“Do you believe in the curse?” blurted Star Tribune reporter Rochelle Olson.
There are no records for such moments, but I believe the last time I saw something that direct, it was Moe Howard jabbing two fingers into Curly’s eyes on a Saturday morning in 1975.
“Who said that?” Zimmer asked.
“Me,” said Olson.
She could have said, “Everyone” because, well, let’s face it, Purple Nation has the covers pulled up to its eyes in fear of what the postseason bogeyman has lined up next.
The Road to Minneapolis and Super Bowl LII begins with this weekend’s wild-card games. The Vikings have a bye for the first time since 2009.
Still worried? Don’t be, growled the coach.
“There is no damn curse,” Zimmer said.
In a wide-open six-team NFC field, the Vikings are one of five teams that didn’t qualify last year. In the AFC, three teams are new. Even the Buffalo Bills, postseason outsiders since 1999, got a last-minute invite when Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd turned fourth-and-12 into a 49-yard knockout of the Ravens.
The NFC-leading Eagles went worst to first in their division. Now, without injured quarterback Carson Wentz, they are racing the other way in their conference.
The Jaguars ended a 10-year playoff drought by going worst to first in the AFC South. The Rams ended a 13-year drought by going from 4-12 and last in scoring to 11-5 and first in scoring. And the Titans limped into the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Seven playoff teams are a combined 0-15 in Super Bowls. They are the Jaguars (0-0), Titans (0-1), Eagles (0-2), Panthers (0-2), Falcons (0-2), Bills (0-4) and Vikings (0-4).
Then there is New England, two fellas named Brady and Belichick, and their five Super Bowl rings. The defending champs have home-field advantage in the AFC, eight consecutive years with a bye and six consecutive conference title appearances.
While Belichick & Brady shoot for a sixth victory in their eighth Super Bowl, the Vikings last played in one on Jan. 9, 1977. Their postseason pain began Jan. 11, 1970, when they lost 23-7 to the Chiefs as a 12-point favorite in Super Bowl IV in New Orleans.
But suppose Zimmer is right. Suppose the next Darrin Nelson doesn’t drop it. Suppose the next Gary Anderson doesn’t go wide left. Or the next Blair Walsh doesn’t go wider left.
“I’ve got a crystal ball and I’ve got a wood spirit hanging in my office,” he said. “So, there’s no damn curse.”
Come to think of it, the Vikings did cruise to the NFC North title with nemesis Aaron Rodgers missing seven games. They did become the NFC’s team to beat when Wentz was injured.
And they do have a star-studded, top-ranked defense that has had only two starters miss a total of three games because of injuries. That’s unheard of in today’s game.
Offensively, they lost quarterback Sam Bradford for all but six quarters and running back Dalvin Cook for 12 games. Yet they still finished 10th in scoring as coordinator Pat Shurmur became the league’s hottest head coaching candidate.
Sunday, the Vikings’ good fortune continued when the Buccaneers upset the Saints. That dropped New Orleans to the fourth seed, where it is better positioned to help the Vikings.
In the wild-card round, the Saints can take out Carolina, which is 1-0 against the Vikings and 0-2 against the Saints. Assuming the Rams beat the Falcons in Los Angeles, the Saints can move on to Philadelphia and use their experienced quarterback, historically great running back duo and newfound defensive strength to dispose of the Eagles’ home-field advantage.
The AFC seems more predictable. But if the seeds hold up, the divisional round would feature Kansas City at New England, where the Chiefs won 42-27 in Week 1; and Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, where the Jaguars won 30-9 in Week 5.
There will be a big upset in the AFC playoffs, but I can’t see New England or Pittsburgh going one-and-done. The upset, I think, will be Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger atoning for his costly game-ending blunder in Week 15 by beating the Patriots in the AFC title game.
The NFC title game will be a Vikings-Saints rematch from 2009. This time, however, the Vikings will be at home and won’t turn the ball over five times.
Then, in a rematch of Super Bowl IX, the Vikings — and Zimmer’s curse-busting crystal ball — will beat Pittsburgh 16-6.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL