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Zulgad: Vikings have super opportunity in league where success is often fleeting

Vikings coaches and players are undoubtedly tired of hearing about any type of curse that plagues their franchise. Those who believe in such things, will point to the four Super Bowl losses, or the heart-breaking playoff defeats, including devastating setback in the 1987, 1998 and 2009 NFC title games.

You can’t blame those inside Winter Park who roll their eyes at such things. The NFL has become a massive business and coaching and player turnover is so high that few likely feel any long-term connection to a franchise.

But while talk of a curse might bore the Vikings, there is one thing they should be very cognizant of as they prepare for Sunday’s NFC Divisional playoff game against New Orleans at U.S. Bank Stadium.

That would be the good fortune that has seemed to surround them for much of this 13-3 season. This is not to say the Vikings don’t get plenty of credit for creating their own fortune.

Starting quarterback Sam Bradford lasted exactly one game before a knee injury ruined his season. Case Keenum, signed to a one-year, $2 million deal to back up Bradford, came in and had a career year. That’s a credit to the Vikings.

Rookie sensation Dalvin Cook suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the fourth game of the season, but veterans Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon were there to replace him at running back. That also was a credit to the team’s front office.

But the Vikings also have gone through a season in which their brilliant defense has remained almost entirely intact. Defensive end Everson Griffen missed one game because of injury and safety Andrew Sendejo sat out three games. Besides that the key parts of this defense — Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and Harrison Smith — have been on the field on a weekly basis.

I’ve always found it funny when fans and media make assumptions about a team having a window to win a Super Bowl. Unless you’re the New England Patriots, that window can open and close at a moment’s notice. The Green Bay Packers entered the season expecting to win another NFC North title. That was until Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone at U.S. Bank Stadium. Now, the Packers have restructured their front office and coach Mike McCarthy will enter 2018 on the hot seat.

To get an idea of how dangerous it can be to assume success in this league, just look at last year’s NFC playoffs. The field included Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Green Bay, the Giants and Detroit. The Cowboys, like the Vikings this season, won 13 games. This season, Dallas led a group of five teams from the conference that did not return to the postseason and two of them fired their head coach.

Vikings fans also have plenty of experience when it comes to being let down by a team expected to do big things. After losing to the Saints in the 2009 NFC title game, the Vikings returned every starter in 2010 after Brett Favre agreed to come back.

But the good fortune that had surrounded the Vikings in 2009 was long gone by 2010. Sidney Rice arrived at training camp with a nagging hip injury and things got worse from there. The Vikings started 1-3, coach Brad Childress was fired after a 31-3 loss to Green Bay at the Metrodome, the stadium roof collapsed under the weight of a December snowstorm and the Vikings finished 6-10.

A more recent example came last season.

The Vikings were coming off a 2015 season in which they went 11-5 to win the NFC North. They played well enough in a first-round playoff game to beat the Seahawks but ended up losing on a Blair Walsh missed field-goal attempt.

Nonetheless, when the Vikings started 5-0 in 2016, the assumption was another division title was on the way. Minnesota appeared to have gotten its bad luck out of the way early when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury just before the regular season, but the acquisition of Bradford looked like a stroke of genius.

That was until the Vikings lost to the Eagles coming out of their bye week. Mike Zimmer began having eye issues the following week after a loss at Chicago and then offensive coordinator Norv Turner quit. Injuries also became a major factor as both offensive tackles were lost, as was running back Adrian Peterson. The defense was impacted, too, and by Christmas the main storyline was whether the defensive players were revolting against their head coach.

The Vikings won only three of their final 11 games and finished 8-8. It was the perfect example of just how quickly things can go wrong in the NFL.

It’s a credit to Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman that they learned from that experience. The offensive depth was far superior this season, and Zimmer seemed to choose his words more carefully in an attempt to not unnecessarily alienate his players.

All of this has left the Vikings two victories from their first Super Bowl berth since the 1976 season.

What this franchise must do now is embrace the opportunity that both preparation and good fortune have presented. While the preparation won’t go away after this season, the one thing we know is assuming that good fortune will continue would be a mistake.





vikings

Previous Story Report: Vikings plan to dress Sam Bradford vs. Saints Next Story Jarius Wright, David Morgan highlight depth that makes Vikings’ offense tick