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The 1998 Vikings had a plus-260 point differential, which still ranks as the seventh-best in NFL history. The six teams in front of them all reached the championship game, whether it was the Super Bowl or the equivalent AFL or Wholesale Minnesota Vikings Jerseys NFL title game. That 1998 Vikings season really was the cruelest tease of all.

The 1998 Vikings captured Cheap Andrew Glover Jersey something unusually special. Minnesota went 15-1 and set what was then a league record for points Cheap Brad Johnson Jersey scored in the regular season (556). The Vikes were primed to waltz into Super Bowl XXXIII; they were 11-point favorites in the NFC Championship Game at home against the Atlanta Falcons, who had gone 14-2. And then, owing to a variety Cheap Cris Carter Jersey of ill-timed mistakes and missed opportunities, the Vikes blew a 13-point lead, and it was all over.

Minnesota had entered that season with reasons for optimism. It was already a well-balanced team that had won a Cheap Jeff Christy Jersey playoff game the Cheap Randall Cunningham Jersey season before. But on draft day, the Vikings landed wideout Randy Moss with the 21st overall pick. Moss would become a Hall of Famer, but the breadth of his talent was immediately evident upon his arrival.

“Moss’ performances that spring and summer,” Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr wrote two years ago, “became something like the origin scenes in a superhero comic book.”

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Moss had great size, but he was also gifted with extraordinary speed and body control. Orr’s piece touches on how many of his teammates were in awe of his ability right away, with quarterback Brad Johnson describing more than once how it was pretty much impossible to overthrow him. The Vikes Cheap Randy Moss Jersey already had another future Hall of Fame receiver in Cris Carter. They would quickly discover just how lethal all that speed and skill could be. As offensive coordinator (and future Baltimore Ravens head coach) Brian Billick told Orr:

“We almost got to the point where we stopped looking at film. You try and prepare the players and say, ‘OK, this is what teams usually did, they’re single high or three deep’ or whatever. So we’d come into the game and it would be totally different. They figured they’d have to try something. So we’d just get into the game and adjust to whatever they were doing. Looking at all that film was a waste of time.”

Moss and Cunningham celebrate after one of their 15 touchdown pass connections in 1998. Star Tribune / Getty Images
Moss debuted by catching touchdown passes covering 48 and 31 yards in a 31-7 rout of the Buccaneers. Johnson broke his ankle the following week, and his replacement was Randall Cunningham, the thrilling former dual-threat Philadelphia Eagles star who was out of the league in 1996 and came back to join the Vikings a year later. By 1998, Cunningham was 35. With so many weapons at his disposal – including Cheap Robert Smith Jersey running back Robert Smith and tight ends Andrew Glover and Matthew Hatchette – Cunningham immediately settled in to become the kind of pocket passer his fiercest critics assumed he never could be. And the Vikings were off.

They won their first seven games – without scoring fewer than 29 points – before finally losing in Week 9 at Tampa Bay. Their big showcase came Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, on national television, when Moss caught TDs of 51 and 56 yards around a 54-yard TD catch for Carter – all in the first quarter. Moss finished the game with three catches for 163 yards … and three touchdowns.

The first two TD catches came on slightly underthrown balls that Moss casually caught on his hip in stride. The third, seen below, showed off his dazzling speed and footwork. He also caught a two-point conversion pass. It almost didn’t seem fair.

FOX Sports / theScore
The Vikings followed that win over the Cowboys by hanging 48 points on the Chicago Bears, 38 on the Baltimore Ravens, and 50 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They finished as just the third team to win 15 regular-season games; the first two – the 1984 49ers and the 1985 Bears – had won the Super Bowl.

Minnesota’s first playoff game was more of the same: an easy 41-21 takedown of the Arizona Cardinals. The upstart Falcons weren’t given much of a chance when they came to the old Metrodome a week later with a berth in the Super Bowl hanging in the balance. Early on, at least, it looked like the Vikings might glide right past them.

