Vikings Will Find Out Just How Much Fans ‘Matter’ vs. Seattle

Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the shuffle of Christmas morning-like excitement for the Minnesota Vikings return to U.S. Bank Stadium — is the level at which the team performs with fans back in attendance.

Indeed, it is neat for the Vikings to return with fans in the building for the first time since December of 2019. As a standalone entertainment event, the moment will be raucous.

But how do they play in comparison to the 2016-2019 seasons? That’s the real question from a football standpoint. Never mind your beer, camaraderie, and cheese curds for a second.

Minnesota hopes to fend off a doomsday 0-3 start, hosting the Seattle Seahawks, a team the Vikings are 0-7 against since Russell Wilson joined the franchise. That’s too many “0-for” mentions in one paragraph. Think of it this way: To get off the schneid and avoid an 0-3 start that will assuredly doom a season, the Vikings face their most problematic opponent of the last decade.

The Vikings are winless against the Wilson-led Seahawks, last toppling the NFC West foe in 2009, a famous year in Vikings lore. Most of the Vikings first and second-year players were in elementary school the last time Minnesota downed Seattle. That means it’s gotta change sometime, right?

Before the pandemic season, the Vikings were upper-echelon home warriors. In 2020, they were meek competitors. From 2016 to 2019, Minnesota’s home win-loss record was 24-9 (.727) — the second-best home win percentage in the business behind the mighty New England Patriots (31-7, .816). Then, they became dolts at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2020, showcasing a 3-5 home record emblematic of a bad football team.

Fans matter — if this statistic holds legitimacy to the beholder.

The forebearer of success inside the Vikings house — when Mike Zimmer is in charge, anyway — is defense. Plain and simple. It wasn’t until 2020 that Minnesota shifted toward an offense-heavy enterprise. In the last 18 regular season games, the Vikings are emphatically more profitable on offense than defense. It’s undeniable. Here’s what to watch — will the Vikings defense inch closer to the Zimmer standard back at home? Or — is this new “bottom tier of the league” stuff on defense the new normal? If it is, Zimmer’s days as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings are likely narrowed to about 100. Zimmer’s defense must conduct an about-face to continue his employment beyond this season, returning to the normalcy on display from 2014 to 2019.

This shootout stuff does not work for the Zimmer brand of the Vikings. It never has, and it never will.

Here’s some red meat to illustrate the defensive supremacy at U.S. Bank Stadium before 2020:

Get to 21, and call it a day — that’s how operations shook down before the pandemic season. It’s quite the blueprint.

Score early, and that’s a wrap. Typically, this is the Zimmer style. Get points on the board and then suffocate the opposition. Very little suffocation of anything has transpired since the start of 2020. Will it return with home cooking?

When fans are allowed in the edifice, big plays don’t happen. Wilson, with his ungodly 146.9 passer rating in 2021, is a big-play merchant. Molten lava meets forest fire here.

The unsolvable NFL (and sports, for that matter) question will be contemplated this weekend. How much do fans’ voice boxes matter? The variance between the Vikings 2016-2019 home play versus the 2020 trash indicates the answer is a lot. On the other hand, injuries contaminated the Vikings 2020 defense, so how good would it have been even fans were allowed inside U.S. Bank Stadium last year?

Well, subtle answers to that question will be evident on Sunday.

The Seahawks are the only team in the NFC yet to visit U.S. Bank Stadium — so at least that godforsaken streak of “always in Seattle” is over.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).