Mike Zimmer's squad is no stranger to accomplishing the impossible in 2017, either. Early-season injuries to Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, the two most important pieces of a promising offense, didn't stop the Vikings from running away with the NFC North title. And the team's suffocating defense, tops in the league in yards allowed per game and almost the best in every other category, lived up to its own high standards to have Minnesota favored for a trip to the NFC Championship.
That being said, if history says anything, Vikings fans have at least a little reason to be cautious with their optimism.
No statistical trends are going to affect Minnesota's current team, which has been maybe the most balanced unit of the entire conference, and Zimmer has been adamant in debunking the concerns of a Vikings "curse," but there's also a precedent for postseason slip-ups in the Midwest.
As the Star Tribune noted this week, there's a case to be made for the Vikings as one of the NFL's most tragic playoff teams. Compiling game outcomes and FiveThirtyEight's Elo ratings, writers Jeff Hargarten and MaryJo Webster revealed that among the teams left in the current postseason, no one has lost more playoff games they were predicted to win since 1966 than -- wait for it -- the Vikings. Even among the 30 different teams that have suffered at least one "unexpected playoff loss," Minnesota ranks ahead of only three others, including the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs, this year's Wild Card dud.
The Elo ratings are subjective in some cases, and the Tribune acknowledged that most of the Vikings' unexpected elimination games came decades ago. But plenty of Minnesota fans might agree that a cautious hope is the best kind of one, especially considering the study also showed that 11 of the team's 23 postseason appearances over that span resulted in a heartbreaking, unforeseen loss -- the worst mark of all 32 NFL franchises.
Zimmer and the 2017 Vikings, of course, will never admit they are playing against history when they hit the field to take on the Saints Sunday. In some fans' eyes, however, perhaps they are.