Aside from the offensive side of the ball, the Minnesota Vikings 2020 campaign was a forgettable one. Because of a slew of injuries and an absent homefield advantage, Minnesota’s season quickly became substandard. The team started 1-5 in the season’s first seven weeks and later recovered to finish 7-9, missing the playoffs altogether.
However, the year did host this strange fact. The Vikings won division games at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field and still failed to win the division, reach the postseason, or even boast a winning record.
Even more comprehensively, Minnesota was undefeated in road division games while exiting the season with a vibe universally considered underwhelming. For the Vikings, that is a hard thing to do. Wins at Green Bay and Chicago ordinarily forecast a successful season. But not in 2020. Everything was a little strange.
Minnesota negated the victories in classic enemy territory with clumsy losses at home – like contests versus the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and aforementioned Packers and Bears.
Normally when the Vikings win at the houses of their two traditional NFC North foes, the prognosis for January football is bright.
Only Twice since Creation of NFC North
The NFC North switched naming convention from the NFC Central in 2002. The division jettisoned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFC South, and in that same season, the Buccaneers responded by winning a Super Bowl with ex-Vikings quarterback, Brad Johnson. That season would showcase Tampa Bay’s only postseason win until 2020 when – you guessed it – the Buccaneers won another Super Bowl.
In those 19 seasons – 2002 to 2020 – the Vikings have only won at Lambeau and Soldier in the same season three times. Those campaigns were 2015, 2017, and 2020. And Minnesota made playoff pushes in 2015 and 2017. But no such luck in 2020.
Taking care of business in Green Bay and Chicago usually translates to prosperity. Such was not the case during the pandemic season.
A couple of fun facts: The Vikings have captured the most NFC Central/North titles in history with 20. The Packers trail with 17 division titles. What’s more, Minnesota plays better at Lambeau than Soldier as of late. In the last 20 years, the Vikings have won five times in Chicago while topping the Packers in Wisconsin on six occasions.
Everything Upside Down Due to Coronavirus
If one can subtract the impact injuries tolled on the Vikings in 2020, the primary shortcoming for the team was homefield advantage (lack thereof). Minnesota was a better road team (4-4) in 2020 than home team (3-5).
To be clear, the Vikings needed just one more win to participate in the 2020 playoffs. Whether it was a win at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys or Chicago Bears, had Minnesota taken care of business one more time, the organization would have traveled to New Orleans for a date with the Saints in the NFC’s wildcard round. And most folks know how the Vikings perform versus the Saints in the postseason.
Minnesota’s 3-win output at home was the worst since 2011 when the team went 1-7 in home games. And on the whole, a 3-5 record in home games was the second-worst mark for the franchise in 35 years.
U.S. Bank Stadium is generally a fortress for purple wins. Since the venue opened in 2016 — thru 2019, the Vikings were the NFL’s fourth-best home team, winning 72% of all contests. In 2020, that homefield supremacy fell to 19th-best for the standalone pandemic season.
A 2020 Highpoint
Wins in Illinois and Wisconsin are encouraging, though. Those achievements are not feats to fling into the trash bin. For quarterback Kirk Cousins, those triumphs were the first wins as a Viking at either location. That was an important monkey-of-his-back ordeal. Cousins even won for the first time on Monday Night Football – a dubious streak that followed him thanks to the national media. That unfolded in Chicago.
In particular, the Packers win was season-defining – if only for small potatoes. Minnesota came off a bye week where the team traded EDGE rusher Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens after acquiring him just seven weeks prior. In the moment, it seemed the Packers would probably steamroll the Vikings as the two franchises were trending in opposite directions. But Dalvin Cook gashed Green Bay – in Green Bay – for four touchdowns, and the defense played its best game of the season.
Should 2021 materialize according to plan, the wins at Lambeau and Soldier set a decent precedent to potentially return to the postseason.