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O'HARA: Vikings rolling on both sides of the ball

'Tis the season for holiday cheer, packed shopping malls, gatherings of family and friends – and bold predictions in the National Football League.

One of those predictions is that the Minnesota Vikings have a good chance to be home for the Super Bowl. And not as one of the 30 teams whose staffs and players will be watching Super Bowl LII on television.

The way the Vikings are rolling – with a won-loss record of 8-2 and six-game winning streak heading into the traditional Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field – has people projecting that they could be the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer isn't looking that far ahead, and certainly not past a Lions team that has beaten the Vikings three straight games. But it's intriguing to think that the Vikings could represent the NFC in the Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4. 

View photos of the starters for the Minnesota Vikings

Zimmer suppressed a chuckle when asked in his conference-call interview Tuesday about Super Bowl projections.

"My feeling is, we have the Lions Thursday," Zimmer said, laughing at his typical coach-speak answer.

"That's all for the fans and the media and all that stuff. No one's ever done it before, so the odds of doing it aren't very good.

"We'd love to be the first. There's so much to go before we even starting thinking about it or talking about it."

The 1979 Los Angeles Rams and 1984 San Francisco 49ers were in the neighborhood but not at home for the Super Bowl.

The Rams played their home games at the L.A. Coliseum and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The 49ers played their home games at Candlestick Park and beat the Dolphins at Super Bowl XIX in Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.

The Vikings have a Super Bowl history, but it's ancient history and without bringing home the trophy. They played in four Super Bowls from the 1969 through 1976 seasons and lost all four. They've lost in the NFC Championship four times since then, most recently in the 2009 season.

For the present, the Vikings are as solid overall as their record and statistics indicate. They rank fifth on offense and fifth on defense. They started their six-game win streak after a 14-7 loss to the Lions at home in Game 5. Since then they've outscored their six opponents by a 162-96 margin. 

They have Pro Bowl players at all three levels on defense, and they're solid enough up front on offense to generate an effective running game and give Keenum time to get the ball to a cast of play-making receivers.

"They do everything well," said Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. "They're moving the ball up and down the field. They're making plays. They've always played great defense, and their special teams are very good." 

They've also overcome significant injuries, most notably at quarterback. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the season before the start of the 2016 season and replaced him by acquiring Sam Bradford in a trade with the Eagles.

Bradford played this year's opener and part of another game before going out for the season with a knee injury. Keenum has been slightly more than a game manager. Unlike Bradford, a stationary target in the pocket, Kennum's mobility is a reason he's been sacked only five times.

When the Vikings are on their game, and that has been the case of late, they can beat any team anywhere. And they were never on it any better this season than in last week's 24-7 win at home over the Rams.

It was no contest in a matchup of two teams with 7-2 records going into the game. 

The Vikings dominated the game after giving up a seven-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley on the first possession. They had a 27-15 advantage in first downs, 451-254 in yards gained and sacked Rams quarterback Jared Goff twice while not allowing a sack.

Goff averaged only 5.4 yards per attempt, three full yards below his average of 8.49 for the previous nine games.

Most striking was how the Vikings dominated the running game on both sides, running for 171 yards and holding the Rams to 41. Only 20 of the Rams' rushing yards were gained after their first possession.

Win or lose on Thanksgiving Day – and the Vikings are narrow favorites to snap their three-game losing streak to the Lions – there's a lot to go before thinking about the Super Bowl, as Zimmer said.

There is no clear favorite in the NFC with how the conference is stacked at the top. The Eagles have a conference-best record of 9-1, with the Saints and Vikings at 8-2, the Rams and Panthers at 7-3 and the Falcons and Lions at 6-4 and in position to make a move up.

It's a different Vikings team than the one the Lions beat, 16-13, on Thanksgiving Day last year. The 2016 Vikings deteriorated from a 5-0 start to finish 8-8 and out of the postseason.

A win Thursday would give the Vikings a three-game lead on the Lions in the North. Realistically that would end the race, but Zimmer isn't making any claims on that.

"There's still a lot of football to be played, and a lot of things can happen," Zimmer said. "You see every single week, things go on. We realize after our start last year that nothing's guaranteed for us."

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