With the Saints taking down the Colts, Vikings fans will be left to wonder what might have been had they won the NFC Championship over New Orleans.
Let the second-guessing begin about what might have been had the Vikings played the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
For many Vikings fans, the Saints' 31-17 win over the Colts is even more painful for Vikings fans than if Indianapolis had blown out the Saints. To see a Colts defense without both Bob Sanders
in the lineup and Dwight Freeney
at less than full strenght, it was clear that a veteran QB like Drew Brees
(or Brett Favre
) could pick them apart. After a slow start, Brees completed just about every pass in sight and marched the Saints up and down the field throughout most of Sunday night's game, which was another very solid Super Bowl performance that kept fans interested all the way through.
But would the result have been the same had the Vikings played? Much like the 1998 season when the Vikings missed out on a chance to play Denver in the Super Bowl, fans tend to forget that the Vikings sustained numerous injuries to their linebacker corps that day and John Randle was hobbling on one leg most of the game. They likely would have been without both Randle and linebacker Ed McDaniel, which might have allowed Denver RB Terrell Davis to run wild against the Vikings defense. Similarly this year, injuries to Brett Favre, Cedric Griffin
and Antoine Winfield
would have put all of their statuses in jeopardy for Sunday's Super Bowl.
There's no doubt Favre would have played – even if it meant wheeling him out on the field – but Griffin clearly would have been out and, depending on who you believe, Winfield would have been iffy at best. Peyton Manning
likely would have had the opportunity to pick the Vikings defense apart given that it was so shorthanded at cornerback. Still, the performance the Saints put in and the celebrations on Bourbon Street begs the question, "Could that have been the Vikings?"
We'll never know, so let the second-guessing begin.
The Colts are blaming The Who in small part for not having Freeney in the second half of Sunday's game. Halftime, which typically lasts 12 minutes during a regular game, lasted 31 minutes thanks to the halftime performance from the British rock icons. As a result, Freeney's long inactivity led to his injured ankle swelling up and making it nearly impossible for him to play after halftime.
You have to give the maligned Saints defense some credit. Their three playoff victories this postseason was one more than they had amassed in the previous 42 seasons combined. However, perhaps more impressive was that their three wins came against three quarterbacks that many believe will be locks to make it to the Hall of Fame – Kurt Warner, Favre and Manning. Depending on whom you believe, not only did they beat three Hall of Famers, but two of those three may have played the last games of their careers against the Saints in the process.
There is already speculation that the Vikings might end up with five preseason games and the NFL regular-season opener in 2010. The Vikings have played the Cowboys in the preseason each of the last four years and, with both teams inducting a member in the Class of 2010 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it would make sense to match them up in the preseason opener. The same is true of the regular season. Since the Colts and Saints won't meet in 2010, the matchup between the Vikings and Saints could be the highlight game the NFL uses to springboard its 2010 season. We won't find out until the schedule is released in April how it will shake out, but it wouldn't be out of line to consider that the Vikings will open their 2010 season at New Orleans.
The Vikings likely won't be stuck with two road games to start the season and three of the first four away from home like they did in 2009 because the Twins will no longer be a scheduling concern for the NFL. They moved into their new stadium this year, ending any potential conflicts for the Metrodome with the Vikings, unless they make the postseason and a freak October blizzard could potentially force the Twins inside. But, if that happens, the Vikings would clearly have stadium precedence.