There are eight new playoff teams in the NFL this season, tied for the most ever since the league switched to two four-division conferences in 2002. One of those is NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings, which has a chance to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Are the Super Bowl 52 betting odds in their favor?
It’s possible that the Minnesota Vikings could never leave U.S. Bank Stadium in these playoffs as that’s where Super Bowl LII will be held. The Vikings are the No. 2 seed – next week’s opponent TBA (most likely the Rams) and game will be played on Jan. 14 — so they would have to see No. 1 Philadelphia lose next weekend in the divisional round for Minnesota to not play a single potential road game.
Already, Minnesota is the first team in the Super Bowl era to earn a first-round bye in the same season that they’re hosting the NFL’s biggest game. Only seven teams in NFL history have made the playoffs in a season where their city was hosting the Super Bowl.
Of the host teams that made the postseason — the Dolphins (1970, ’78, ’94, ’98), Buccaneers (2000), Cardinals (2014) and Texans (2016) — only one of them won their division, and none of them received a first-round bye. Those seven teams went a combined 2-7 in postseason play and none made it to a conference championship game.
Two teams have played a Super Bowl in their home market, but not in their home stadium. The Rams in Super Bowl XIV in the Rose Bowl, which LA lost 31-19 to the Steelers. In Super Bowl XIX, the 49ers beat the Dolphins 38-16 at Stanford Stadium, about 30 miles from old Candlestick Park where the Niners used to call home.
Actually, the Vikes wouldn’t even be the home team in Super Bowl LII. The “home” team for the Super Bowl is determined on an alternating basis, and the AFC team is scheduled to be the home club for Super Bowl LII. But the Vikings would be in their home locker room and on their normal sideline.
Wentz Injury Helps Vikings
Minnesota has been the second-favorite to win the NFC until the Eagles lost superstar quarterback Carson Wentz in Week 14 to a season-ending torn ACL. The team looked very shaky behind backup QB Nick Foles in the final three games of the regular season.
Thus a Vikings trip to Philadelphia for an NFC title game doesn’t look as challenging now. The Eagles are much more likely to lose next weekend too. In addition, Minnesota already has wins over NFC playoff teams New Orleans, the LA Rams and Atlanta this year. The only loss to a playoff team was Week 14 at Carolina, 31-24.
No Defense Is Better
Minnesota ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in both total defense (275.9 yards) and scoring defense (15.8), a mark the franchise last achieved in 1969 and 1970. The Vikings allowed just 12.5 points per game at home, holding four teams (the Rams, Bengals, Packers and Bears) to 10 or fewer points. Minnesota did not allow an opponent to hit the 20-point mark at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The NFL’s top-ranked defense (in terms of points allowed per game) has played in the Super Bowl in three of the past four seasons. New England (2016) and Seattle (2013) won titles, but Seattle lost in 2014. The Vikings allowed just 20 runs of 10-plus yards this season, which tied for the fewest in the NFL since the 1995 49ers also allowed 20 such runs. Minnesota finished second overall in run defense at 83.9 yards per game.
Safety Harrison Smith had his 2017 season graded out at 98.9 by the analytics site Pro Football Focus. That rating is the highest of any player in the NFL this season, and that highest mark the site has ever given to a safety. Against Smith this year, opposing quarterbacks had a 22.0 quarterback rating.
Case Keenum For Real?
Before the season, if you told Vikings fans that Case Keenum would play at a Pro Bowl level and potentially lead their team to a Super Bowl, they would have drug tested you.
Keenum finished the season 11-3 as a starter and helped the Vikings win another game by entering just before halftime at Chicago. The Vikings quarterback finished his first season in Minnesota by throwing for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Keenum also posted a passer rating of 98.3, which was the seventh-best in the NFL. He had eight games in which he had a rating of 100 or better.
Despite being blitzed at the second-highest rate in the league and pressured at the seventh-highest rate among qualifying starters, Keenum was sacked at the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL. He led the league in QBR when blitzed and when under duress.