The NFL is often called a copy-cat league. Teams frequently “borrow” strategies that they notice are effective for other teams across the League. With the AFC and NFC title games just days away, there’s no better time than now to take a look at what’s been making the difference for the NFL’s final four teams.
Below you’ll see the four remaining teams in the Super Bowl hunt and one team characteristic from each that I would like to see the 2014 Vikings embody.
Denver Broncos: Offensive Communication
The word that comes to mind when I watch Peyton Manning play is command. He is complete command over his offense and, it seems, over the opposing defense as well. Manning deserves the bulk of the credit for this, of course, but I also credit his 10 teammates on a given play. Manning may be calling the shots, but it’s rare that you see his offensive line suffer a protection breakdown and it’s similarly rare that any of Manning’s receivers aren’t on the same page as their quarterback. The communication required for a Manning-led offense to look like a Manning-led offense is immense and intricate, and Denver executes this precisely and consistently.
New England Patriots: Bottom-Half Roster Contribution
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are titanic names in the NFL. But they can’t do it alone. The Patriots success throughout the duration of the Belichick-Brady era has been as much about the no-namers as it has been about future Hall of Famers. Gone is Wes Welker, but Julian Edelman stepped up with 105 receptions this season. Vince Wilfork was lost for the season, but Rob Ninkovich stepped up to be second on the team in tackles and in sacks. Veteran pass rusher Andre Carter also went down this year, but youngster Chandler Jones emerged with a team-high 11.5 sacks. And in their most recent playoff game, kicker Stephen Gostkowski came up clutch in a punting role when punter Ryan Allen was injured and rookie defensive end Jamie Collins stepped up with a sack and an interception. Most fans may not know many of these names, but they are integral to New England’s success.
San Francisco 49ers: Attitude
This will be the third consecutive NFC Championship Game for the 49ers under head coach Jim Harbaugh, but Harbaugh’s team plays like it’s still looking for its first win. Competitive, nasty, unrelenting. Those are just a few of the adjectives I’d use to describe the psyche of this bunch. In this playoff run alone they’ve gone into Lambeau Field and to Carolina to log wins, quieting critics along the way. In Lambeau they had the freezing cold to overcome and in Carolina they had a raucous crowd and a Panthers team playing the role of bully to get around. No problem for Harbaugh’s team. And they did it with attitude, with a confidence that’s as if they already know they’re going to win. Receiver Anquan Boldin, linebackers NaVarro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Patrick Willis, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and defensive end Justin Smith are just a few of the leaders who wear this attitude on their sleeves and help carry the 49ers to victory.
Seattle Seahawks: Swagger at Home
Every team likes to think it has a distinct advantage when playing at home. The numbers across the League suggest that, indeed, all teams fare better when playing in their own building. The Vikings are no exception and are, in fact, a very good home team historically. But there may be no team with a home field advantage more distinct than Seattle. The Seahawks are 16-1 at home in the regular season and postseason since the start of 2012, with an average margin of victory of 17.9 points. Read that again because it’s no typo. An average margin of victory of almost 18 points at home. I’ve been to CenturyLink Field a few times during my time with the Vikings, and I will attest it’s a difficult environment for opposing teams to handle. Seattle realizes this, and they use it to their advantage. They are a different team at home. The Seahawks have a confident swagger about themselves at home, and their advantage at home is distinct.