This feels like 2009. The instinct to brace for disappointment, protect yourself from monumental disappointment, is lurking.
New Orleans' victory on Sunday set up an NFC Divisional Round game that will be billed as a rematch eight years in the making.
Vikings vs. Saints. Purple vs. Gold. The Chokers vs. the Champions.
When those Saints march into U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, Sean Payton and Drew Brees will undoubtedly stir up the torturous collective memory of Vikings supporters – a burnt fanbase that still winces at any mention of "2009 NFC Championship game."
That regular season of course was unbelievable. A 12-4 record, with the gunslinger Brett Favre elevating the roster around him to fairytale heights. The clock struck midnight in the Superdome on Jan. 24, 2010.
Twelve men in the huddle. An interception. An overtime loss. Season over.
Hope is the Trojan Horse of disappointment.
Allow it to maneuver through that crack in your protective wall – "What if this is actually the year?" – and the outcome is inevitable. You will be cut down, as Vikings fans have been time and time again.
But this is not 2009-10.
There are surface differences: Sunday's matchup is a round earlier. This game will take place in Minnesota. And the Saints – while very good – aren't the 13-3 juggernaut they were eight years ago.
More important, however, is the personality of this Minnesota squad.
The 2009-10 Vikings were led by a punchless Brad Childress. They lived and died on the arm of Favre – a notorious risk-taker – and their big playmakers on offense were Adrian Peterson (fumble problems included), an inconsistent Percy Harvin, and one-season wonder Sidney Rice.
The defense had big names (Antoine Winfield, Kevin and Pat Williams, Jared Allen) but was top heavy, full of holes.
It was a playground team: Immensely fun, but prone to abrupt dips and inconsistency.
Their mantra was essentially: "Go out there and make some magic happen."
This current Minnesota team is the antithesis.
The Vikings' game planning and execution each week has been impressively mechanical, built to disrupt and dismantle opponents with tough, smart football. The most remarkable thing about even the flashiest players – Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs – has been their reliability.
The defense, even with individual standouts such as Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph, has operated as a dominant unit, giving up a league leading 15.8 points per game – meaning opposing offenses (particularly the Packers) are about as terrible as the hapless Giants.
The team has been in every single game, without a single blowout loss tainting their 13-3 record. Not once have the Vikings come out and looked unprepared to play.
It's a reflection of head coach Mike Zimmer, whose no-nonsense approach has trickled down through the entire roster.
Their mantra seem to be: "We don't need magic. Just go out there and do your job."
Yes, there have been heartbreaking losses in Minnesota Vikings history. Enough that people float the "curse" theory every time something bad happens.
But supernatural theories? Those are nonsense. And this head coach – and his team – don't buy into it.
"I don’t know, I don’t think there’s any curse," Zimmer said after the regular season finale against the Bears, when asked if he believes in one. "I’ve got a crystal ball and I’ve got a wood spirit hanging in my office. So, there’s no damn curse."
And this isn't the damn 2009 season.