When the Minnesota Vikings took the field on Sunday, they were relative unknowns. Some believed that the change to Kevin O’Connell would deliver a jolt of energy but nobody knew how long it would take to become serious contenders.
It turns out that all it took was one week.
The Vikings destroyed the Green Bay Packers and suddenly everyone is chugging purple Kool-Aid. FiveThirtyEight doubled their odds to win the Super Bowl. Pro Football Talk discussed Justin Jefferson as an MVP candidate. Some believe they are one of the best teams in the NFC.
All of this has Vikings fans higher than Aaron Rodgers on ayahuasca but it’s important to remember that we’ve seen this movie before.
One year ago, the Vikings were coming off a similar performance against the Seattle Seahawks. They fell into a 17-7 hole but scored the final 23 points in a 30-17 victory. Everyone felt good after the game and praised Kirk Cousins’s swagger.
The following week, the Vikings scored just seven points in a loss to the Cleveland Browns.
The roller coaster continued as they dragged through the season. They won the next two games and then lost to Cooper Rush. They beat the Los Angeles Chargers and the Packers before Cousins lined up behind his guard.
Every high was followed by a new low. Sometimes it happened in the same game.
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The Vikings hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 14 and jumped out to a 29-0 lead. The Steelers finally scored with 2:11 left in the third quarter and proceeded to make a furious comeback. If it weren’t for Pat Freiermuth’s drop in the end zone, the Steelers would have attempted a game-tying two-point conversion. Instead, the Vikings gutted out a 36-28 victory.
A win over Chicago came the following week and then the Vikings had their “Christmas Hangover” game against O’Connell’s Los Angeles Rams. By that point, the season was over until they scored a meaningless Week 18 victory over the Bears.
Back and forth. Up and down. The roller coaster never stopped. Some may say this is a product of Zimmer’s toxic environment but a large part of the roster remains from that team.
The Vikings have a golden opportunity to buck that trend in Week 2. The Philadelphia Eagles are legitimate contenders in the NFC and a primetime matchup on the road is the kind of game the Vikings’ routinely lost under Zimmer.
The old Vikings would have read too many of their press clippings and turned in an effort that would sink their season. The new Vikings may be different but we won’t know until they take the field.
If the Vikings can turn in a similar performance against the Eagles, they could be on their way toward contention. They have two winnable games at home against the Bears and Lions. They have a coin flip game in London against the New Orleans Saints. A trip to Miami is daunting but if they can win in Philadelphia, they can win anywhere.
That would pave the way for the Vikings to go into the bye week at 4-2 and potentially 6-0, but a loss would reinforce the same concerns everyone had at the beginning of the season.
This is the challenge that O’Connell faces. If he can find a way to make the Vikings consistent, the narrative created with largely the same roster under Zimmer can be put to bed.