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It’s hard to gauge how difficult the end of the 2016 season was for the Minnesota Vikings compared to the 2015 ending.
After starting 5-0, the collapse of the 2016 Vikings, who fell from the penthouse to the outhouse by losing eight of their next 10 games, was a bitter pill to swallow, but one that – with the benefit of hindsight – seemed immediately possible when the team lost both of its starting offensive tackles.
It came into focus on Halloween night and continued through Christmas Eve.
2015 was a different animal completely. After starting 7-2, the Vikings lost three of four games to sit at 8-5 and won their final three games to win the division, clinching it with a road win at Lambeau Field – arguably the only legitimate team the 2015 Vikings beat. All season long, they beat the teams they were supposed to and lost to the teams they were supposed to … and it can be argued that, by the time the Vikings had their rematch with the Packers, they were the team that was supposed to win.
The 2016 Vikings didn’t beat the teams they were supposed to. Win one of their two games against Detroit and all other things going as they did, the Vikings would have made the playoffs. Of their eight losses, four were against playoff teams, including the Lions, whom the Vikings could have singlehandedly knocked out of the postseason before Seattle did.
The reality of the NFL is that the landscape changes from one year to the next.
A year ago at this time, Vikings fans were crushed and cursing Blair Walsh’s name because the season wasn’t supposed to end like that. A year later, the season finale seemed more like a sad circus – complete with those daring young kooks on their flying trapeze.
The reality of the NFL, which goes shockingly unrealized, is that each year is a distinct and different brand than the previous year.
In 2016, only two of the eight defending division champions actually defended their crowns. They met Saturday night when New England sent Houston home – a Houston team that made the playoffs despite Brock Osweiler, not because of him.
The Vikings were far from alone in their inability to defend their division titles. The Vikings finished 8-8. The other five who didn’t repeat as division champs? Their records were 9-7, 8-7-1, 7-8-1, 6-9-1 and 6-10.
The six teams that didn’t repeat as division champions posted a record of 72-24 in 2015. In 2016, those same six teams posted a combined record of 44-49-3.
NFL players speak in hyperbole all the time, often because reporters are fixated on trying to determine their “mindset” at any given time. The reality is that several things combine to undermine successful teams. Injuries, key losses, the salary cap and just bad bounces coming into play all factor in.
It’s what makes football unique to other sports. There isn’t a marathon schedule of 82 or, in the case of baseball, 162 games. The best team doesn’t always win on any given Sunday.
It’s what makes football special. It’s what makes it unique. The Vikings are going to look a lot different next year. If history tells us anything, so will the landscape of the NFL in 2017.
For those teams that made the playoffs, but now clean out their lockers in angry silence – the Vikings were doing that a year ago – they take a little down time and start prepping for the next season.
It’s why the NFL, even in down times, rules the sports landscape. There’s always next year and, with the exception of the Patriots and the Packers, teams ride the wave of success and those waves go up and down. The Vikings suffered an ebb in that wave. The Packers and Patriots aside, it happens to all franchises from one year to the next.
It is what it is, and it’s what makes the NFL what it is.
- Former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wasn’t unemployed for long. Fired after Oakland’s loss to Houston in the wild card playoffs, Musgrave was hired by the Denver Broncos as quarterbacks coach. It would appear his hiring may point more toward the Broncos looking to develop Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch as opposed to going out sign a veteran gunslinger in free agency.
- For those who utilize the stats generated by Pro Football Focus, Vikings rookie Kentrell Brothers was arguably the best special teams player in the league. PFF released its list of best special teams players of 2016 and Brothers was the only player named to both the punt coverage team and the kickoff return unit.
- Former Packers and Vikings linebacker Bryce Paup was added to the new University of Minnesota coaching staff as its defensive line coach.
- If the NFL is wondering why its ratings have taken a dip, all they have to do is look at its own playoff product to date. Through six postseason games, the winning margins in those games have been 13, 20, 18, 25, 16 and 18 points – games in which the six losing teams have combined to score seven touchdowns. The first six games have also been “all chalk” – the higher-seeded home teams have won every game to date.
- A home team hasn’t lost in the divisional round of the playoffs and, since 2011, homes teams have a record of 18-4, which could be bad news for those hoping for a Pittsburgh-Green Bay Super Bowl.