Despite a fan base that seems ready to boo in frustration at the first sign of trouble, the Minnesota Vikings are ready to come home.
The Vikings lost two critical road games in the last two weeks to the NFC North rival Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, and both of those teams were ahead of the Vikings in the division and the playoff chase.
"It gives me energy just thinking about what that noise factor will mean for our football team on Sunday. We've done pretty good at home this season," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "To play in front of our fans, deriving energy from our fans on Sunday, will be a big deal towards our success. I think we have the best home-field advantage in the NFL and we've got to prove that on this Sunday."
No team has a more dramatic difference in results at home and on the road. The Vikings are 5-1 at Mall of America Field and 1-5 playing road games. No other team with a record of .500 or better has as bad of a road record as the Vikings, although the Seattle Seahawks are 2-5 on the road and 5-0 at home.
One of the differences is with the number of interceptions the Vikings are throwing versus getting when on the road. In six road games, Christian Ponder has thrown six interceptions while the defense has generated only three on the road. The same holds true with fumbles, where the Vikings have lost five on the road and recorded only two opponent fumble recoveries on the road.
"I think it's a little bit of our not executing as well on the road as we have at home and some of that is the advantage of playing at home," Frazier said. "We have to find a way to execute on the road as well as we have at home. And that will come as we mature as a team and get better as a team, but we haven't gotten there yet. That's obvious with our record on the road. We're not executing as well on the road as we have at home this season."
Safety Jamarca Sanford went with the time-honored "protect your house" mantra when trying to explain the difference between the Vikings' success at home and failure on the road.
"It's just like being at home, at your regular house. You're going to protect your house. We've just got to do a better job of winning on the road," Sanford said. "For some reason we're great at home. We've only lost one game and that was to Tampa Bay that we let slip away. We just feed off our fans, (they are) electrifying, how loud they have the stadium.
"It just feels good to be at home. You don't got to travel or get on a the plane or do any of that. It's home, so you've got to protect your house. That's the way we approach it and that's the way we're going to approach it this weekend. We've got to come out with a victory this week."
The Vikings have had the same number of home and away games so far. Like most of the players, Ponder has been better at home, too. His average per completion (6.9 yards to 5.2), touchdown-to-interceptions ratio (8/5 at home; 6/6 on the road), passes of 20 yards or more (13 to 8), sacks (11 to 16) and passing rating (88.1 to 71.6) are all better at Mall of America Field than on the road.
After losing 28-10 to the Bears at Soldier Field and 23-14 to the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Vikings get another shot at both of them at Mall of America Field. On Sunday, they host the Bears, and Minnesota finishes the regular season with the Packers at Mall of America Field on Dec. 30.
"That was two games we feel we let slip by that we had so many opportunities to take control of the game. We had chances to win the game and we didn't, for whatever reason it was," Sanford said. "It just put us in a tougher bind, just a tougher road to travel. … It's no time to sit around and complain about it. We've just got to keep working. We've got to get some more wins around here."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.