that were 18-0 in 2007 lost to the New York Giants on the big stage in the Super Bowl. Overconfidence and unexpected momentum has proven, historically, to lead to letdowns.
However, there are cases when teams actually come through and turn their underdog runs into complete destiny. The 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens came through in Ray Lewis’s final year as a four seed. The 2005-06 Pittsburgh Steelers did the same thing as a six seed in Jerome Bettis’s final year. Both the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros accomplished World Series titles for their cities the same year as tragedies occurred. And this Minnesota Vikings team, I believe is going to be one of those kinds of teams. And there are many reasons I believe that.
At the start of the playoffs, the New Orleans Saints were my pick to win the Super Bowl. After they beat the Panthers, they would have to travel to Minnesota to take on a Vikings team that had a chance to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium, which would be the first time ever that feat was accomplished. I questioned how mentally prepared the Vikings would be, knowing their history of playoff chokes as well as the pressure that this kind of scenario would bring. There were several host cities that had their team go into the playoffs that season, but none of those had as good of a chance as this year’s Minnesota Vikings. The Arizona Cardinals in 2014-15 had no Carson Palmer and the Houston Texans last year were a 9-7 team that squeaked into the playoffs and barely beat a Raiders team without Derek Carr. This Minnesota Vikings team, however, has their roster still decently in tact with good depth at many positions and a balanced team performance-wise. So there was a realistic chance, more than the Cardinals and Texans, that they would be able to pull this off. It seemed like it was just gonna be another playoff collapse with the Saints outscoring the Vikings 24-6 in the second half. But then the Seven Heaven play happened. A play that wasn’t designed to get a touchdown, but rather to get out of bounds and get into field goal range. Had that play gone as planned, the Vikings would have had 4 seconds to go and would’ve had to trust Kai Forbath to drill a 49-yard field goal to win the game. On paper, that would be a trustworthy option, but with a lot of negative history with Vikings kicking in the postseason, fans would still not be overly confident. Gary Anderson was perfect when he missed the kick in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. Blair Walsh was coming off one of his best seasons and had already made 3 field goals in the game before hooking it wide against the Seahawks. Vikings fans do not want these games to come down to a kick. And because of the Diggs touchdown, they didn’t have to worry about that.
And sometimes, you can see it in those miracle plays for it to happen. Not only did it happen, it happened to what would likely be their toughest test in the playoffs in the New Orleans Saints, the team that I thought had the most talent and balance going into the playoffs with their drastically improved running game and defense, and most championship-caliber quarterback. For the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, it took beating that great team, a Peyton-Manning led Denver Broncos offense that was the 4th best yardage offense (397.9 YPG) and 2nd best points offense (30.1 PPG). And it was the pass to Jacoby Jones with the game on the line that gave the Ravens that confidence and that sense destiny. The Steelers, who went on a run as a 6 seed to get to their title, beat the top two offenses in football in the Indianapolis Colts (27.4 PPG, 362.4 YPG) and the Seattle Seahawks (28.2 PPG, 369.7 YPG) as part of their run. And both those games had miraculous plays that triggered confidence and success. Against the Colts, it was the big Ben Roethsliberger tackle after cornerback Nick Harper had picked up a Jerome Bettis fumble and looked like he would take it to the house, giving the Colts a late 24-21 lead. In the Super Bowl against the Seahawks, it was the wide receiver reverse pass, from Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward, that gave the Steelers the confidence that they could do anything against a talented Seahawks defense. Sometimes, doing great stuff against great teams will trigger that kind of confidence. That is what I thought of these New Orleans Saints coming into the postseason, and the Vikings shocked them with Seven Heaven. And I believe, as a result, will trigger confidence.
The other factor I believe is this: The Vikings, if they were to feel pressure of playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium, would have felt it already. They would have felt it falling apart in the second half. They had a 17-0 halftime lead and gave it all back. The fact that they overcame that with the miracle shows that they can overcome anything. The Eagles, without Carson Wentz, are not as well-rounded as the Saints. The Jaguars, despite an improved running game and better Blake Bortles, are still no Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, and Alvin Kamara. And the Patriots, despite being the defending champions, still have seen a dropoff in their defense in comparison to last year and lack Julian Edelman and LeGarrette Blount, two key elements to their offense a year ago. The point is that with a miracle, the Vikings can use this game as a confidence booster but also a learning experience. And to me, facing and beating the most well-rounded team the way they did will give them all the confidence in the world.
Also, let’s not forget what matters most. X’s and O’s. The Vikings are favored, as of right now, by 4.5 points. And even though the Eagles are the home team, they are favored for a reason. Case Keenum was the better quarterback this season and in their most recent playoff game. The Vikings have the better receivers and cornerbacks, which is key in a passing league, and the Vikings also have better raw star power on their defensive line, which did very well against one of the best offensive lines in the league in the New Orleans Saints. Now the Eagles have a good offensive line as well, and I believe it is better talent wise than the Saints slightly. But, in my opinion, that is the only matchup where they have a significant advantage over Minnesota. Also, moving onto if they played the Patriots in the Super Bowl. What do the Patriots do well? Double and triple team star players and let teams run. Disguise coverage schemes and play well against zone defenses and smaller players. When the Patriots are beaten, what are common themes to the teams that beat them? Good receiving cores (not just one star receiver) with talented skillsets. A great pass rush, as proven by both the New York Giants and Denver Broncos in playoff matchups. Also, you need to be able to play man-to-man and press these Patriots receivers who have tremendous quickness. The Minnesota Vikings check all those boxes, with a good arsenal of skill players on offense and a championship-caliber defense. If they face Jacksonville, expect them to feed off the home crowd and win on their raw talent, and to be able to ride their better offense and quarterback play against a team that is making their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
When the Red Sox and Astros won their respective World Series titles and overcame their respective pressure to win, they were two teams that had choke-prone postseason histories as well. They overcame that pressure and used that incentive as positive motivation. With the Vikings getting the miracle, the big play, they needed to survive the Saints, they can have that same incentive and motivation. That will give them the extra motivation over the other teams remaining to go out and win that title. This isn’t to say the Eagles can’t win, or the AFC wouldn’t be able to win the Super Bowl, because I think both scenarios are certainly possible too due to many championship-caliber defenses remaining. But this Vikings team, with a championship-caliber defense, and to me the most talented defense overall in the NFL, has two things that the other teams don’t. Playing for an experience, the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium, and continuing a miracle to break any postseason woes historically. Yeah, the Eagles lost all those NFC Championship games. But they didn’t have to deal with the Blair Walsh heartbreak, Gary Anderson heartbreak, Drew Pearson heartbreak, Tracy Porter heartbreak, and all those Super Bowl losses. Because of this, at the start of the postseason, I thought that pressure would catch up to them and cause them to lose. But now that Seven Heaven happened, and the Vikings stunned the Saints on a play designed to go out of bounds and get into field goal range, there is a particular destiny that I feel will happen with this team. And despite there being many letdowns before, I don’t feel like this Vikings team will fall into that category. There is something special about this story and this situation and I think it will lead to a special experience for a Vikings fanbase that has had to deal with so much heartbreak over the years.