I apologize to all zero of my readers for being a day late. I mean that in a way to say that I have zero readers, not that I don't actually apologize, not that it matters either way. I'm sure I would apologize if I had readers expecting something, or if I had a self-imposed deadline of some kind instead of getting recklessly drunk Sunday night and being hideously hung over all day Monday. I'm sure Tom Powers does that all the time.
Minnesota 34, Dallas 3 was both expected and unexpected. The buildup to the game was strange. Against all odds, the Dallas hype began to outweigh the Viking cynicism. I did not buy Dallas as a contender for one second - beating the Saints at the Superdome was impressive, I'll give them that, but the Saints had been getting so many breaks while other teams kept blowing games for them (Miami, Washington) that they were way overdue to get what was coming to them. (Yes, that's the kind of hardcore statistical analyziationisms you get here at TWFP.)
The Cowboys also beat Philly twice in a row to help fuel the media machine. Dallas just has their number - playing a division rival twice a year, let alone three times in one year, it tends to happen. They know exactly what to do to beat Philly. And as I expected, they had no idea what the hell to do to win in the Metrodome.
Still, I was really, really nervous. I felt the Vikings should have beat Dallas soundly, and I was apparently the only one who thought so. The Vikes are really, really good at home. Nobody seemed to notice or care. The "they haven't played anyone good at home all year" argument isn't as strong when you consider that they were killing teams - their average margin of victory at home was 17.
So the Vikings winning by 31 wasn't really surprising to me, except it was, because things never happen like they're supposed to with this team. If that makes sense.
That brings us to the third Vikings NFC title experience in 11 years. I emphasize "experience" because these events were not mere games. As everyone knows, in '98, we were the big unstoppable favorites, on the wrong-end of a crushing upset. In 2000, we backed into a bye, caught a huge break with New Orleans beating St. Louis, and promptly (predictably, from my perspective) got destroyed.
This team is not as good as the '98 squad (if anything, they're playing the '98 squad this week) but they're definitely better than the 2000 team. Vikings fans are approaching this game like a haggard, old, drunk sailor who's seen the worst the sea has to offer, and has been asked to set sail one more time. "Screw it, I've taken her worst shot, what's one more voyage?" Next week can't possibly be as bad as those two games. So we've got that going for us.
So with that, I say... (gulp) I really feel like the Vikings have a shot. Dallas provided the template on how to beat the Saints at home, so it can be done. There are a lot of ifs - If Favre doesn't turn it over, if Peterson still commands the defense's respect, if the safeties don't get burnt to a crisp on big plays, if they kick away from Reggie Bush, etc. All of those things are feasible. I wouldn't put money on them, but they are feasible. It can happen.
My one major concern is the defensive line repeating their performance. As I've written about before, the Metrodome is a HUGE help when it comes to the Vikings pass-rush. Do not expect the same thing to happen again in New Orleans. The Dome noise forces a telegraphed snap count - they'll still be on turf, but they won't have the noise advantage. I keep telling myself the Saints putting up 45 last week against Arizona is not that impressive considering Green Bay did the exact same thing the week before, but still... they can throw up 21 points quicker than you can say, "What is Brad Childress DOING??"
It makes no sense but I'm less nervous for this Saints game than I am for the Dallas game. I knew they could beat Dallas, but I didn't have a lot of confidence in it actually happening. They're bigtime underdogs in New Orleans. Everyone's riding the Saints. Everyone hates Favre. Good, that's a load off my mind.
I don't have any expectations - I think the key here is to forget that the Super Bowl is only one win away. No SB thoughts under any circumstances.
So if you see anyone beating themselves mercilessly in the face with their own shoe, pay them no mind - they're only wondering, "Wouldn't it be great if..."