The 2018 NFL Playoffs are just three days away, as twelve non-Seattle Seahawks teams compete for the ultimate prize, the Vince Lombardi Trophy. This year’s Super Bowl will be held in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Vikings, who have a first-round bye and could be the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.
SB Nation’s theme week to begin 2018 is NFL playoff predictions, and I’m here to tell you the Minnesota Vikings are going to do the damn thing and actually make their first Super Bowl since the 1970s. In some respects, they are what the Seattle Seahawks used to be, at least on defense. Mike Zimmer has assembled what I believe is the best defense in the NFL, if only because they defend the run better than the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Vikings rank 4th in DVOA, with the #5 offense, #2 defense, and #18 special teams. Both the New Orleans Saints (#1 overall) and Los Angeles Rams (#2) rank higher, but the Saints have lost their last three away games, while the Rams’ only loss on the road was by 17 points to Minnesota.
At their fancy new stadium, the Vikings sport a 7-1 record, having not allowed any of their opponents to score more than 19 points. Overall, they boast the #1 scoring defense, have given up the fewest touchdown passes (13), allow just 4.6 yards per play, and just 3.7 yards per carry. Their secondary includes the outstanding Xavier Rhodes, and the equally outstanding Harrison Smith, who was an obvious Pro Bowl snub at safety. The front four is beastly, with Everson Griffen responsible for 13 sacks, and Danielle Hunter an additional 7. Their run stopping prowess is courtesy of the alarmingly huge Linval Joseph, as well as Tom Johnson.
Now let’s turn our attention to the offense, which is the surprise of the 2017 NFL season. Case Keenum, freed from Jeff Fisher purgatory, has played very well deputizing for the injured Sam Bradford. Keenum is 2nd in QBR behind Carson Wentz, and he has an extremely talented wide receiving tandem in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Keenum’s reliable TE is none other than Kyle Rudolph, who leads the team with 8 touchdown grabs. The Vikings offense could be even more potent if not for the torn ACL suffered by rookie RB Dalvin Cook, but Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have been a respectable running back duo, certainly not anything special.
The turnaround of this Vikings offense definitely has to start with the offensive line, which was legendarily bad last year. General manager Rick Spielman signed Riley Reiff to be their new left tackle, while third-round rookie Pat Elflein has impressed at center. Their one potentially significant loss is left guard Nick Easton, who broke his ankle in the penultimate week of the regular season. Still, this has turned into a cohesive unit that has only let Case Keenum get sacked 22 times. The one weak link appears to be right tackle Mike Remmers, who is best known for getting repeatedly embarrassed in Super Bowl 50 by Von Miller.
Minnesota is the deserved favorite to win the NFC, and I believe that they will ride their excellent defense, raucous home field advantage, and the spirit of Prince to a Super Bowl appearance. They’ll first defeat the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round, and then win a thriller against the New Orleans Saints (who will beat both the Carolina Panthers and Wentz-less Philadelphia Eagles) in the conference title game.
Now please note I never committed to saying they’re going to win the Super Bowl, for they’re most likely going to play the New England Patriots, who got home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs thanks to Ben Roethlisberger being an idiot. The Patriots are still the Patriots, and the Vikings are still the Vikings, and they always find some absurd way to break your heart and lose in the postseason. Perhaps Kai Forbath will miss a game-winning 27-yard field goal wide right instead of wide left.
Either way, if you’re looking for a team to root for this playoffs in lieu of the Seahawks, I recommend the Vikings, because Mike Zimmer has done one hell of a job turning this franchise into a Super Bowl contender.