Well fans, the Vikes have won six in a row and the Bears just dropped one to Pittsburgh, so the Purple is edging into a scary territory of real playoff possibilities. For years I have adopted the expectation that when the Vikes promise success most credibly, seductively, that is when they can be counted upon to collapse. But they have played decently over the last six weeks and beaten the inferior teams that they should have. It has been wonderful as a fan to see them do this; it has every thing to do with a credible defense, missing since the days of Tony Dungy.
However, we don't have much of an idea how good this team is. The defense has done well against scatter-armed QB'S whose receivers can't hang onto the ball, and it does seem that the Vikes can stop the run. But wait until next Sunday when The Bus, Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, rolls into the Hump. The Vikes don't pretend to have more than a rudimentary offense; now we'll see how their defense performs against a potent one featuring a big, tough back like last week's Steven Jackson, who punished the Vikes for two or three yards extra every time he ran the ball.
Whatever else happens, the Vikes offensive line will be the key to further success or failure; if they protect Brad Johnson more competently against the pass rush and blitz, the offense will do better. They must block better for the run, and keep opposing lineman on their own side of the ball. If not, the Purple offense will not be on the field for long, nor score many points. For all the money that is spent on the so-called skill players in this game of NFL football, it appears that the loss of center Matt Birk was crucial for this year's Vikes. The rest of their season will hinge upon how well the offensive line gets by without him and performs at what level of competence. Goldberg, Fowler, Johnson, and Herrera are a work in progress.
I can't imagine that the Vikes won't stumble next week against the Steelers, but perhaps that's why they'll win number seven in a row. Pittsburgh is not magic, and the Vikes may well be getting better. On the other hand, it could be the same old Vikes that stumble down to defeat against a slightly superior Steelers team, just when their fans are beginning to believe. But the Vikes have been winning on defense, and you can count on that. To a certain extent.