In the NFL, there is a lot to be said about having home-field advantage. It's what makes a team with a 13-2 record play hard in the final week of the season in order to lock down home-field advantage for the playoffs. It's the reason why teams hate back-to-back road games. But few teams have had such a wild swing of fortunes as the Vikings when it comes to where they play.
At the Metrodome, the Vikings have been almost unbeatable, winning six of seven games. But when it comes to taking the show on the road, success is hard to repeat. The Vikings are just 1-5 on the road, and if they miss the playoffs it will be that shoddy road record that will be one of the primary reasons.
Several Vikings expressed their theories on why the team is so strong at home and so futile on the road. The Vikings aren't alone in being more successful at home, but their road struggles are just more pronounced this season.
"That's true with a lot of teams, but ours is pretty night and day," wide receiver Devin Aromashodu said. "The mistakes that we've made on the road have really cost us. You can make mistakes at home because you have the fans behind you and they keep the defense pumped up to make up for it. On the road, when you make a mistake, it seems like it doubles. It gets their fans into it and it can snowball on you in a hurry."
Asked if there is something that can be pinpointed that has been the source of their road woes, kicker Blair Walsh said one consistent factor has been not silencing the fans that get amped up before the start of the game.
"We're just not getting off to good starts," Walsh said. "I think the only game we got off to a good start with was against Seattle. Other than that, we haven't done ourselves any favors. We've got to assert ourselves earlier, because we haven't taken crowds out of the game early like we should."
The difference between getting off to strong starts is just as pronounced when the Vikings are at home. They're typically stronger in the first quarter and get the crowd into the game. It can be argued that the Vikings won last Sunday's critical game with the Bears in the first five minutes of the game and held it from that point. They have a different swagger at home and they try to bottle that, take it on the plane with them and see it translate when they're playing on someone else's home turf.
"Starting fast is one big thing," safety Harrison Smith said. "When we're in the dome, we come out knowing this is our territory and we're going to make plays. Not that we don't have the mentality when we're away, but it's just actually going out and doing it. That's something we're all focused on doing this week."
The difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams is often how well they perform on the road. Of the eight division leaders through 13 games, none of them has a losing record on the road. They find ways to win and much of that has to do with eliminating the peaks and valleys and simply playing with consistency from one week to the next regardless of locale.
"We just haven't been consistent on the road," Brinkley said. "What makes good teams great is that they're consistent. They don't have those big ups and downs. If we had one or two more wins on the road, we'd be in a totally different position right now. We had to play a full 60 minutes and haven't been doing that enough."
Not only is starting strong imperative for the Vikings to no longer be road worriers instead of road warriors, but closing out teams when they get the lead is just as important. Center John Sullivan said it's not easy to pick one glaring weakness the team has on the road. It's the little things – a bounce here, a bounce there – that has made the difference and that they've been their own worst enemy.
"I'm not sure you can pinpoint one thing," Sullivan said. "Teams tend to play better at home because you have all the advantages in your favor. We've been in a lot of those games, but have to finish strong. We still have a chance to do some good things and fix the problems we've had on the road. That starts Sunday in St. Louis."
The Vikings players have made it clear they understand the playoff scenario they're up against. For them to make the playoffs, they will have to start winning on the road. Teams make the playoffs with losing road records. The Vikings are guaranteed to have that, even if they win their remaining two road games. But the time for making excuses is over.
Brian Robison summed up that feeling when asked if there was something he could put his finger on to account for the Vikings consistent losing on the road, saying that if you want to be a playoff team you have to learn to win on the road. The Vikings can achieve their goal if they can find the solution to that puzzle.
"I don't know if there is any way to account for it," Robison said. "In order to be great in this league, you've got to win on the road. We haven't been getting it done, but we've got two weeks that, if we want to be good in the playoffs and give ourselves an opportunity to get to the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs, we're going to have win on the road. We're not going to have any home games in the playoffs, to be honest, so we have to go out this week and have a good game on the road."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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