EAGAN , Minn. -- There have been less attractive matchups in Minnesota Vikings history at this stage of the season than Sunday’s against the Atlanta Falcons. But not by much.
The Vikings (1-4) and Falcons (0-5) enter the game at U.S. Bank Stadium with one victory in a combined 10 outings. In 1962, Week 6 foes Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams both came in 0-5, and entering a 2013 game on Monday Night Football, the Vikings were 1-4 and the New York Giants 0-6.
As for Sunday’s game, it’s no surprise that Fox is showing it only to part of the Upper Midwest and to a small pocket in the Deep South.
However, while it might seem like a cliché, the Vikings and Falcons are better than their records indicate, and the matchup seems to be a far cry from the Oct. 21, 2013, one in which the Vikings and Giants set a futility record. Their combined winning percentage of .091 coming in was the lowest that late in the season in Monday Night Football history.
The Giants won, 23-7, in what turned out to be the only Vikings appearance for quarterback Josh Freeman, who completed 20 of 53 passes in a dreadful outing.
Safety Harrison Smith was on that team, although he sat out that night with a toe injury. On Sunday, he’ll try to help the Vikings get a much-needed win.
“You can always say, ‘Well these teams are better than what their record shows,’ which I believe is true,’’ Smith said Friday. “But at the same time, your record is your record. You either win or you lose. All we care about is winning right now.”
The Vikings looked dreadful in losses to Green Bay (43-34) and at Indianapolis (28-11) to open the season but have played better since. Had it not been for blown fourth-quarter leads in a 32-31 loss to Tennessee in Week 3 and in a 27-26 loss last Sunday at Seattle, the Vikings could be 3-2. Their only win was 31-23 at then winless Houston in Week 4.
The Falcons have given away two games, blowing a 39-24 fourth-quarter lead in a 40-39 setback at Dallas in Week 2, and losing a 26-10 fourth-quarter lead in a 30-26 loss to Chicago in Week 3. Those games played a key role in the Falcons’ decision this week to fire head coach Dan Quinn and replace him on an interim basis with Raheem Morris.
The Vikings have faced three of the NFL’s four unbeaten teams in Green Bay (4-0), Tennessee (4-0) and Seattle (5-0), and their foes have a combined record of 17-6. The Falcons also have played the Packers and Seahawks, and their opponents have a combined record of 18-6.
“I feel like we’ve been in a lot of games against good football teams,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “Atlanta feels the same way. They’ve had leads on good football teams.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called the Falcons “very talented,” and Morris returned the favor.
“Mike Zimmer’s teams are always tough, they’re always physical,” he said. “You’d better be ready to play. You can’t look at the records.”
Nevertheless, the records are bad. There might be no chance left for Atlanta considering no team ever has made the playoffs after starting 0-5. History at least offers some hope for the Vikings.
Since the schedule was expanded to 16 games in 1978, nine teams have made the postseason after starting 1-4. That includes the 1992 San Diego Chargers, who began 0-4.
“Whether you start at 1-4 or 4-1, you still have to improve throughout the season to be where you need to be at the end anyway,’’ Smith said. “We are a little bit younger … than we have been in the past, and we are making a ton of improvement across the board in all phases. But winning is it. … At the end of the day, no matter how you win, no matter what you do, game day wins (is) why we’re here.’’
The Vikings are trying to avoid starting 1-5 for the seventh time in their 60-year history. They began 1-5 in 1961, 1962, 1990, 2002, 2011 and 2013. They never have started 0-6.