The Vikings were one of only three division champs from 2008 to repeat in 2009, and they did it with more divisional competition.
What the Vikings accomplished this season in repeating as NFC North champions got a little bit overlooked in their anti-December to Remember, but, as they get a week's rest after locking down the No. 2 seed in the NFC, what they accomplished deserves to be acknowledged.
Only three teams repeated as division champions this year – Minnesota, Arizona and San Diego – but it should be noted that both the Chargers and Cardinals did so in divisions where nobody else in the division had a record above .500 in either 2008 or 2009. The Vikings never had that luxury. In 2008, the Bears finished a game behind them at 9-7. This year, Green Bay was hot on their heels at 11-5, forcing the Vikings to earn both division titles by winning, not just winning enough.
What makes their accomplishment so impressive is that, not only did five of the eight division champions from 2008 not repeat in 2009, but none of them even qualified for the playoffs. AFC East champion Miami fell to 7-9, AFC North champ Pittsburgh slipped to 9-7, AFC South champion Tennessee dropped to 8-8, NFC East champ New York regressed to 8-8 and NFC South champ Carolina dropped to 8-8.
It would appear that, even with balanced schedules, repeating as division champion is no easy task in the NFL, much less winning when there is another team in the division that posts a winning record. The Vikings were the only team to stand up to that challenge and come away from it with a second straight division title – an achievement worthy of noting.
In 2008, only four NFC playoff teams had 10 wins or more. This year, all six teams won 10 games or more.
When the Pro Bowl teams were announced and the Vikings led the way with eight players, a case was made that Percy Harvin should have been the ninth. That was rectified Monday when Harvin was added to the Pro Bowl roster as the NFC kick returner. Harvin was added because return man DeSean Jackson was also on the roster as a wide receiver for the NFC. The league decided Harvin deserved a roster spot as well, but it is unclear whether he will be able to be used as a receiver during the game or his duties will be limited to just returning kicks. Of course, the Vikings hope the league has to replace all nine of their Pro Bowl players – who won't be able to play if the Vikings advance to the Super Bowl.
The Vikings don't know who they will play in the divisional round of the playoffs, but they know when. The Vikes will host their game at noon CST Sunday, Jan. 17 at the Metrodome. The other bye teams got word on their start times as well – New Orleans will host their first game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, followed by Indianapolis hosting a game at 7:15 p.m. Following the Vikings game at noon Jan. 17, the Chargers will host their first game at 3:40 p.m.
The coaching carousel has already begun. Less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the 2009 season, the Redskins and Bills fired their head coaches and, from the looks of things, it would appear the Raiders won't be far behind. What does that mean to the Vikings? It likely means that Leslie Frazier and possibly Darrell Bevell may become hot prospects among those with head-coaching vacancies.
There is a good chance when the Cardinals have their rematch with the Packers Sunday, they will do so without wide receiver Anquan Boldin, another testament to why some teams opt to rest their star players when there is nothing to be gained by playing.
You have to give the Packers some credit for not being cheap when they could have been. Running back Ryan Grant could have been rested in the second half of Green Bay's blowout win over Arizona, but wasn't. He finished the game with 11 carries for 51 yards. What made that significant is that he wound up the season with 1,253 rushing yards. By hitting the 1,250-yard plateau (by just three yards), he adds $1.5 million to his $3 million base salary for 2010. It makes you wonder how many organizations would have kept him playing Sunday knowing that 48 yards would cost $1.5 million.
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.