The Vikings spent the past two seasons rarely creating their own good fortune and thus not getting any from the football gods. That has changed in Kevin O’Connell’s first season overseeing a surprising Vikings team that is 7-1 and running away with the NFC North.
The prime example of this has been on display four of the past six games as the Vikings began a run of facing backup quarterbacks.
It began in Week 4, when the New Orleans Saints started backup Andy Dalton because of an injury to Jameis Winston. The Vikings won by three points in London. Two weeks later, third-stringer Skylar Thompson started in place of the injured Tua Tagovailoa in the Vikings’ victory in Miami. Teddy Bridgewater replaced Thompson after he got hurt. Last Sunday, it was another former Viking, Taylor Heinicke, who started for Carson Wentz in Washington.
The trend could continue on Sunday in Buffalo and this one would be a biggie.
Josh Allen, one of the NFL’s best, was injured late in the Bills’ loss to the Jets on Sunday and is considered day-to-day because of an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Bills coach Sean McDermott, who likely will keep his starter quiet until Sunday, said Allen won’t practice Wednesday.
You can certainly debate that the drop from Winston to Dalton or Wentz to Heinicke isn’t that great, but there is no question that the Dolphins not having Tagovailoa as a starter (6-1 this season) was huge and the Bills starting former Viking Case Keenum over Allen would signify a massive drop off.
This game has plenty of importance for the AFC East-leading Bills (6-2), but taking a chance with Allen’s throwing arm would be silly. The Bills are a Super Bowl contender with Allen, and resting him for a week seems like the prudent move.
“I think we’ve got to prepare like he’s going to play,” O’Connell said of Allen. “I do have a lot of respect for Case and know that the offense won’t change all that much schematically if it ends up being Case. But this guy is one of the best players in our league — speaking about Josh Allen.”
Keenum starting against the Vikings would provide an excellent storyline. Keenum, in his first season with the Bills, knows plenty about magical seasons in Minnesota, or at least regular seasons. He has bounced from Denver to Washington to Cleveland and now Buffalo since leading the Vikings to the 2017 NFC title game.
Keenum stepped in for the injured Sam Bradford after a Week 1 victory over the Saints and, with limited expectations, had a career year that was highlighted by the Minneapolis Miracle pass to Stefon Diggs against the Saints to end their NFC Divisional playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Diggs figures to be Keenum’s primary target, assuming the QB starts on Sunday.
As Keenum, now 34, continued to put together win after win in going 11-3 as a starter in 2017, it was then-coach Mike Zimmer who often reminded us that luck was on Keenum’s side. That luck ran out in the embarrassing loss to the Eagles in the NFC title game.
Keenum still used that year as a springboard to become a starter with Denver in 2018 and then started in Washington for part of 2019. This season Keenum has made brief appearances in only two games for a Bills team that was hoping it would never have to start him.
Keenum did make one start against the Vikings while with Washington in 2019, completing 12 of 16 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in a 19-9 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium.
But this game would far more intriguing to see Keenum facing the Vikings.
The Bills are a superior team to that Washington club, and this will Diggs’ first game against his former team since forcing his way out in 2020. (The fact the Vikings turned the first-round pick they got from Buffalo into Justin Jefferson makes that trade a great one for both sides.)
The Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a big contract, much to Zimmer’s chagrin, to upgrade at quarterback in March 2018 and try to make a Super Bowl run that season. It didn’t happen as the Vikings missed the playoffs, and Cousins has led the team to only one postseason appearance in his first four seasons in purple.
But that has changed in O’Connell’s first year, and in many ways these Vikings have the same feel and energy that the 2017 team had.
On one hand, it would be nice to see the Vikings get tested by a healthy Allen, but no one is going to complain if Keenum is under center. Vikings fans, of course, will be nervous that Keenum will find a way to find the magic of 2017, but the reality is that Allen is a far more dangerous test.
Avoiding him would just be the latest example that the 2022 Vikings are living right.