Hopes high as Vikings take bye week heading into playoffs

The Minnesota Vikings have begun another postseason adventure, backed by an often-burned fan base carrying several scars from flameouts of playoffs past.

There's already a dose of modesty embedded in state culture that contributes to regulated expectations, and the memories of Darrin Nelson's drop, Gary Anderson's miss and Brett Favre's misfire naturally make the purple-clad people more hesitant to get their hopes up this time.

Well, these Vikings will calmly tell them to forget about all those infamous flops on some of football's biggest stages over the 57-year history of the franchise. This team didn't play in those games.

"I've got a crystal ball, and I've got a wood spirit hanging in my office," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "So there's no damn curse."

After finishing 13-3 , their second-best record in 40 seasons since the NFL implemented a 16-game schedule in 1978, the Vikings were rewarded with a first-round bye and a home game on Jan. 14 in the divisional round. 

If Los Angeles beats Atlanta at home, the Vikings will host the Rams. If the Falcons are victorious on Saturday, the Vikings will face the Carolina-New Orleans winner. The Saints host the Panthers on Sunday.

Nine of the past 10 teams to reach the Super Bowl did so with the first-round bye. The only outlier was the Baltimore Ravens, the AFC's No. 4 seed in 2012. 

That's a fact that Zimmer made sure to share with his players last week, prior to completing their pursuit of the bonus rest time and automatic advancement to the quarterfinals of the tournament that conveniently concludes this time on their home turf.

As for whether the first matchup comes against the Rams, Saints or Panthers?

"Don't care at all," defensive end Brian Robison said. "They've got to come to U.S. Bank Stadium, and we're going to be ready for them."

Robison is the only player remaining on the roster from 2009, when Favre joined his former rival. He steered the Vikings at age 40 to the NFC championship game, only to throw the off-balance interception late in the fourth quarter following the 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty that lowlighted the overtime loss at New Orleans. 

Anderson's wide-left field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship against Atlanta following the 15-1 finish in 1998 was the even more stunning miscue in modern Vikings history, leading to the overtime loss at the Metrodome.

Then there was the 1987 team that sneaked into the playoffs after the strike and notched two upsets on the road, before falling by seven points at Washington when Nelson didn't hang on to the potential tying touchdown catch at the goal line in the NFC championship game. 

The Vikings played for the 2000 NFC title, too, falling 41-0 to the New York Giants in embarrassing fashion. Then there are those four Super Bowl defeats between the 1969 and 1976 seasons that laid the foundation for a half-century of January failure.

The way the Vikings have progressed through 2017, though, has produced a different feel.

The teams that head coaches Brad Childress, Dennis Green and Jerry Burns took to the NFC championships were more reliant on high-octane offenses and high-profile stars at the skill positions. 

Zimmer's group, albeit with multiple Pro Bowl players, is a defense-first creation that has exhibited more discipline, humility and harmony than the other elite teams the franchise has fielded.

"We not only respect each other, but we like each other too," quarterback Case Keenum said.

"And I think that goes a long way. Outside of the X's and O's, we fight for each other, and I think you go up and down the row in there and everybody feels the same. I think that's pretty rare."