After 17 games full of twists and turns, tough losses and one-score heart-pounding victories, the Vikings bookended their regular season Sunday with their second 16-point win over a division opponent.
Matthew Coller of Purple Insider looked at the Vikings performance Sunday and found a few takeaways.
Coller wrote Minnesota's new-look offensive line was able to establish some critical chemistry before the postseason.
Against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings offensive line was thrown into disarray after center Austin Schlottmann and right tackle Brian O'Neill went down with injuries. In Chicago, backup center Chris Reed and right tackle [Olisaemeka] Udoh were much more comfortable — albeit in a less challenging environment.
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he wanted to see how the starting line responded to the types of pre-snap looks that the Bears gave them.
"There are some communication things with a defense like that, with the type of movement you see up front," O'Connell said. "That's what I wanted to see. Could we be physical? Could we win the line of scrimmage despite kind of that moving target sometimes changing the math at the line of scrimmage they try to do?" Our guys handled it well. They really did."
Using its fourth different offensive line combination in the past seven games, Minnesota only allowed two quarterback hits on Kirk Cousins and Nick Mullens and didn't give up a sack.
Offensively, the Vikings recorded 482 total yards, their second-highest total this season. Minnesota also averaged a season-high 6.8 yards per play Sunday.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings regular-season finale win over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Coller noted that Cousins believes the team's offense has started to get a rhythm over the past few weeks.
"It's a gradual process," Cousins said. "The Detroit game at Detroit, I felt like I kind of turned a corner a little bit there. I walked off the field and said, 'OK, This game kind of felt like it used to feel when I was in a system for two or three years, when you start to really understand where we're trying to go with it.' But then you have, you know, setbacks and you have challenges. Even today in the low red zone, [I'm] feeling like I didn't operate well enough. So you know, we're getting there. We're getting there."
Sunday also saw the return of Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr., who had missed the past nine games due to an ankle injury.
Smith caught three passes for 14 yards and saw the field for the entirety of the second half. While T.J. Hockenson is the unquestioned starter, Smith's presence does give them an additional weapon if they want to use two-TE packages in the playoffs and have both tight ends as receiving threats.
On the defensive side of the ball, Coller said cornerback Duke Shelley has continued to make an impact in a Vikings secondary that has had its ups and downs with injuries throughout the season. He wrote:
[Shelley] has become one of their more valuable defensive backs. On Sunday he put the cherry on top of his season by intercepting a pass late in the fourth quarter. Following the pick, he went to the Bears logo at midfield and celebrated. And after the game, O'Connell awarded him with a game ball.
"All that guy's done since he got to Minnesota is be a great teammate, work incredibly hard, be reliable as any player I've ever been around," O'Connell said. "He's as competitive as any player I've ever been around, and he's an absolute joy to have on our football team."
NFL.com takes a first look at Wild Card Weekend teams
The time has come. The NFL playoffs are officially here.
Fourteen teams have fought and clawed their way into the postseason for a chance at the ultimate prize of winning a championship.
The Chiefs and the Eagles secured the No. 1 seeds and were rewarded with a first-round bye and home-field advantage. The other 12 teams will begin their playoff journeys in the Wild Card round this weekend.
Minnesota earned the No. 3 seed in the NFC and will host the No. 6 seed Giants at 3:30 p.m. (CT) Sunday on FOX.
Jeffri Chadiha of NFL.com analyzed the Wild Card teams and identified areas that he liked and disliked with each team.
Chadiha praised the Vikings ability to win close games. He wrote:
The Vikings are the most clutch team in the NFL. They've played 11 one-score games this season, and they won every one. As much as observers might want to bash them for not being dominant, that statistic speaks volumes about their ability to handle the tense moments that inevitably arrive in postseason play.
Minnesota also has dynamic talent at key positions. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook have the potential to take over games at a moment's notice. Just ask the Buffalo Bills about how Jefferson can impact a game. He dominated them in one of the wildest contests of the regular season.
Chadiha added the area that must improve for Minnesota is its defense.
The defense has been a disaster, especially the pass coverage. Prior to Sunday's season-ending win over Chicago, the Vikings had allowed at least 20 points in their previous eight games and at least 40 in two of them. Six of Minnesota's opponents in that stretch surpassed the 400-yard mark in total offense. It's hard to keep winning at this time of year with numbers like those.
For the Giants, Chadiha lauded their resiliency, especially recently. He wrote:
This is a scrappy bunch. The Giants jumped out to a 7-2 record to start the season, then went a month without a win before finding a way to earn a couple more victories to cement their hold on the sixth seed. They've been exactly the same team throughout all that.
The Giants have been one of the best teams in the league in avoiding turnovers, and their defense is opportunistic enough to keep them in games. This is the most blue-collar team in the playoffs, by far. They also embrace that, which is part of their charm.
Chadiha added the Giants will need to rely on more than just quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley offensively.
Take away Barkley, and the offense has no other dynamic elements. Put them in a position where they're trailing, and they're not built to mount any kind of serious comeback attempt. Jones has been effective as a game manager, but he's not going to take over a contest. The Giants are basically built for a rock fight. They probably won't see many of those against the teams in this postseason.