Entering week 17, the Minnesota Vikings face the Chicago Bears at US Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. A win sends them to the playoffs and a loss (most likely) sends them home.
As they get prepared to play the Chicago Bears, the Minnesota Vikings can use any motivational trick in the book to help them mentally.
For instance, they can tell themselves they are ‘starting from scratch’, with one game to look at in a shot at a disappointing season’s final redemption. This means it all comes out in the wash at the end. Every team that makes it into the playoff tournament has a chance at the big prize, no matter their regular season mistakes, turnovers, or lousy execution.
They can use words like ‘do or die’, to make things dramatic. It’s obvious that Minnesota has more to play for than Chicago, considering the Los Angeles Rams have to merely beat the San Francisco 49ers at home to keep the No. 2 seed from the Bears.
But what I think is a little more precise, more appropriate is, ‘win one for Zim’, a sentiment that has to be on the minds of many a Viking player. Winning this game sweeps a messy regular season under the carpet, losing means having to stare at red wine and chocolate stains every time you watch TV for the next six months.
I’m sure it’s easy enough for some NFL coaches to rationalize the fact that the sudden death of one important offensive coach (Tony Sparano) and the obvious failure of another (John DeFilippo) makes an examination of a disheartening season appear not entirely their fault, but Mike Zimmer doesn’t come across as that type of head man.
Zimmer knows that nobody cares that your team obtained the league’s prize free agent quarterback and he has fifteen turnovers on the season, a handful of them crucial reasons for several losses. Just like no one cares that you lost the starting guard on your shaky offensive line and your prize first-round rookie pick to injury. Or even that your most reliable defensive lineman went AWOL for a good part of the first half of 2018.
“You are what your record says you are.” This is the wisdom of Mike Zimmer’s mentor, Bill Parcells, a head coach that revamped losing NFL franchises in New York (twice), New England and Dallas, and owns three Super Bowl rings.
The Minnesota Vikings are 8-6-1. When you put those numbers on a head coach, it’s not a very regal picture frame. But 8-6-1 is what Mike Zimmer is, and nobody can change that besides his very own football team on Sunday afternoon.
That team can make him 9-6-1 and get him into the playoffs against an aggressive and slightly enigmatic Chicago Bears team. A team that if they do indeed beat–will again be their opponent the following weekend in Chicago.
Chicago has several unorthodox things going for them this year. A new head coach, Mike Nagy, who brings with him an inventive and bold offensive playbook. Though their offensive line and running game are good, they rely primarily on gadget plays and improvisation with mighty-mite running back Tarik Cohen and young quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who at this stage of his career is still a running college QB with a decent arm.
Jordan Howard, the Bears main power back, has little tread on his tires. Two years ago, he shook off defensive ends, this year he looks for places to fall.
A young Chicago defense got the kind of shot in the arm from former Raider Kahlil Mack that made the super-soldier serum that went into Steve Rogers arm and turned him into Captain America look like B12.
They were good–now they’re probably the best in the NFL.
The only team that looks anything like them is the one from Minnesota. Before the DeFilippo fiasco, they were holding up their end of the bargain, and since ‘Flip’ was fired, they’ve turned up the volume to the tune of the 2017 season where they were ranked number one.
This game is on the shooting guards. Put some balls in the bucket. Zimmer will have his hands on the defensive switches, but it’s going to take a yin and a yang playing good football in purple on Sunday to slip this squad into the back-door of the postseason brackets.
So–start from scratch, do or die–win one for your coach.
For all the guy’s been through, Zimmer deserves a crack at what will be a much more difficult ‘out’ next week at Soldier Field.
It’ll be the playoffs, which, cliches aside, truly is a new season.