The Vikings Fan’s Guide to the Championship Round

The Vikings season may be a distant and bitter memory, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on the rest of the NFL slate. Let’s not let our purple angst cause us to miss out on one of the greatest weekends on the schedule: championship weekend, where the talent is abundant, the stakes are high, and we as Vikings fans have no rooting interest, and thus no risk of feeling the pain and anger we invite into our lives each week during the regular season. (Except for the game involving that team across the border, of course, which I promise we’ll get to.)

But here’s the problem: for those of us who bleed purple, watching these games that do not feature our beloved squad can be a little confusing. We’re like a puppy that’s lost its way, or a man without a home; who do we root for? What do we get mad about? And what does it all mean?

For this, I give you this guide, created by the Vikings fan, for the Vikings fan. In it, I’ll counsel you through this weekend’s matchups, helping you decide who to root for and generally telling you how to feel about what will take place on your television Sunday afternoon. Let’s get to it!

AFC Championship

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

Date/Time: Sunday, Jan.22, 5:40 p.m. CT
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
Line: Patriots -5.5

The game:

On its face, this one might seem like a showdown between east coast elites. But on the contrary, my friends; one of these teams comes from far more humble origins than the other. Despite being located in the eastern timezone, Pittsburgh is a blue collar town located in a large, midwestern-sized state mostly comprised of fields and farmland. This is in direct contrast to the luxury of New England—good luck finding any cattle pasture among the wharfs and cobblestone streets of the greater Boston area. What I’m saying here is that Minnesotans, we should identify with Pittsburgh, not New England.

What this game truly is is a battle not between Roethlisberger and Brady, not Bell and Blount, no; it’s a meeting of the minds, and the fashions, of Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick. And folks, to me, this one’s a no-brainer. On one hand, you have the suave, well-kept, and all-around stylish Tomlin. And on the other, that sloppy troll Belichick, who likely wore a hooded sweatshirt to his wedding. Let’s put aside the fact the Patriots coach is almost certainly the greatest tactician in the modern NFL era; this should mean nothing to us, as we can benefit from it in no way. And otherwise, it’s simply further evidence of Boston elitism. Instead, let us focus on how they present themselves. Do we align ourselves with Belichick’s unwashed hair and careless attitude about his dress? We do not. While many of our fellow statesmen don a similar look on a day-to-day basis, this means nothing, as we Minnesotans take pride in ourselves and they way we’re presented to the rest of the country. You can be darn sure if any of us graced a national television broadcast, we would do so in a clean and tidy fashion, and the fact that Belichick refuses to do this is a slap in the face to honest people everywhere.

Instead, take Tomlin: young, cool, and comfortable in his own skin. Wears aviators on the sideline. This man sets a positive example for the youth, and gives us a blueprint to which we all can aspire. Mike Tomlin is the coach we should want to see in the Super Bowl.

The Vikings slant:

As if we needed further evidence the Steelers are in our corner, let us remember, Mike Tomlin is one of us. He was the Vikings Defensive Coordinator in 2006, the job that springboarded him to head coaching status in the NFL. It matters not that this was 10 year ago; we Minnesotans are a loyal bunch, and in this case, we need to stand by our man.

Plus, the New England Patriots are basically the antithesis to everything the Vikings are. They’ve had excellence and stability at the quarterback position for over a decade, and they seem to do more with less every year. The total opposite of every Vikings team. Rooting for them to win is essentially rooting for the Vikings to lose. I’ll have none of it.

How to watch:
  • Remind yourself the Patriots are the evil empire. Put aside any respect you have for the organization or the way they conduct their business.
  • Spend the rest of the week talking yourself into the Steelers. They aren’t that bad. Brown and Bell are a formidable combo, and Roethlisberger has a history of coming up big in the playoffs. They can do this.
  • Think about how Tom Brady wears UGGs. I mean, who does he think he is?
  • Forget about how many Super Bowls the Steelers have won. It will cause jealousy.
  • Root for Pittsburgh, but not too hard. Remind yourself that you have no dog in the fight. Brace yourself for a Patriots win, and in that way, conquer all emotions.


NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

Date/Time: Sunday, Jan.22, 2:05 p.m. CT
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.
Line: Falcons -4


The game:

(Note: photo of Eddie Lacy used for comedic effect.)

