On Sunday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings won again, running their record to 6-1. Is it time for them to be labeled as NFC contenders?
The Minnesota Vikings are rarely runaway winners. But they’re winners really often.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota moved to 6-1 with a 34-26 victory. The defense contributed with two interceptions of Kyler Murray. The special teams recovered a muffed punt, leading to a touchdown which extended Minnesota’s lead from two to eight points. Offensively, the Vikings registered 25 first downs and 381 total yards, converting 6-of-13 third downs.
Through seven games, Minnesota hasn’t been overpowering. But unlike recent years, the Vikings have executed in critical situations.
In Week 3, Minnesota trailed the Detroit Lions 24-21 with 1:10 remaining in regulation. Kirk Cousins took three plays to score the eventual game-winning touchdown. On the following drive, the defense iced the contest with an interception.
One week later, the Vikings beat the New Orleans Saints in London. Minnesota scored on its final four drives, including two fourth-quarter jaunts to take the lead twice. The defense then forced field goal attempts of 60 and 61 yards, the latter being missed.
In their next game, the Vikings executed a 17-play, 75-yard, go-ahead fourth-quarter drive to vanquish the Chicago Bears in the final three minutes before forcing a turnover to finish off the visitors.
Then, against the Miami Dolphins in Week 6, Minnesota created two fourth-quarter turnovers to hold onto a victory on South Beach.
In all but their Week 1 victory over the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings have been forced to execute in pressure situations. They’ve succeeded every time.
Of course, there are also questions as to why Minnesota was in those spots, creating a fair question as to how good the Vikings really are.
Against 1-6 Detroit, Minnesota trailed by multiple scores. The three-win Saints took the Vikings to the limit with a backup quarterback. The Bears have a listless offense and took the lead after trailing 21-3, and the Dolphins, playing with Skylar Thompson and Teddy Bridgewater under center, were close throughout most of the contest.
So then, are the Vikings a contender who can close, or a pretender bound to slip off the tightrope?
Considering the NFC’s general state of malaise, Minnesota is good enough to make a postseason run.
The Philadelphia Eagles — who handed the Vikings their only loss in Week 2 — are clearly the top team.
After them, who is next?
The New York Giants have six wins but have myriad questions about their personnel, including quarterback Daniel Jones. They’ve also played nothing but one-score games. The Dallas Cowboys are 6-2 heading into the bye, getting four wins while Dak Prescott was sidelined with a broken thumb. Of everybody, perhaps Dallas has the best case.
The Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers are supposed to be contenders, but none have met those expectations through Halloween.
All the questions about Minnesota are legitimate, but the Vikings are winning. None of which can be said for the aforementioned quartet.
Over the next two months, rookie head coach Kevin O’Connell’s biggest challenge will be getting his squad to execute consistently through the first three quarters, making the final 15 minutes less of a high-wire act.
If the Vikings can become runaway winners, they might finally become consistent winners when it really matters. In January.