Minnesota is the only NFC North team to come out of Week 12 with a win.
The Vikings (9-2) Thanksgiving Day win over the Lions (6-5) widened the gap between the division rivals, and the Bears (3-8) and Packers (5-6) fell to the Eagles (10-1) and Steelers (9-2), respectively, on Sunday.
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer recently delved into the Vikings success and said the reasons behind it are multifaceted but much can be credited to quarterback Case Keenum, now 7-2 as a starter in Purple. Breer wrote:
*The really amazing thing isn't Keenum's filling in admirably — he's done that before, and the Vikings, and everyone else, knew he was capable of that again. *
*What we've seen the last three weeks isn't just that. And [Thursday's game] certainly wasn't just that. Quarterback was a real team strength for the Vikings in their 30-23 win in Detroit over a Lions team fighting to stay in the playoff picture. Keenum finished 21-of-30 for 282 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 121.8 rating. *
Breer said that the Vikings feel "feel pretty good riding this Cinderella story" and that they used "a nightmarish 2016 to fortify their foundation" for this season. He recapped Minnesota's struggles last season, including injuries that hit several positions. Breer spoke with Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, who said the challenging season helped the team learn and grow.
"I give credit to Coach Zimmer and the job he did teaching this offseason, and the points of emphasis on how we lost games last year, how we won games last year, that was his emphasis the whole offseason," Spielman told Breer. "And we practiced those scenarios."
Breer highlighted the free-agency signings of running back Latavius Murray, tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and Keenum. He said the additions added depth to a roster that already had become more resilient.
So in one way, Keenum's the story here. In another, the bigger picture is how everything, including a talented young core hitting its prime, is working around him to facilitate his play. And no matter who you want to credit, the Thanksgiving game just gave everyone more proof that the biggest beneficiaries of last year's bad fortune in Minnesota were the guys who were the victims of it.
Dick Vermeil: 'No limitation' for Vikings COO Kevin Warren
Kevin Warren from a very young age has demonstrated a level of resolve that's carried him to the position he holds today as the Vikings Chief Operating Officer.
Jim Souhan of *The Star Tribune *recently focused in on Warren's journey, which began at age 11 when he was struck by a car and took it upon himself to not only recover fully but to go on and succeed as an athlete. Souhan wrote:
Warren built an in-ground pool and swam laps at all hours, building the muscle that would make him an athlete and the resolve that would make him a pioneer.
The progeny of blacks, Mexicans and Choctaw, the racial bouillabaisse of the Southwest, Warren would become a Division I college basketball player and begin building networks in sports, business and law. Today, he is the highest-ranking black executive working on the business side of an NFL team and the league's first black COO.
Souhan spoke to a number of Warren's family members, friends and former colleagues, among them former Rams Head Coach Dick Vermeil.
"There's no limitation for Kevin," Vermeil told Souhan. "I've never been around an administrative executive who was more capabable of becoming a Number 1 person in any field."
Souhan covered Warren's upbringing and successes as a student athlete, as well as the racial barriers he faced and continually overcame. He highlighted Warren's camaraderie with Vikings Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf as well as his personal generosity and commitment to the Twin Cities community. He pointed toward Warren's heavy involvement in and influence on the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium and the Vikings newest addition, the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center scheduled to open in March 2017.
Souhan said that Warren "appears poised for an even more prominent role in the sports word."
"But Minnesota is my home," Warren told Souhan. "This is where I raised my kids. This is where I built my pool."
Vikings Qs down the stretch include playoff picture, recognition of Zimmer
As the Vikings head into their final five regular-season games – three on the road and two at U.S. Bank Stadium – Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com outlined five topics to keep an eye on. Coller specifically focused on non-quarterback-related questions.
In looking at Minnesota's remaining opponents, Coller said that the Vikings will be "disappointed if they won any fewer than three of those games and could reasonably take four." Keeping that in mind, he posed the possibility of home-field advantage in the postseason. Coller laid out the scenario:
If they finish the year, 12-4, there's a possibility they could clinch home field throughout, but the Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) would probably need to lose their Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 games on the road at Los Angeles and on the road against Seattle. After that, the Eagles get the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys, which should result in at least two victories.
The Saints have a tough schedule down the stretch. On Sunday they face the Rams, then they play Atlanta twice and Carolina. While New Orleans has been blazing hot since Week 2, it will be tough to steamroll through that group.
Coller also emphasized the role Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has played in the team's success thus far. He suggested that Zimmer should be a top candidate for Coach of the Year honors.
*Considering the adversity the Vikings have faced this season – losing QB1 and RB1 – it's hard to see anyone other than Zimmer winning so long as the Vikings close out the season strong. Winning three of five games would put him at the top of the list. *
Coller added that Doug Pederson (Eagles), Sean Payton (Saints), Doug Marrone (Jaguars) or Anthony Lynn (Chargers) also could vie for the award.
The other three questions posed by Coller centered around Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and the "magic" of his offensive scheme, Everson Griffen's sack numbers and whether or not Adam Thielen could be a contender for the league's leader in catches.