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Bleacher Report – Vikings

’98? ’09? No, the ’88 Vikings are most comparable to this year’s team

By Matthew Coller

The 2017 Minnesota Vikings finished with the second best record in team history.

As the Vikings prepare for the divisional round, it’s natural to make comparisons to the other two teams in the 16-game era that won 12 games or more – a la the 15-1 team in 1999 and 12-4 squad in 2009. But those teams were largely driven by offense.

Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Brett Favre were the biggest stars on the ’99 and ’09 clubs, respectively. The ’99 team ranked No. 1 in scoring, the ’09 team was No. 2 in points.

Both of those teams, whose seasons ended tragically in the Conference Championship, had solid defenses, but nowhere near the present No. 1 rated Vikings defense. Likewise, the current Case Keenum-led offense doesn’t begin to reflect that of Randall Cunningham launching bombs 50 yards down field or Favre whipping laser beams in between defensive backs.

Instead, the roster construction and storyline are very much like the 1988 Vikings.

While Keenum and ’88 quarterback Wade Wilson came about their starting roles in different ways, you wouldn’t have bet either one would lead a top-10 scoring offense.

Prior to the ’88 season, Wilson had started 17 games, thrown 30 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and registered a 68.5 quarterback rating.

He took over for Tommy Kramer in Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers after Kramer went 3-for-12 passing. The Vikings lost 34-14, but Wilson went 17-for-26 with 248 yards. The following week against Tampa Bay, the Vikings’ backup tossed for 335 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win.

Jerry Burns’ decision to stick with Wilson thereafter sent the Vikings on a win streak, taking six of seven games. The Vikings’ backup finished the year with a 91.5 rating, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Before this season, Keenum had 24 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a 78.4 rating. While Mike Zimmer could have turned the ball over to Teddy Bridgewater, he stayed with his backup and won eight in a row and nine of the final 10 games.

Wilson was surrounded with talent on offense. All-time great guard Randall McDaniel was a rookie and star Gary Zimmerman was the starting left tackle. Receiver Anthony Carter went for 1,225 yards while a running back-by-committee gained 1,806 yards on the ground. The running backs combined for 72 catches. Tight end Steve Jordan – one of the top players at his position – caught 57 passes.

When all was said and done, the ’88 Vikings ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring and seventh in yards.

Likewise, Keenum is surrounded by talent. The additions of Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers have been a driver of the Vikings’ success. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have combined for 155 receptions and 2,125 yards. The tandem in the backfield of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray has added a ground-and-pound element and receiving threat. McKinnon finished the year with 51 receptions, while Murray slammed in eight touchdowns.

Oh, and the Vikings also destroyed the Saints in ’88.

Where the comparisons are even closer is on defense.

In ’88, the Vikings ranked No. 1 in scoring and No. 2 in yards allowed. The defensive line sported two of the best ends in franchise history in Chris Doleman and Keith Millard along with dominant defensive tackle Henry Thomas. Cornerback Carl Lee picked off eight passes that year and Jerry Browner was a dominant safety.

They even had a stretch of games in which they did not allow touchdowns similar to the Vikings’ final three games of this season. Between Week 11 and Week 14, the ’88 defense gave up a total of nine points. Opposing quarterbacks finished the season with a 41 quarterback rating against them.

This year’s Vikings defense has all of the same elements. Dominant defensive ends – Everson Griffen finished with 13.0 sacks – to go along with one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles in Linval Joseph and a do-it-all safety in Harrison Smith.

The 2017 Vikings have a good chance to face the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs next week. The ’88 Vikings defeated the Los Angeles Rams 28-17 in the Wild Card round.

What we don’t yet know is whether the ’17 version will finish like ’88: At the hands of an all-time great quarterback.

Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers beat the ’88 Vikings 34-9 in the Divisional round. Montana threw for three touchdowns, Roger Craig ran for 135 and ended a magical season for the Vikings.

Keenum and Co. could end up taking on an all-time great QB in Drew Brees. The difference will be that Minnesota will get to play host rather than traveling to the nightmarish Candlestick Park.

What we learn from the ’88 version isn’t just the magic runs out when you have a backup QB taking on an all-timer because sometimes it doesn’t, as ’88 third-strong quarterback Rich Gannon learned when playing ’99 injured quarterback Brad Johnson in the 2002 Super Bowl.

The bigger lesson is that losing in the Divisional round doesn’t make your year memorable, no matter how much you overcame or how crazy the run to the playoffs was. It shows us that if the Vikings lose to whichever opponent they face next week, this team won’t be talked about in 20 years. But it sure will if they go deeper.

The post ’98? ’09? No, the ’88 Vikings are most comparable to this year’s team appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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