My oh my, here we are again. After a real ball-breaking win over the Cowboys in the divisional round, the Packers are once again deep in the playoffs with a real chance at the Super Bowl. It’s a real cherry on top of the turn sundae that has been the 2016 season for the Vikings and their fans. In times like these, I remind myself that sports-related torture is our birthright—we’re supposed to feel crappy. We were born into this, and it’s our duty to take the lumps and drown our sorrows. Besides, it gives us an opportunity to complain, and that is an area in which we excel.

To make matters worse, the Packers are rolling into the game. Aaron Rodgers is on fire. The WR-as-RB thing is actually working. Mason Crosby just made three two 50+-yard field goals to spring Green Bay to the NFC Championship. Everything seems to be working, and we seem destined to finish one of the weirdest seasons in Vikings history with the border rival playing for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Yuck all around.

But wait, there’s hope! The Falcons are quite good themselves. Matt Ryan threw for nearly 5,000 yards and is a frontrunner for the MVP. Atlanta is at home, AND is favored. Julio Jones, while battling through an injury, is expected to play, and Green Bay has no one who can stop him. Perhaps this is the year this Falcons squad—chronic playoff underachievers in the Ryan era—can finally take the next step. At the expense of the Packers, this would be delicious.

The Vikings slant:

This one’s pretty simple: our most hated rival is playing. We want them to lose, and lose badly, in embarrassing fashion if possible. Maybe Jordan Rodgers shows up to the game. Maybe Joe Buck cries on camera. A guy can dream, right? A Packers loss would be one salvaged morsel of goodness in the 2016 NFL season. If you can’t beat ’em, root against ’em in the NFC Championship.

Some have suggested this is a no-win situation, as the Falcons were on the other side of the 1998 NFC Championship game, one of the most heartbreaking losses in Vikings history. To this, I say hogwash. It was nearly 20 years ago, it’s a completely different team, and the squad has had virtually no connection to us since that fateful day. Do we harbor ill will toward the Giants for the infamous 41-Donut game? Near as I can tell, we do not. Let’s let bygones be bygones.

So we’re rooting for Atlanta, and we’re rooting hard. May I remind you the Falcons are favored! Four points isn’t bad. Does it feel like they should be favored? No. Does it feel like a trap, designed to lull us into a false state of hope in order to crush us once again with a Packers victory? Certainly. So let’s throw the betting line out the window. This is just two good teams squaring off, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Falcons can win, and at this point they’re the only thing that can save us from two straight weeks of Aaron Rodgers’ smug mug plastered all over ESPN. Help us, Matt Ryan, you’re our only hope.

How to watch:
  • This is important: spend the rest of the week mentally preparing yourself for disappointment. Remind yourself of Matt Ryan’s 2-4 playoff record, and that Rodgers is spectacular in the postseason. Perhaps talk yourself into some bogus theory that it’s better for the Vikings if a team from their division wins it all. Basically, accept defeat. Think of all the other great things you have going for you in life, and decide that the outcome of a football game will not affect your mood. Detach.
  • With a clear mind an open heart, attack Wednesday through Saturday. Be productive at work, give your children a surprise of some sort, and woo the wife. Be the best version of you. Forget all about the fact that there’s football on Sunday. Spend some time following your alma mater’s basketball team, whoever that is. Research the Wild’s roster and vow to start watching more hockey.
  • Then, on Sunday, wake up and allow it to consume you. Turn on pregame, watch the exclusive sit-down interview with Rodgers, and scoff at his insincere charm. Let the hate flow through you. Call your Vikings friends, talk about the game. Remind yourself of everything you hate about the Packers. Talk yourself into Atlanta’s defense. Invest.
  • Game time. You’ve saved your week from needless thought about the Packers, but now, it’s on you. Cheer loud, cheer hard, high five whoever’s in the room anytime something good happens. Allow the joy of football and your legitimate disdain for the green and gold to meld together in one beautiful, powerful state of fandom. Make nachos and crack a beer.
  • Have more beer ready. Prepare yourself, because this could go poorly. But do not submit—you are a Vikings fan, and it’s your duty to rally against the Packers. Do it for the squad. Do it for Zimmer. Do it for the rest of us, watching around the country, experiencing the same emotions. We are in this together, and on Sunday, we are all Falcons fans.