Once upon a time the Vikings and Chiefs clashed in the Super Bowl. Kansas City emerged victorious from that epic battle, having earned with their blood and sweat the championship title and the honor of being crowned the best team in pro football.
Fast forward to 2011. Once again the Vikings and Chiefs find themselves taking the gridiron with a title at stake. This time though, the title will not be bestowed upon the team that prevails, but rather on the one that fails. The winner on Sunday will come away with no championship or trophy or distinction of any kind, but the loser will indeed receive a crown. And on that crown will be emblazoned the words “Worst Team in the NFL.”
And trust me kids, whichever team loses this game will wholly and completely deserve that particular shameful bit of headwear.
They got here by different routes, these two miserable excuses for football teams. The Vikings arrived via a road closely resembling a roller coaster, a path that has taken them three times to the height of ecstasy only to send them diving three times into the darkest pit of despair. Each time the height has been higher and the bottom deeper and danker and more reeking of desperation. Each time the downward plunge (which tends to begin shortly after the start of the third quarter) has been more gut-wrenching, and has left the fans with a greater sense of frustration and anger.
The Chiefs got here by a somewhat more direct route (one that doesn’t lend itself quite so readily to amusement park ride analogies). They flat-out stunk for the first two weeks of the season, getting blown out by a combined point total that would make even a college football cupcake wince; and to heap misery on top of misery had to watch some of their best players bow out with injuries, including their top offensive weapon Jamaal Charles. Then in week 3 they managed to crawl out of the quicksand and make a game of it against the Chargers, only to watch their quarterback get picked off during what could’ve been the game-winning fourth quarter drive.
It’s difficult to judge which fanbase has had greater reason to be ticked off. The Vikings have blown leads, which is always mind-numbing, but then again not very much was expected of them in the first place. The Chiefs have had the decency to fall behind early in all but one of their games and get blown-out in standard fashion, but given that the team made the playoffs last year and were expected to do so again, the fans probably have more right to their anger than those of the Vikings, who most people thought would fade early and never be a factor after that.
Though their paths to this woeful destination have been different, the 2011 Vikings and Chiefs do share quite a few things in common. At the top of that list is the dreadfulness of their quarterback play. While most NFL teams have enjoyed explosive passing performances even in defeat, Minnesota and Kansas City have watched their veteran QBs perform at a level that would make even 1930s football fans avert their eyes. After three weeks, Matt Cassel and Donovan McNabb have combined to pass for 906 yards – 421 yards fewer than Tom Brady has thrown for all by himself. In other words, don’t look for Sunday’s game to turn into a pass-happy shoot-out, unless both teams’ entire starting secondaries go down with injury in the first quarter.
Actually, given the way things have gone for the team this year, the idea of all Kansas City’s starting DBs getting hurt in one quarter doesn’t seem that far-fetched. They’re already missing Eric Berry, the guy who was supposed to be the anchor of their defensive backfield. The absence of Berry, coupled with the Chiefs’ overall ineptitude at the art of stopping the run, has some observers believing this could be the week the Vikings finally break out of their season-long pattern of offensive adequacy-fizzling-into-ineptitude and put some big numbers on the board.
Maybe…but to do so they will have to overcome some of their own issues, including an egregious lack of pass protection, a talent vacuum at the wide receiver position and quarterback play that has at times verged on the scandalous. If the Vikings do explode vs. Kansas City, it will likely be thanks to Adrian Peterson, who is more amped-up than usual after being neglected by Bill Musgrave in the second half against Detroit.
If Kansas City has an offensive weapon who could explode against the Vikings, it’s wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Right now Bowe has only 11 catches all year for 185 yards – Wes Welker calls that a good quarter – but if Calvin Johnson’s performance against the Vikings was any indication, deep receptions will be there for the taking if Kansas City can protect their quarterback and Bowe can beat single coverage. That’s a big if with Jared Allen and Brian Robison out there tearing up offensive tackles.
Another thing the Vikings and Chiefs share in common? New offensive coordinators who are already becoming objects of fan disdain. Bill Musgrave stepped in for Darrell Bevell, charged with the task of upgrading a creaky and primitive offensive machine. But Musgrave’s run-heavy offense has looked even more retro (in the bad sense of the word) than Bevell’s, causing many a fan to pine for the days of Naufahu Tahi and Jeff Dugan.
New Chiefs offensive coordinator Bill Muir had an even tougher task coming in than Musgrave. The new Vikings man had only to follow the reviled Bevell; Muir had to follow Charlie Weis, a man whose keen offensive mind was a major factor behind the Chiefs’ surprising 2010 playoff run. Point totals of 7 and 3 the first two games did not get Muir off on the right foot with the fanbase. After a third straight loss, things have now gotten so hot for Muir that head coach Todd Haley had to issue a public statement of support – never a good sign.
Haley himself could use a public statement of support from someone after the season’s dismal beginning. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier can at least reassure himself with the knowledge that, unlike Haley, he is at too early a point in his tenure for the heat of his seat to become an issue. The same can’t be said for certain Viking players, most notably Donovan McNabb, who has already heard the familiar sound of fans calling for his ouster.
Both teams have too many messes to count, and that’s why both teams currently find themselves sitting at 0-3. After Sunday, one of these teams will be at 1-3 and able to finally take a deep breath. The other team will be at 0-4 and still drowning. Whichever team manages the more futile effort on Sunday will be the consensus Worst Team in the NFL, and they will not have arrived at that ignominious place by ill fortune alone. They will have earned that distinction by truly being lousy.