The Minnesota Vikings are headed to the NFL playoffs. They won the NFC North Division title Sunday with a convincing victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Super Bowl 52 will be played at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in February, and the currently 11-3 Vikings hope to be the first NFL team to play in a Super Bowl on their home field. Here are some questions about the team and its prospects:
1) What does it mean to win NFC North?
For the second time in three years, the Vikings have finished in first place ahead of Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit. Winning the division means the Vikings will play at least one playoff game at home. If the team finishes with one of the top two won-loss records in the National Football Conference, it would get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and host the winner of one of the two wild card games. If the Vikings don't get the bye, they will host one of those wild card games.
2) What are the chances the Vikings will get one of those top two playoff spots?
Very good. Currently at 11 wins and three losses, the Vikings trail only Philadelphia with the best overall record in the NFC. The Eagles are 12-2. The Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are close behind with 10 wins apiece. In their final two games, the Vikings play the Packers in Green Bay and they host the Chicago Bears.
3) Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played Sunday, the first time in more than a year after a devastating knee injury. Will he resume the starter's role?
No. Quarterback Case Keenum's name is being mentioned as a possible league most valuable player. He is arguably the team's MVP. Statistically, Keenum is among the league leaders at quarterback. Barring an injury or dramatic, late season slump, Head Coach Mike Zimmer is likely to keep Keenum as the starter.
4) Do the Vikings have what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs and maybe play in the Super Bowl?
Yes. The Vikings have a fighting chance in every game they play because their defense is one of the finest in the league. As any coach will tell you, if the opposing team cannot score it cannot win. Offensively, the Vikings have done a good job protecting the football, limiting turnovers, and presenting a balanced attack with success in both the pass and the run.
5) What teams do the Vikings have to be wary of in the playoffs?
Philadelphia's played the best football in the NFC, but a week ago they lost their MVP-candidate quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury. Backup Nick Foles led the Eagles to a win Sunday, and much like Case Keenum with the Vikings, Foles is trying to prove he is a capable starter. The Vikings have already beaten Los Angeles, New Orleans and Atlanta this season, but they were defeated by Carolina. In the playoffs, however, there are no sure bets.
6) What should we look for in the two remaining regular season games and will the Vikings get a chance to rest starters after a grueling season?
Even with the division title in hand, the Vikings are not likely to let up. Teams want to play post-season games at home, and if home field advantage is still up for grabs the Vikings will give it their best effort.
7) The Packers lost to the Panthers Sunday. Is it finally over for our rivals to the east?
The Packers still have a mathematical chance to get to the playoffs, but it is not likely. Still, some Vikings fans may fear Saturday's game against the Packers. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers would probably like to make the Vikings pay for knocking him out for much of the season with a broken collar bone. And if nothing else, the Packers would like to deal the Vikings a loss and strike a blow at their chances for home playoff games. Also, it is expected to be extremely cold in Green Bay Saturday night, and the Vikings really haven't played in a cold weather game yet this season.
8) When will Vikings fans feel at ease about a successful season?
For many, not until the confetti cannons blast at the end of the Super Bowl and the Vikings have a lead on the scoreboard. Longtime Vikings fans have suffered through a number of near misses, unfortunate circumstances and unlikely failures. The Vikings have been to the Super Bowl four times, but they have never won it.
In recent playoff games the team was twice eliminated after field goal attempts sailed wide left, and the bounty-pummeled Brett Favre tossed an interception in the closing seconds of an NFC championship game. For fans, tension levels will be off the charts if the Vikings are involved in a close playoff game.