There's no place like home.
The Vikings are fresh off a first-round bye and now are preparing for the first playoff game in U.S. Bank Stadium history on Sunday. They will take on the Saints, who won Sunday's Wild Card matchup against the Panthers.
This season marked only the second that the Vikings have spent in their new venue, but it certainly didn't take long for it to feel like home.
Kyle Rudolph said after just one season of playing in U.S. Bank Stadium that it's "by far" the loudest stadium he has ever played in.
"There's nothing better than being on the sidelines on third down when the defense is out there, and as soon as you think the crowd's loud, the play clock gets under 10, and they get even louder in anticipation for the snap," Rudolph said. "It's definitely the loudest crowd I've ever been around."
The Vikings went 5-3 at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016 and improved their results to a 7-1 mark this season as the crowd's intensity has magnified.
The Vikings worked hard all season, and a 13-3 record earned them the right to start their postseason at home.
"It means the world [to start the playoffs with home-field advantage]," Eric Kendricks said. "Our fans are awesome, especially on third down. We're comfortable at home, and it couldn't be better."
Minnesota's defense finished the 2017 regular season ranked No. 1 in the league after holding opponents to a 25.3-percent conversion rate on third down – an impressive feat in itself. But for home games, the stat was even more impressive: opponents successfully converted on third downs only 22.6 percent of the time at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Vikings did not allow a single team to come in and score 20 points all season. Opponents scored a total of 100 points, an average of just 12.5 points per game, at U.S. Bank Stadium. Among those teams were the Rams (7 points), Saints (19), Lions (14) and Ravens (16), who finished first, fourth, seventh and ninth in the league for points scored per game.
It isn't just the defense that thrives on the electric atmosphere during Vikings home games, however. Quarterback Case Keenum finished his first season in Minnesota 11-3 as a starter, and although he only has one year under his belt with the Vikings, Keenum said that "it just feels right" at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"You know, the turf, the surface feels fast, even the lighting in there, and then you add the fans coming in pregame. Just the whole atmosphere in there, it's incredible. Our fans are awesome," Keenum said. "All of my friends and family that have come up from Texas, my friends from other teams that come in will text me after games, and they're like, 'Dude, that place is ridiculous.'
"And it really is. It's awesome to play," Keenum continued. "Just everything – from the SKOL Chant to just the pregame stuff, getting to run out, getting announced, it's a cool place to play. And I think it's going to be even better in the postseason."
The confidence in Minnesota's home-field performance goes beyond the Vikings locker room, as well.
*Good Morning *Football's Peter Schrager recently emphasized the Vikings stats to his fellow show hosts. He highlighted the points-per-game average in addition to Minnesota's defense leading the league in touchdowns allowed at home (eight) and in yards allowed per game (240).
"The Vikings might have to go on the road to Philadelphia [for the NFC Championship game], but if Philadelphia's [eliminated in the Divisional round], the Vikings are the home team," Schrager said. "I just can't imagine U.S. Bank Stadium during the playoffs, and I am just so excited to see that Vikings fan base show up and show out, and the Purple will be out [in full force]."
Added Schrager: "I don't think any of these teams can beat the Vikings in Minnesota."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has spoken highly of the home crowd time and time again. Zimmer incited the energy and enthusiasm of fans leading up to every home game.
"Our fans are unbelievable," Zimmer said. "They're loud. They've helped us in a lot of home games."
When the Vikings defeated the Bears in Week 17 to clinch the No. 2 seed, Jerick McKinnon stressed the significance of home-field advantage for the Divisional round.
"It's do-or-die now," McKinnon said. "The crowd's been bringing it every week, and I can only imagine what they're going to do in the playoffs."
The Vikings are taking it one game at a time like they have all season, but they do understand what's at stake.
As Schrager stated, an Eagles loss and Vikings win this upcoming weekend would allow Minnesota to retain home-field advantage and host the NFC Championship game. The winner of that game will then play on the same turf in Super Bowl LII, scheduled to kick off on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.
"I think any time we step on that field we feel confident, and we feel like we have a chance to win," Anthony Barr said. "So hopefully we can continue to play some more games. We'll get at least one, hopefully a couple more."
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