Vikings fans were giddy last year about the prospect of heading back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1977, but, as we all know by now, that dream got shattered by the Saints and the rest is history. A year later, the Vikings went from first to worst in the NFC North and now find themselves with the hard-to-handle prospect of knowing that one of their division rivals is guaranteed to play in the Super Bowl.
Both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers cemented their spot in the playoffs by sweeping the Vikings. By virtue of their two wins over Minnesota, the Bears locked down a first-round bye and dispatched the sub-.500 Seahawks to advance to the NFC Championship Game. The Packers needed to beat Chicago in the last game of the regular season just to make the postseason dance and have rolled ever since – knocking off the Eagles in the wild card round before dispatching top-seeded Atlanta last week. With a win over Chicago today, which many national media types believe is all but a forgone conclusion despite being on the road for the third straight game (they're a 3½-point favorite) at Soldier Field, the Packers would be back in the Super Bowl.
The Bears raised some eyebrows when it was announced prior to their Week 17 matchup that they were going to play all of their starters despite knowing before the game began that Chicago had already locked down the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and the first-round bye that came with it. It seems much more understandable why the Bears took that strategy. Had they won at Lambeau Field in Week 17, Green Bay wouldn't have even been in the playoffs. Perhaps Lovie Smith and his coaching staff knew what they were up against and it would have been worth it to eliminate the Packers themselves. They will get a second chance to put the nail in the 2010 Green Bay coffin today.
All the Vikings can do today, if they can tolerate it, is to sit back and watch two teams that they swept in 2009 to lock down their own playoff bye. It seems like light years since the Vikings made their way south to the Big Easy to compete for a Super Bowl berth, but, in the cyclical world of the NFL, a team's rise or fall can happen quickly.
2009 was the Year of the Vikings in the NFC North and the team came within a penalty of potentially kicking the game-winning field goal that would have ended their long Super Bowl drought. 2010 is going to be the Year of the (fill In the Blank, whether it's the Bears or Packers). One of them will finish the business the Vikings were unable to in 2010 and, in the process, create their own destiny as the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.
What a difference a year can make.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.