A year after missing the playoffs, the Falcons are less than a week away from playing in Super Bowl LI against New England.
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com took a look at key factors at why Atlanta rebounded strongly from an 8-8 season, and found a few comparisons with the Vikings.
How and why did the Falcons blow away even the rosiest outlook for their 2016? And perhaps more importantly, what does the success of the Falcons tell us about which non-playoff teams might be in line to make a similarly unexpected leap next season? Let's look at some of the factors that led Atlanta to its conference championship and find out ...
Barnwell listed six categories for why the Falcons, a team Barnwell pointed out that many predicted to mot go to the playoffs, went 12-4 and made the title game.
Barnwell listed the Vikings in four categories, which tied for the most with the Colts.
Minnesota was listed as a team that would benefit from consistent health, a steady offensive line and solid input from Vikings Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Barnwell added that the Vikings could use another stellar season from quarterback Sam Bradford, whom Barnwell listed as a dark horse MVP candidate.
Barnwell noted the health category could be the biggest factor of all for the Purple.
The Chargers and Vikings are the obvious candidates for teams that could benefit from being healthy. Minnesota lost Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, spent virtually the entire year without Adrian Peterson, and saw an already-questionable offensive line disintegrate. The Vikings' defense held out for most of the season but finally gave way once Harrison Smith suffered an ankle (injury).
Vikings defenders shine in Pro Bowl
The Vikings had five defensive players in Sunday night's Pro Bowl, which tied for the most players on one side of the ball in the game along with Seattle's defense.
Add in Cordarrelle Patterson and Minnesota had six total players, the second-most overall in the annual All-Star game.
Minnesota's defenders put on a show as defensive end Everson Griffen tallied 3.0 sacks while safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Anthony Barr each made notable plays.
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune took a quick look at how the Vikings representatives did in Orlando.
Griffen and Smith started for the NFC defense and finished first and third on the team with eight and five tackles, respectively. Griffen's sack on Andy Dalton, a play after Barr stopped Jay Ajayi in his tracks on first down, helped stall a third-quarter AFC drive. Griffen added two fourth-quarter sacks on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Rhodes, making his Pro Bowl debut, had an impressive leaping deflection as soon as he entered during the AFC's second drive, stripping the ball from Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton's hands on a downfield throw by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph was Minnesota's sixth representative. Joseph, playing in his first career Pro Bowl, had 100 total tackles (according to the coaches' tally) and 4.0 sacks in 2016.