EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The NFL's playoff seedings say the top-ranked Eagles are the team to beat in the NFC. Reality suggests otherwise as Philadelphia has flopped to the finish line while the Vikings storm into the playoffs with head coach Mike Zimmer's top-ranked defense, a cautiously efficient offense and the other seed that comes with a first-round bye.
As Zimmer stressed to his players before Sunday's bye-clinching 23-10 win over the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium, the last five NFC Super Bowl teams had a bye week before having to win only two games.
The possible divisional round opponents are the Rams, Saints and Panthers. The Vikings beat the Rams and Saints at home, and lost to the Panthers at Carolina.
"Those teams played us too, so it's the same for them," Zimmer said Monday when asked if there's an advantage to having already played the opening opponent. "We get to play at home. That's a good thing."
The Eagles (13-3) have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but haven't looked good in their three games since losing quarterback Carson Wentz to a torn ACL. Sunday, Philadelphia lost 6-0 at home to the Cowboys as Nick Foles completed just 4-of-11 passes with an interception and a 9.3 passer rating before taking an early seat. That game didn't matter for seeding, but certainly didn't boost anyone's confidence in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the Vikings' defense didn't allow a touchdown for a second straight week while becoming the first Vikings team to lead the league in scoring defense since 1971.
"I think (Vikings players) are a pretty confident bunch," Zimmer said Monday. "I think they play together well. They're pretty resilient. Something bad happens, they don't panic. They just keep plugging along. But the way they practice is pretty intense and it seems to carry over. They seem to be pretty confident."
Of course, being the team to beat has not been a comfortable feeling for Vikings fans since the team's inception in 1961. There's the 0-4 Super Bowl record, Gary Anderson's missed field goal that sank a 15-1 team in the NFC title game, the five turnovers against the Saints in the NFC title game eight years ago, Blair Walsh's missed 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a 10-9 wild-card game two years ago, etc., etc.
As excitement builds for a team that's reached 13 wins for only the second time in franchise history, many are wondering what kind of sucker punch lurks around the next cursed corner.
Asked if he believes in the so-called Vikings curse, Zimmer laughed.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't think there's any curse. I've got a crystal ball and I've got a wood spirit hanging in my office. So there's no damn curse."
With left guard Nick Easton out for the season with a broken ankle and center Pat Elflein sidelined with a shoulder injury, the Vikings turned to their seventh different offensive line combination on Sunday.
Right guard Joe Berger, a former starting center, moved to center. Right tackle Mike Remmers moved to right guard, while Rashod Hill stepped in at right tackle. Riley Reiff started at left tackle, while Jeremiah Sirles started at left guard.
"I think it shows how tough those guys are up front," said running back Latavius Murray, who had 111 yards rushing, a 5.6 average and two touchdowns against Chicago. "How they've been able to come in and step up again and not miss a beat. You have to give them a lot of credit."
Remmers said the last time he played guard was five years ago in the preseason. Asked if it was like riding a bike, he laughed.
"Maybe a bike that I've never really ridden," he said.
Adam Thielen's fifth catch on Sunday was worth $250,000.
It pushed him to 90 on the season and unlocked the final salary escalator clause in his contract. Altogether, the clauses along the route to 90 catches bumped Thielen's 2018 salary an extra $1 million.
"Honestly, it's really not a personal goal," Thielen said after catching six passes for 61 yards on Sunday. "A lot of that is team (accomplishments). We have a great defense that gives us a lot of opportunities on offense. We have a quarterback finding open receivers."
Thielen finished the season with 91 catches for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns.
NOTES: WR Stefon Diggs had six catches, giving him 200 in 40 games. That's the fastest track to 200 catches by a Vikings player in franchise history. ... P Ryan Quigley finished the regular season without a touchback. Since the NFL began tracking touchbacks in 1991, Quigley is the first Viking and only the second NFL punter to go an entire season without a touchback. The other was Washington's Saverio Rocca in 2013. ... DE Brian Robison notched the 60th sack of his career. That ties Kevin Williams for ninth most in team history. ... QB Case Keenum had 10 games without an interception this season. That ties the team record for most games without an interception. His 98.3 passer rating is fifth-best in team history. With an 11-2 record, he also set the team record for most victories by a quarterback who wasn't drafted. Gary Cuozzo was 10-2 in 1970. ... OL Joe Berger, the oldest lineman on the team at 35, was the only offensive lineman on the team to start all 16 games.
REPORT CARD VS. BEARS
--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Case Keenum struggled early on, but managed the game intelligently. Playing behind the seventh different offensive line combination of the year, Keenum didn't turn the ball over and knew when to throw it away rather than take unnecessary risks on a team that has the league's best defense. Keenum threw for only 189 yards, but posted a 101.1 passer rating and was sacked only two times. Stefon Diggs caught the only TD pass, a 15-yarder to give the Vikings a 16-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Vikings played mostly a power game, and it eventually wore the Bears down. The Vikings ran the ball 36 times, passing it 29 times. Latavius Murray topped 100 yards for the second time this season (111) while averaging 5.6 yards and scoring twice from the 1-yard line.
--PASS DEFENSE: A -- Overall, it was another solid performance by a defense that finished the season ranked first in yards allowed and points allowed. Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had 16 incompletions, 20 completions, posted a 69.0 passer rating and was pressured by nose tackle Linval Joseph into a grounding penalty for a safety in the end zone. Bears running back Tarik Cohen had a team-high six catches but only 14 yards.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Through three quarters, the Bears had 5 yards rushing on 10 carries. They finished with 30 on 15 carries. Jordan Howard, who crushed the Vikings a year ago with more than 300 yards in two meetings, had 9 yards on nine carries. Late in the game, the Bears had first-and-goal at the 2. And ended up turning the ball over on downs at the 1.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Bears' only points came on a 59-yard punt return for a touchdown. Punter Ryan Quigley botched the punt. The Bears sneaked a second returner, Bryce Callahan, deep. Quigley was supposed to direct the punt to the left, where Cohen was placed. But he shanked it a bit. Callahan made a sliding catch, got to his feet and went untouched up the left sideline. Kicker Kai Forbath also missed a 55-yard field goal wide right. But on a positive note, Quigley did place five of his eight punts inside the 20, including four inside the 9-yard line.
--COACHING: A -- Mike Zimmer's defense was in prime form and never once let the Bears into this game. Offensively, coordinator Pat Shurmur leaned on his "muscle" formation, using backup tackle Aviante Collins as a blocking tight end to help with the run game and limit the reps on Kyle Rudolph's injured ankle. Collins, an undrafted rookie, had not played an offensive snap this season. His experience was limited to three special teams snaps.