Vikings: Who we want them to play; Who they will play
Who the Vikings will play:
For those who viewed the "NFC Playoff Handicap" in this space on Tuesday, perhaps you read between the lines of those ranking to gather that I see the Green Bay Packers coming here for the Divisional Playoff next Sunday. For that to scenario to occur, the Pack would obviously have to fell the Arizona Cardinals late Sunday afternoon while the Philadelphia Eagles would need to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night. Although it's a rarity for both away teams to win on Wild Card weekend, I believe it will occur in what is a wonderfully deep NFC field.
In the alternate two scenarios that could occur concerning to Purple's opponent: the Vikings would play Arizona if the Cardinals beat the Pack and Philly beats the Cowboys; or the Vikings will play Dallas should the Cowboys defeat the Eagles, regardless of what the outcome should be for 'Zona/Green Bay. As the No. 2 seed, the Vikings are guaranteed of playing the highest remaining seed next weekend, while No. 1 seed New Orleans gets the lower remaining seed. The Cowboys are the 3rd seeded team in these NFC playoffs.
Regarding the weekend's Saturday matchup, I just don't see Dallas beating Philly for a third time this season. Cowboy head coach Wade Philips is 0-4 in his postseason career, while quarterback Tony Romo is 0-2. The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since beating the Vikings in the Wild Card round of 1996. Since then, they've dropped six straight in the second season. On the opposite sideline, the Eagles have won at least one playoff game in each of coach Andy Reid's seven previous postseason appearances, while quarterback Donovan McNabb boats a 9-6 career record in the playoffs.
As per the Cardinals and Packers, I'm going with Green Bay who has won seven of their last eight, with the lone loss in that stretch coming in a last-second defeat to Pittsburgh. The Pack has the league's top rushing defense, the No. 3 scoring offense and led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Arizona offers the worst Plus/Minus turnover differential (-5) among the NFC teams left standing and may play Sunday sans injured wideout Anquan Boldin. The 'Cards went just 4-4 at home this season and sport the NFL's 28th ranked rush offense and 23rd ranked pass defense. Arizona enters the playoffs having gone 2-2 in their final four games, with those two wins coming over woeful St. Louis and Detroit.
For additional impressions & stats for both of these matchups, please click here.
Who we want the Vikings to play:
Also Green Bay.
Aside from the obvious sideshow bonanza that would come with watching Favre try to knock his former team from the playoffs, ample history -- both distant and recent -- suggests that the Purple would struggle more with Arizona or Dallas than the Pack.
In the nearly 50 year history of the Viking franchise, the Purple have had a playoff matchup with a team they've beat or tied in the regular season on six occasions. The Vikings postseason record in those games? A stellar 5-1. In rematches with teams they've lost to in the regular season (i.e., Arizona), the Vikings are just 3-9. The Cardinals are 6-2 on the road this year and I'd rather not see Kurt Warner and his 8-3 playoff record at the Metrodome next Sunday. Arizona is 3-0 on turf this season and their offense scores more points on the road, while their defense gives up fewer.
Between Green Bay and Dallas, I'd prefer to see the known quantity next weekend. The Pack is a measured 5-3 on the road this year and their road game totals have averaged a hair over 50 points. In games that have reached that combined 50-point mark the Vikings are 6-1, with the lone loss coming in overtime to the Bears.
The Vikings have won three straight against the Pack including wins at home the last two seasons. In their two '09 games against Green Bay, the Purple has won by an average of 9.5 points and they've pummeled the oft-stomped Aaron Rogers (sacked 50 times this year) with 14 sacks in the dual Viking wins. Pack sacks on Favre in those two? Zero.
And therein we find the rub. The name ingredient for success against the Vikings in their four losses this season -- aside from picking apart our pass defense -- has been knocking Favre around. In those losses, Favre went down an average of 3.5 times per game. In Vikings wins, he was sacked at the diminutive rate of just 1.6 per. Green Bay sports no lineman with 5 sacks on the season (they're led by linebacker Clay Matthews with 10) and enter the playoffs with the second-fewest sacks among NFC teams. While Arizona and Dallas present 26 and 23 road sacks this season, respectively, Green Bay had just 14 in their eight games away from Lambeau.
Lastly (and I present the following knowing it counteracts my Philly vs. Dallas prediction -- but I'm still going with the Eagles), here's a stat both juicy and surprising coming via Michael Rand in Tuesday's Star Trib:
"Do you believe the tired cliché that says it's difficult to beat another team three times in a season? Again, from 1990-2008 [since the NFL went to six playoff teams in each conference] we find 15 instances of a team that won two regular season meetings taking on its swept foe in the playoffs. And in ten of those games, the winning team was the same for the third time."
Bring on the Pack, and let the circus begin.
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