After the Falcons scored a first-possession touchdown, the Vikings stormed back to a 17-7 lead, with Cunningham taking three straight deep shots downfield to Moss. Atlanta was called for back-to-back 15-yard penalties that set the Vikings up at the Falcons’ 19-yard line with a shot to blow the game wide open before halftime. Then, on first down, this happened:

FOX Sports / theScore
It was a rare drop for Moss, who appeared to slow down a bit just before the ball arrived, which forced him to break stride to reach for it. The play seemed insignificant at the time, as the Vikings soon settled for a field goal to extend their lead to 20-7. But it was indicative of the mistakes that doomed Minnesota as the game proceeded.

One observation from rewatching that game: Billick was not afraid to get Moss the ball any way he could, even by using the deception and misdirection that has become much more common in today’s wide-open game. Check out this orbit motion combined with play-action to free up Moss for a swing pass that he turned into a decent gain:

FOX Sports / theScore
Much of what the Vikings did that day involved little pre-snap motion, however, with Cunningham frequently working under center. Additionally, after those three straight early deep shots to Moss, Cunningham largely threw underneath; a graphic shown during the broadcast just before the start of the second half indicated that he had attempted just five first-half passes of 15 yards or more. One was Moss’ end-zone drop.

Late in the first half, Cunningham fumbled after his arm was hit by Falcons defensive end Chuck Smith as he wound up to throw. Atlanta took over at the Vikings’ 14 with 59 seconds left until halftime. The Falcons scored on the next play to make the halftime score 20-14.

The Vikings compiled a 15-play, seven-minute drive into the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 27-17. But Moss had another drop, and center Jeff Christy failed to get a snap up into Cunningham’s hands, resulting in another lost fumble. Still, after a fourth-down stop, the Vikings largely relied on Smith to pound out a drive that ended with the game’s defining gaffe.

Place-kicker Gary Anderson had been perfect all year: 35-for-35 on field goals, 59-for-59 on extra points. But with 2:10 left and a chance to put the Vikings up again by 10, Anderson sailed his kick wide left. The Falcons marched back up the field in eight plays to tie the game with 49 seconds to go.

The Vikings had another opportunity in regulation, but Cunningham misfired on a deep ball to Moss on second down. Dennis Green then elected to take a knee on third down from the Vikings’ own 27 rather than risk a disaster like the one that happened at the end of the first half. The crowd booed lustily. One of the greatest offenses in NFL history was denied its biggest chance by its own head coach.

The Falcons’ Chris Chandler and Eugene Robinson hoist the NFC championship trophy. Matthew Stockman / Allsport / Getty Images
The Vikings got the ball first in OT, and both teams possessed the ball twice before the Falcons won it on a field goal. The heartbroken silence in the Metrodome was obvious on the broadcast; it was apparently worse in the locker room. Smith told Orr there were “NFC Champions” banners and other premature displays all over the place, which only added insult to injury.

The Vikings got back to the playoffs the next two seasons, and even reached the NFC title game again in 2000, only to get throttled by the Giants. But 1998 is the loss that lingers. Unlike the Patriots, who’ve won three championships and reached five Super Bowls since their big 2007 letdown, that 1998 team stands as a symbol of the Vikings’ longstanding history of almost getting it done. They were a unique team at the right time that wowed the football world for an entire season, and then they were gone.

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Justin Jefferson, Cheap Adam Thielen Jersey, and DeVonta Smith in the same receiving corps? It’s a longshot, but that’s what NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has happening in his latest 2021 mock. Smith falls to the Vikings at 14, and perhaps against Mike Zimmer’s wishes, Minnesota snatches up an elite wideout from the SEC for the second straight year.

Is it unlikely? Very much so. But is it fun to imagine and discuss? You bet it is.

After winning the Heisman trophy with an utterly ridiculous 2020 season (1,862 yards and 24 total TDs in 13 games), Smith is firmly in the discussion to be the first wide receiver drafted in April. With his otherworldly separation and route-running abilities, he has the potential to be a game-breaker in the NFL. Smith could be an option as early as No. 3 overall to the Dolphins, if they don’t trade that pick.

