The Vikings could be the first team to play Super Bowl at home
No team ever has played a Super Bowl in its own stadium.
The Minnesota Vikings were an unlikely candidate to end that streak when Sam Bradford joined Teddy Bridgewater on their list of injured players. That left them turning to quarterback Case Keenum to try to save their season.
That's the same Case Keenum who was well on his way to NFL journeyman status. He was on his third organization. He hadn't been the answer for the Houston Texans or the Rams (either in St. Louis or Los Angeles) in multiple stints with each team, and there was little reason to believe that he would be the answer for the Vikings.
But that is exactly what he has been. Bradford is done for the season. Bridgewater is back on the active roster but can't reclaim his place in the lineup, with Keenum having led the Vikings' ascent to top-contender status in the NFC.
They held on to win, 30-23, Thursday afternoon in Detroit in the first the NFL's three Thanksgiving games. Keenum was very good again, connecting on 21 of 30 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception and had a passer rating of 121.8.
The Vikings extended their winning streak to seven games and upped their record to 9-2. They have all but wrapped up the NFC North title, increasing their lead over the second-place Lions to three games. They are a half-game behind the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC's best record. The Vikings are very much in the running for a first-round playoff bye and, if the Eagles stumble at some point, perhaps the conference's No. 1 postseason seed.
The chase for NFC supremacy between the Eagles, Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Rams and Carolina Panthers is intense and compelling. These are very good and, for the most part, very balanced teams. This is not like the AFC, which has become a two-team competition among the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFC's Super Bowl race is wide open. And that is because of an abundance of quality teams, not a lack of them.
The Super Bowl is to be played Feb. 4 in Minneapolis. If the Vikings get there, they will have Keenum to thank.
Once it became clear that Bradford's knee issues would keep him from playing again this season, the countdown was on - in the minds of some - for Bridgewater's return to the lineup. The Vikings traded for Bradford prior to last season after Bridgewater suffered his devastating leg injury. Wouldn't it make sense for Bradford's exit this season to create an opportunity for Bridgewater to reclaim his starting job?
But Keenum's unexpected - and consistent - excellence has complicated that story line. Bridgewater very well might remain the Vikings' quarterback of the future. Even if Coach Mike Zimmer was looking for a chance to go back to Bridgewater, however, Keenum has not afforded him the opportunity. Keenum simply is playing too well to sit down.
The Vikings have the pieces of a championship contender in place. Zimmer is a very solid coach. The offensive line has been superb this season. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are dangerous. The running game remains effective with Latavius Murray in place of injured rookie Dalvin Cook, and the defense is plenty good enough.
The one question was whether the quarterback play would be good enough. And Keenum, to the surprise of many, has been taking care of that quite nicely.
Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.