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Remember in Fight Club when Ed Norton’s character beats that guy’s face really badly and then says that he just wanted to ruin something beautiful? That has to be how the Minnesota Vikings feel about taking on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at US Bank Stadium.

The Rams are who the Vikings wanted to be in 2018.

The Vikings were the darlings of that offseason, having signed Kirk Cousins to the most guaranteed money in NFL history following their trip to the NFC Championship with the No. 1 defense the previous year. They pushed all of the chips to the middle of the table with dreams that they would be fighting for the top of the NFC in December and have the football world buzzing about what they could be.

Instead the Vikings hit the skids in the second half of the season and lost to Chicago the final week of the season and missed the playoffs at 8-7-1. They ended 19th in points scored and sad trombones played them off the field in Week 17 as Cousins and Adam Thielen argued on the sideline over how to run a route.

The Rams started their all-in push by trading Jared Goff and draft picks for Matthew Stafford and then continued to set their picks aflame by dealing for Broncos legend Von Miller. When receiver Odell Beckham Jr. threw a fit about his role in Cleveland, the Rams signed him too, despite whatever risk may come along with his personality.

They have a tough cap situation, players who are only going to be there for one more year, a quarterback in his mid-30s with persistent injury issues. This, folks, is some kind of all-in. In fact, the Rams’ Twitter account even sent out an “all-in” GIF, which ironically referenced a scene in the movie Rounders where the guy loses the hand.

The 2018 Vikings and 2021 Rams are different shades of all-in but it’s the same concept: Changing QBs, throwing money and draft capital around to do whatever you can to win right now in the “Super Bowl window.”

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While it went sideways for the Vikings in ‘18, it has mostly worked for the Rams. They are 10-4 with a plus-83 point differential and have the fifth best scoring offense in the NFL. With Stafford at the helm, their passing offense is No. 1 in Expected Points Added through the air, which is a stat that has correlated with teams reaching the Super Bowl in recent years.

Los Angeles’ defense has been spotty at times, falling from their No. 1 ranking last year to 10th in points allowed, but they are getting hot at the right time with three straight strong showings.

Bottom line: It hasn’t been the smoothest ride but the all-in Rams are considered a realistic Super Bowl team heading into the final weeks of the year.

There were – and still are – reasons to be skeptical about Sean McVay’s juggernaut. For starters, Stafford has never won a playoff game. Yeah, yeah, Detroit. But he was in Detroit for a long time and had all sorts of different coaches and teammates and very strong weapons at times and there was always something that held them back. Stafford’s tendency to take sacks and throw key interceptions while trying to do too much reared its ugly head in a game earlier this year against Tennessee in which he was whirled around and threw a pick-six right into the hands of a Titans defender. 'Ah, yes, that’s the Stafford we know,' thought Vikings fans.

But the Rams are too big to fail on offense. Even without star receiver Robert Woods, they have weapons everywhere, including the No. 1 receiver in the NFL in yards, receptions and touchdowns, Cooper Kupp. And get this: Pro Football Focus ranks the Rams No. 1 in pass blocking. Hey, now there’s something different from the Vikings’ all-in attempt.

See the Rams went all kinda all-in on Stafford. They didn’t say, “Hey we paid you so figure it out” when it came to the offensive line or No. 3 or No. 4 receiver spots. They didn’t say, “Sorry pal, we have to keep all of our defensive players.” Nope, they let defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson walk in free agency.

By PFF’s metrics, Stafford has been good but not a different version of himself. He currently has an 82.4 PFF grade. Between 2016 and 2020, his grades varied between 77.8 and 82.6. Nothing particularly different, just more dudes to target, good blockers up front and an offensive scheme that was built just for him.

None of this is to apologize for the 2018 Vikings not making it to the playoffs. Cousins melted down in key games, the Vikings fired their offensive coordinator and the defense wasn’t as strong as the No. 1 version. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

When a team goes all-in, everything you envisioned it being has to come to fruition or it’s a complete calamity. How often does that ever happen in the NFL? Right now it feels like the Rams are sitting in a good spot to compete for the Super Bowl but they are still only in fifth place in the playoff race. If they lose to the Vikings, there’s a good shot they end up staying in that No. 5 spot.

Is going on the road in the first round of the playoffs a job well done for a team that’s made every move like the apocalypse is coming after this February?

On Sunday, the Vikings get to play the role of the underdog team that’s teaching the all-in team a lesson about mortgaging your future. Mike Zimmer will have a chance to dial up some Stafford-scrambling scheme like the time the Vikings sacked him 10 times. Wouldn’t that be the irony of all ironies if the Vikings were the one to remind everyone that putting your hopes on a good-not-great quarterback isn’t the path to greatness in the NFL?

The Vikings haven’t done a lot in recent weeks to inspire confidence that they will beat the Rams at home. They have Aaron Donald and the Vikings still haven’t gotten Kirk Cousins a capable right guard after all these years. But going into this game feeling like the Rams are a beatable team still tells the story. All-in is rarely a great strategy, even when things mostly work. That might serve as a reminder for the Vikings themselves as they face key decisions next offseason, too. 

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