But there is also a legitimate chance that Smith falls because of concerns about his size. He was listed at 6’1″, 175 pounds at Alabama, and that thin frame is going to scare some evaluators in the same way that Cheap Cameron Dantzler Jersey frame scared people last year. Personally, I think it’s a classic case of the NFL overthinking things, because Smith’s weight (which he’ll add to, at least slightly) doesn’t mean much when he’s sprinting past defensive backs or making acrobatic catches above them. But it’s a real apprehension that some scouts have.

In Jeremiah’s mock, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase is the first receiver off the board, going to Miami at No. 3. That makes sense to me; Chase is a spectacular all-around receiver who was better than Jefferson on the Tigers’ 2019 national championship team. The Eagles pass on a WR at 6, taking Florida TE/athlete/superhuman Kyle Pitts instead. The Lions also pass on a receiver, going with Micah Parsons. Those two teams are commonly linked to the top trio of receivers (Smith, Chase, and Smith’s teammate Jaylen Waddle). The Giants take Gregory Rousseau instead of a wideout at 11, and suddenly both Bama receivers are falling.

After the 49ers take Rashawn Slater, the Chargers snap up Waddle with the 13th pick. That leaves the Vikings to take Smith one pick later. Here’s Jeremiah’s explanation:

The Vikings have holes to fill on defense, but they could give Cheap Kirk Cousins Jersey a heck of a trio by adding Smith to a receiving corps that already includes Cheap Justin Jefferson Jersey and Adam Thielen.

I love it. The Vikings can recreate the “Three Deep” receiving corps they had in 1998 and 1999 with Cheap Cris Carter Jersey, Cheap Randy Moss Jersey, and Cheap Jake Reed Jersey. It would be an example of taking the best player available and continuing to invest in the offense. In 1997, both Carter and Reed had 1,000-yard seasons and combined for 19 touchdown receptions. Wide receiver wasn’t a need. But Moss fell to the Vikings at 21, they selected him, and the rest is history.

This situation is a bit different. Both Carter (32) and Reed (30) were veterans at the time the Vikings drafted Moss. Thielen is 30, but Jefferson is still just 21 years old. Smith is actually seven months older than Jefferson. Regardless, it still makes sense. You’d have at least a few years of the best WR trio in the NFL, and if Thielen starts to decline, the two young guns would take the reins for the foreseeable future.

Imagine Smith and his long strides running down bombs from Kirk Cousins. He might be more of a pure deep threat than Jefferson, which is saying a lot. But both players are incredibly well-rounded and versatile receivers, and Thielen should still play at an extremely high level at age 31. Thielen would also be a fantastic mentor for Smith, just like he was for Jefferson last year, and new receivers coach Keenan McCardell is the perfect person to guide two young star wideouts. Smith could potentially be used as a punt returner, too. He would add another dimension to Minnesota’s offense.

Here’s the catch: it’s not very likely at all. Two things would have to happen for the Vikings to land Smith (or Chase or Waddle, for that matter). One of those players would have to fall to 14, which would surprise me with so many receiver-needy teams (MIA, PHI, DET, NYG, and a couple others) in the top 13. And then the Vikings would actually have to pull the trigger. Would Zimmer and Rick Spielman do it, or would they play it safe and draft an OL/DL/DB instead? Of Jeremiah’s next five picks, four would make sense for the Vikings: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn, USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye, and Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw. Perhaps Spielman would use the leverage of the WR on the board to trade down and get back into the second round.

If the Vikings did draft a receiver, they’d have to change their offensive philosophy and personnel groupings to maximize the output of all three players. Instead of remaining one of the league’s most run-heavy teams, with minimal use of 11 personnel (three receivers on the field at once), they’d have to slash their usage of Cheap C.J. Ham Jersey and two tight ends and modernize their attack. And it’s not a question of whether new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak would do it, it’s a question of whether or not the old-school Zimmer would allow it. He has the ultimate control over how the offense operates, as we saw in 2018 when he fired John DeFilippo for not running the ball enough.

