NFL division winners take a beating

Courtesy of NFL

The Vikings’ 8-7-1 regular season has come and gone, and the disappointment and frustration will remain through July. This season was supposed to be so much more.

Not that you ever take making the playoffs for granted. Seven teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2017 did not make it in 2018 — Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Carolina and the Vikings.

The Vikings were Super Bowl favorites after signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year $84 million guaranteed contract. I wrote a column last year reminding you that there are no guarantees in the NFL. Some contract guarantees, yes, but not for making the playoffs.

On paper, the Vikings are one of the biggest disappointments in sports. They failed for a lot of reasons. Number one was the death of Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano two days before the beginning of training camp. The offensive line never jelled and was one of the team’s biggest shortfalls.

The Vikings lost three games at home in 2018, one 27-6 to Buffalo, as a 17-point home favorite — they were 8-1 at U.S. Bank in 2017. The Vikings were 1-6 vs 2018 playoff teams.

The team could not run the football consistently, and defensively they slipped a notch. They could not stop the run consistently on defense. They ran for over 1,400 yards with running backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, however, they allowed opponents to run for over 1,800 yards.

They were not as physical. Eleven of the 12 teams that qualified for the 2019 playoffs ran for more yards than they allowed defensively. The only team that did not was Kansas City, the NFL’s highest scoring team with 565 points, led by quarterback Pat Mahomes who threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes.

The mental illness issues of defensive end Everson Griffin, who missed five games, can’t be overlooked. Nor can Mike Zimmer’s firing of Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo. After 12 games, the coach was unhappy the Vikings were not running the ball enough.

The Vikings had no identity in 2018. The vibe and thirst for winning that was present in 2017 was missing. They were simply not a mentally tough football team.

Playoff news

The NFL Wild Card weekend saw three Division Champions — Chicago, Houston and Baltimore — all lose playoff games at home. Five Black head coaches were fired on December 31, and eight head coaches in total were fired after the 2018 season.

Of the 32 NFL teams, only two Black head coaches remain. One of those two Black head coaches, Anthony Lynn, led his Los Angeles Chargers to a 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

For the first time in NFL history over 90 years of pro football, five Black quarterbacks started and led their teams to the playoffs: Kansas City, Baltimore, Seattle, Houston and Dallas.

About Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald is a longstanding contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday and Friday at 9:10 am, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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