If you are the kind of Vikings fan that is willing to look ahead more than one game and also can stomach looking back — and let’s face it, both of those things aren’t always recommended — you’ve probably noticed Minnesota’s playoff path this season has the potential to include not one but two ghosts of postseasons past.
In ranking all of the potential Vikings playoff opponents last week in order of least to most worthy of revenge, in fact, I couldn’t even break a tie between the Saints and Falcons. How do you separate a pair of painful overtime losses in the NFC title game? All I knew for sure was that those two teams were at the top of the list.
And, of course, the wild card round played out in the one way that could have the Vikings facing both. First, the Falcons upset the Rams on Saturday. Had the Rams won, that would have been the Vikings’ division round opponent. Instead, Atlanta will go to Philadelphia. That meant the winner of New Orleans vs. Carolina would be the Vikings’ foe next weekend. The Saints prevailed, so here we go.
It’s Vikings vs. Saints on Sunday. And if both the Vikings and Falcons win next weekend — hardly guaranteed but certainly possible — it will be Vikings vs. Falcons in the NFC title game.
So I guess it’s time to do the thing I couldn’t do last week: Try to break the tie and determine which victory would be sweeter.
Please note, of course, that the idea of “revenge” in this case probably manifests itself solely within the Vikings fan base and not in the locker room. The loss to the Saints happened eight years ago. The Falcons loss happened 19 years ago. This year’s Vikings beat both the Saints and Falcons.
That said, let’s take a look at both teams and the case for each:
Saints: After I made the initial list last week, some readers reached out with some good points about New Orleans. Because the head coach (Sean Payton) from that controversial 2009 title game loss — later found to be part of the Bountygate scandal — is still in charge of New Orleans now, there is an added measure of revenge. Quarterback Drew Brees, too, was on both of those teams. The New Orleans loss also has the benefit of recency. It’s easier for some to remember the sting of that game than one that was 11 years earlier.
That said, I get the sense there are some Vikings fans who are still more mad at the Vikings for that 2009 loss than they are at the Saints. Minnesota, after all, outgained the Saints 475-257 but turned the ball over five times in a game it still had a great chance to win before a 12 men in the huddle penalty and interception sent the game to overtime. Also, a victory over the Saints this year would come in the division round and not the NFC title game.
Falcons: One reader suggested Atlanta paid its dues in the revenge department by knocking off the rival Packers in the NFC title game last season. That’s a good point, but only if you’re the kind of Vikings fan who is just as happy when the Packers lose as you are when the Vikings win.
While the wounds of the 1998 NFC title game loss are not as fresh, in some ways that loss still remains shocking and ushered in a new era of heartbreak for Vikings fans. You could imagine countless ways the Vikings would lose to the Saints in 2009. The 1998 Vikings were so dominant that a loss was almost inconceivable — right up until it happened.
Add in the fact that a playoff rematch against Atlanta would be at U.S. Bank Stadium in the NFC title game, and I think you have to give the slight revenge nod to a Vikings win over the Falcons instead of the Saints.
That said, this path could be the validation of my theory that long-suffering franchises tend to break championship curses in some sort of spectacular fashion. A month ago, my theory was that the Packers would make a run to the NFC title game and play the Vikings. But knocking off New Orleans, then Atlanta? That would be just as dramatic.