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The Vikings-Saints series of 34 regular-season or postseason meetings includes four playoff games.

Minnesota is 3-1 all-time against New Orleans in the playoffs and has advanced to or been in the NFC Championship in each of the past four postseasons in which the teams have met.

A mammoth blowout, a terrific tandem, a heartbreaking loss and a miraculous finish can describe the Vikings vantage point in the four previous playoff games with the Saints.

In honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s a recap of those games:

Mammoth blowout
Vikings 44, Saints 10

Jan. 3, 1988 | Superdome

Setting the stage: The 1987 season was shortened by one game because of a players’ strike that resulted in the use of replacement players for three other games. Minnesota’s fill-ins went 0-3 before starters returned to win five of six. They then lost three of four to close the season at 8-7 and eek into the playoffs (only five teams made it back then: three division winners and two Wild Card teams). A New Orleans team influenced by former Vikings General Manager Jim Finks closed with nine consecutive victories to earn the first trip to the postseason in franchise history. The Saints went 12-3 but finished second in the division as members of the NFC West behind San Francisco (13-2).

In the game: The Vikings started terribly, suffering a sack on their first play and a fumbled snap on their second play to give New Orleans the ball at the Minnesota 11. The Saints scored on their second offensive snap, but it was the only time they reached the end zone.

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Al Messerschmidt/AP

An 84-yard punt return by Cheap Anthony Carter Jersey late in the first quarter gave the Vikings the lead for good.

Minnesota added a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cheap Wade Wilson Jersey (who relieved Cheap Tommy Kramer Jersey) to Cheap Steve Jordan Jersey, a 10-yard halfback pass from Cheap Allen Rice Jersey to Carter and a 44-yard Hail Mary pass from Wilson to Cheap Hassan Jones Jersey in the second quarter. The deep heave occurred on an untimed down after New Orleans was penalized for having 12 players on the field.

The Vikings defense limited the Saints to 11 completions and intercepted Bobby Hebert and Dave Wilson twice each to advance.

Quote: “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance other than us. We went to New Orleans and kind of caught fire.” — Ring of Honor LB Cheap Scott Studwell Jersey

Terrific tandem
Vikings 34, Saints 16

Jan. 6, 2001 | Metrodome

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Michael Conroy/AP
Setting the stage: The 2000 Vikings opened with seven consecutive wins and added a separate four-game win streak before dropping their final three games. Yet Minnesota won the NFC Central and a first-round bye with an 11-5 record. The Saints won the NFC West with a 10-6 mark that equaled the defending-champion Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New Orleans defeated St. Louis 31-28 in the Wild Card round.

In the game: A week after Isaac Bruce caught seven passes for 127 yards and a score and Torry Holt was limited to 26 yards on two catches, the Saints faced Minnesota’s eventual Hall of Fame receivers Cheap Cris Carter Jersey and Cheap Randy Moss Jersey.

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Michael Conroy/AP
Carter recorded eight catches for 120 yards and a score, nearly mirroring Bruce’s line. Moss, like Holt, had two receptions, but they were for touchdowns of 53 and 68 yards from Cheap Daunte Culpepper Jersey.

Kailee Wong and Robert Tate each intercepted Aaron Brooks, who was sacked by Cheap John Randle Jersey and John Burrough.

Quote: “A lot of people have a lot of nicknames, but he has the nickname ‘Super Freak’ … When he plays at a high level, not many people in the league are better than him.” — Cris Carter on Randy Moss

Heartbreaking loss
Saints 31, Vikings 28

Jan. 24, 2010 | Superdome

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Aaron M. Sprecher/AP
Setting the stage: The 2009 Vikings, led by former division rival Cheap Brett Favre Jersey, opened with six consecutive victories. The impressive start, however, was undermined when Minnesota went 2-3 in December, dropping three prime-time contests. The 12-4 mark was good enough for the No. 2 seed, and the Vikings routed the Cowboys in the Divisional round. The Saints opened even more impressively, winning their first 13 games, before losing their final three.

