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Versus: The ’98 Minnesota Vikings vs The ’07 New England Patriots

What was the greatest NFL team that didn’t win the Super Bowl? We recently brought the argument out of the barbershop and into our Madison Avenue offices. Shadow League All-Stars Alejandro Danois and Ricardo Hazell make their arguments.

Alejandro Danois’ Pick – The 1998 Minnesota Vikings

I’m going to make this short and sweet. The ’98 Vikings are the greatest NFL team that didn’t win the Super Bowl. 

They were an offensive monster, the likes of which the league had never seen before. And this was before the league instituted rules changes that placed a protective bubble around quarterbacks, before cornerbacks were handcuffed in order to make the game more exciting and appealing to fans.

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They played big boy football back then in an age where defenses weren’t shackled, they were unleashed. Put the 2007 New England Patriots in that era, where Tom Brady would have been running through a lion’s den wearing pork chop drawers and not some pretty boy that the league wanted to protect, and they wouldn’t be the same juggernaut. Whole different ballgame, son!

One of my fondest NFL memories is that Monday night game in early October against the Green Bay Packers, when Randall Cunningham, who was once dubbed “The Ultimate Weapon” at the quarterback position, lit up Lambeau Field with 422 passing yards. Randy Moss, perhaps the best and most dominant rookie receiver ever, caught five balls for 190 yards and two touchdowns while Cris Carter had eight catches for 119 yards as the Vikings also intercepted Brett Favre three times.

And then there’s the Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys, aka The Team of the ’90s. Ya’ll remember that Cowboy dynasty right, with Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Darren Woodson, Big Nate Newton and Leon Lett an’nem?

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The Cowboys brought that heat, with Aikman passing for a career-high 455 yards. Emmitt Smith ran for three touchdowns and even with Dallas accumulating 513 total yards, they still couldn’t handle the Vikings. That was the day when Moss proved that he was from another planet, catching three passes for 163 yards, and each one of those receptions were touchdowns. His performance was so luminescent that people often forget that Carter also caught seven passes for 135 yards and a TD.

Led by head coach Dennis Green, Minnesota went 15-1, scoring a then-record 556 points in the regular season behind one of the most prolific passing attacks the league had ever seen. Cunningham, who replaced an injured Brad Johnson, passed for 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns. That’s what you call having some depth. Who was Tom Brady’s backup in ’07? Oh yeah, Matt Cassel. ‘Nuff said.

Moss led the team with 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns while Carter added 1,011 yards and 12 TD’s. And let’s not forget about the thunder-and-lightning backfield combination of Robert Smith and Leroy Hoard. Smith rushed for 1,187 and while Hoard smashed down doors in goal line situations.

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New England’s running back tandem of Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris weren’t anything to write home to momma about. Can’t front on the fact that they got busy with Tom Brady and Randy Moss, but Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney couldn’t hold a flame to Chris Carter.

On the other side of the ball was the legendary John Randle, with his 10.5 sacks setting the pace for a defense that allowed just 296 points in the regular season. They’re remembered for their offensive pyrotechnics, but they handled business on the other side of the ball too.

The 2007 Patriots played in the pretty boy era, where rules were slanted in favor of the passing game because fans couldn’t appreciate rugged defensive dominance. I’m not taking anything away from them. They were outstanding. But they weren’t the best team to never win it. That would have to be the 1998 Vikings.

Ricardo Hazell’s Pick – The 2007 New England Patriots

The 2007 New England Patriots would stomp a mudhole in the backs of the 1998 Minnesota Vikings. Are we forgetting just how dominant that team was?  New England was the top offense in the National Football League that season, as well as a top four defense. They could score just about whenever the wanted, and they stopped the opposition from scoring most of the time as well.  

I say most of the time because that team was eventually beaten in Super Bowl XLII thanks in part to a miracle play from New York Giants QB Eli Manning and WR David Tyree. However, the road up to that point was filled with record breaking dominance.

Tom Brady completed 68.9 percent of his passes to go with an NFL record 50 touchdowns to only 8 interceptions. Astounding! 

By contrast, the legendary Randall Cunningham had 34 TDs to only eight interceptions in that miraculous year of resurgence in Minnesota. However, he only completed 60 percent of his passes on average and relied on the athleticism of Randy Moss, as well as Chris Carter underneath, to make big plays all season. The Patriots bend but dont break defense was designed for just that sort of thing.

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Additionally, the 1998 Minnesota Vikings pass defense was ranked a raggedy 19th. Cmon, man! Were seriously talking about a 19th ranked passing defense stopping Tom Terrific in his physical prime? 

Should we just end it there? We could, but let’s continue entertaining this fanciful pairing. That season was also a signature season for future Hall of Famer Randy Moss as well, tallying 23 touchdowns! Who was stopping Brady and Moss? Nobody.

Lets not forget how Wes Welker helped redefine the physical requirements of a capable slot receiver that season as well. He proved that you didnt necessarily need to be fast or physically dominant, just a quick and deliberate route runner.

That Patriots team was also in the top half of the league in rushing yards, averaging a very respectable 115 yards per game. 

That Minnesota Vikings team had a young Randy Moss exploding all over the field, but the 2007 Patriots were very stingy in the secondary. Assante Samuel had six interceptions, 42 tackles and three sacks on the season. Strong safety Rodney Harrison was a beast. Corner Randall Gay only started three games that season, yet had three interceptions and 33 tackles.

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Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork made sure that the majority of the oppositions running plays would have to avoid him and 34-year-old Tedy Bruschi was still very productive, tallying 64 tackles at linebacker. Mike Vrabel had an incredible year with 12.5 sacks and 55 tackles.  Whats Minnys running game going to do against that? I loved Robert Smiths game, and liked him as a person. He ran for over 1,100 yards that year, but only had six touchdowns.  No way he scores against Big Vince an nem! Yall crazy! 

The only reason the New England Patriots did not win the Super Bowl that year is the New York Giants pass rush. You gotta give Tom the yips back there. You have to be able to pressure him so much that he thinks hes going to be hit every down. At that point, its no longer a matter of toughness, the human mind will take over and force you to try to protect yourself, even if you WANT to stand tall and take the hit.  

Thats what happened against the Giants, and they still needed Eli and David Tyree to accomplish the impossible to win. Throw in the maniacal playcalling of Bill Belichick and its a clear loss for the Vikings in the same scenario.  They had a great pass rush, but nothing like that Giants defense. And if you’re thinking a 34-year-old Randall Cunningham, God love him, is going to give you ANYTHING with his legs, you’re sorely mistaken. 

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