Eagles' top challenger in NFC? Don't count out Case Keenum, Vikings

LANDOVER, Md. -- The Minnesota Vikings are 7-2 and Case Keenum has started seven of the games as their quarterback.

You had that, right? Back in August, when you were making your NFL season predictions, you had the Vikings at 7-2 with Keenum the quarterback? Sure you did.

You probably also had the New Orleans Saints at 7-2, rolling into Buffalo in Week 10 and hanging 47 on the No. 6-ranked scoring defense without a single Drew Brees touchdown pass.

And you had both of those teams a game behind the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles, with the Los Angeles Rams duking it out atop the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers comfortably between those first-place Saints and the third-place Atlanta Falcons in the South.

If you did predict all of this -- heck, if you predicted any of it -- we’d like your thoughts on this week’s lottery numbers. And by “we,” I mean me and Case Keenum, who seems as amused about what’s going on with him and the Vikings as anyone.

“Just feels good, is all,” Keenum said after throwing for 304 yards, four touchdowns and two keep-em-in-the-game second-half interceptions in the Vikings’ 38-30 victory over Washington here Sunday. “I love this squad, I love this team, I love this offense, I love these coaches and we’re having fun.”

Yeah, 7-2 is fun, no doubt, and the Vikings are feeling no pain right now. They’ve won five games in a row, increasing their point total each week, and hold a two-game lead in the NFC North on both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. This past week, they put Week 1 starting quarterback Sam Bradford on injured reserve and activated former starter Teddy Bridgewater. The latter’s return to the starting lineup might feel like a foregone conclusion to lots of folks around the team, and certainly to most on the outside. But career backup Keenum doesn’t seem too bothered by any of it.

“Teddy’s a fan favorite. He’s my favorite, too,” Keenum said. “I may have a Teddy Bridgewater jersey at home. Teddy definitely raises the cool factor of the quarterback group. Tremendously.”

That’s Keenum, talking about the guy everybody thinks is about to take his job. That’s where the Vikings are right now. They’re 7-2 and don’t seem all-the-way sure about how.

“Case played outstanding,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, then in the next breath, “I wish the two throws he had in the second half he would not have made. But you know, he’s an excitable guy and he needs to understand what are the good plays and what are the bad plays sometimes.”

Said Keenum the Excitable: “I need to not make a bad play worse. I gave them a couple of gifts.”

You wonder, looking ahead, how long this can last. The Vikings play two very tough games in the next 11 days -- home this Sunday to the first-place Rams and then at Detroit on Thanksgiving. Two straight road games in Atlanta and Carolina follow that, and by the time they’re through that gantlet we’ll have some better idea about how good the Vikings are, what their best option is at quarterback and what their chances are of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

It’s not crazy to imagine this team as a real contender. The Vikings made the playoffs as division champs two years ago and started 5-0 last season before a brutal run of injury attrition on the offensive line cost them any chance of making good on that. They hit the line hard in free agency, brought back the core of a smothering defense, and their wide receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs makes a case as the very best in the NFL. You could convince yourself that they’re a quarterback away, but the way Keenum’s playing, that may be underselling them.

There was talk after the game from Zimmer about being able to play better with a big lead, but he said it while kind of shaking his head -- as if amazed like the rest of us that that’s a problem the Keenum-led Vikings confront. And the defense sure didn’t love seeing Kirk Cousins & Co. put 30 points on the board. But the standings label the Vikings a contender, and that means there’s a foundation for something cool.

“Yeah, wins, they all count the same,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said. “Obviously, from a defensive side, we don’t want to give up that many points, so there’s a lot of work to be done there. But a win’s a win. We did enough to win.”

The NFC is upside down. The Seahawks are chasing the high-octane Rams. The Saints have a smothering defense and their run game can’t be stopped. Carson Wentz is the conference’s best quarterback so far. The Falcons can’t seem to get clicking. The Cowboys are playing without their offensive engine. The Panthers and Lions keep finding ways to win ugly. The Packers are doing what they can without Aaron Rodgers.

The top team in the conference took the week off. The teams right behind the Eagles kept the heat on. There’s no way to know what the rest of the season holds for Keenum, Bridgewater and the gang, but if you’re in first place in the NFC right now and you’re thinking "Why not us?" -- who can blame you?