In the game: Vikings lead by seven, tie; Vikings lead 14-7, tie; Saints lead 21-14, tie; Saints lead 28-21, tie with 4:58 remaining.

Fred Evans recorded the Vikings lone sack of Drew Brees on the snap that followed a 2-yad touchdown run by Cheap Adrian Peterson Jersey.

Minnesota forced a three-and-punt and got the ball back at its own 21 with 2:37 remaining.

Completions by Favre of 10 and 20 yards were followed by a 14-yard run by Cheap Chester Taylor Jersey to the New Orleans 33 with 1:06 remaining. Runs by Taylor and Peterson were stuffed for no gain. Minnesota called a timeout with 19 seconds left on the clock.

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Gerald Herbert/AP
The Vikings were then flagged for 12 men in the huddle, moving the ball to the 38. Favre, who had been pummeled throughout the game, tried to make a play with a late pass over the middle, and it was intercepted at the New Orleans 22 by Tracy Porter.

Minnesota never touched the ball again. Garrett Hartley made a 40-yard field goal to end the first overtime possession, which was helped by a phantom pass interference call.

Quote: “This season was a success. It’s not the success we all wanted. But I have to tell you, this loss hurts – especially when we knew we should have won. It’s hard to put the feeling I have right now into words. I felt we beat ourselves more than they beat us.” — Cheap Bernard Berrian Jersey

Miraculous finish
Vikings 29, Saints 24

Jan. 14, 2018 | U.S. Bank Stadium

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Setting the stage: The 2017 Vikings overcame a 2-2 start during which they lost their starting quarterback (Cheap Sam Bradford Jersey) and running back (Cheap Dalvin Cook Jersey) by winning 11 of 12 games to close the season. The 13-3 mark earned a No. 2 seed and the opportunity to host a Divisional round game. The Saints won a competitive NFC South with an 11-5 record, then hosted and defeated Carolina in the Wild Card round. New Orleans was again led by Brees and featured _AP_ Rookies of the Year on offense (Alvin Kamara) and defense (Marshon Lattimore).

In the game: The Vikings built a 17-0 lead by halftime with touchdown runs by Cheap Jerick McKinnon Jersey and Cheap Latavius Murray Jersey and kept the Saints off the scoreboard until 1:18 remained in the third quarter.

New Orleans surged with a pair of touchdown passes from Brees to Michael Thomas in a span of less than four minutes of game time. The Saints took a 21-20 lead on a 14-yard pass to Kamara with 3:01 remaining.

Minnesota responded with a 53-yard field goal by Kai Forbath with 1:29 to go. Brees converted a fourth-and-10 with a 13-yard pass for a first-and-10 at the Minnesota 33 with 40 seconds left.

Cheap Brian Robison Jersey and Cheap Anthony Harris Jersey stuffed Kamara for a loss of 1 on a third-and-1, and Minnesota used its second timeout with 29 seconds remaining.

Wil Lutz put the Saints up 24-23 on a 43-yard field goal.

Cheap Case Keenum Jersey converted a first-and-15 with a 19-yard pass to Diggs to move the ball to the Minnesota 39 with 18 seconds. A pair of incompletions followed, leaving Minnesota with 10 seconds and no timeouts.

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Keenum aired out a pass that Cheap Stefon Diggs Jersey high-pointed. A subtle movement by Diggs helped him go unscathed on a tackle attempt by Marcus Williams. Diggs kept his balance, spun and cruised down the field for the winning score.

It was the first NFL playoff game to end with a touchdown as time expired and sent Vikings players, coaches and fans into unbelievable euphoria.

Quote: “I couldn’t believe it. There are plays like this that you dream for your whole life.” — Stefon Diggs