Projected Record: 9-7
NFC North Rank: Tied with Bears for 2nd
The Vikings made the playoffs last season in Week 17 after a win against their division rivals. Although Minnesota ruined the undefeated mark that the Green Bay Packers held in the NFC North, that wasn’t the biggest story line. The story line of note that every NFL fan followed in the final week of last season was RB Adrian Peterson’s attempt at breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. Even though, Peterson fell eight yards shy of tying Dickerson’s mark, the Vikings clinched a playoff berth, something they hadn’t done since 2009. Ultimately though, they were futile in their efforts of advancing to the Division Round, a wild card loss coming at the hands of coincidentally, the Packers. This year, the Vikings will finish the season above .500, but will fail to reach the postseason because of a deep NFC.
In order for the Vikings to compete at a high level in one of the most difficult divisions in the league, their quarterback needs to develop into a more complete one. QB Christian Ponder isn’t required to be responsible for the majority of the offensive burden, which is a nice feeling for a QB. The position has become relied on heavier in the NFL during recent times and the majority of team’s are going with the aerial attack far more frequently than the rushing game. Ponder finished 24th in quarterback rating (81.2) last season among starting quarterbacks. Obviously, not every quarterback has a rusher that attains 2,000 yards, but for Ponder not to even surpass the 3,000 yard mark in passing is embarrassing. It’s rare in the NFL that the disparity in yardage between the passing game and rushing game is less than a 1,000 yards. The Vikings secured a viable backup when they got QB Matt Cassel this offseason. Perhaps, Cassel could even spark some competition for the role and Ponder could potentially use this as motivation to keep his starting job and increase his production immensely.
Unfortunately for him, his leading receiver from a season ago, WR Percy Harvin was traded this offseason to the Seattle Seahawks. But, the Vikings did a decent job replacing him by acquiring WR Greg Jennings this offseason, who inked a 5 year-$47.5 million deal. In seven seasons with Green Bay, Jennings caught 425 passes for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. He is a proven deep threat, who can boost Christian Ponder’s TD numbers from last season, which stood at a mediocre 18. This attests to his general underachieving nature, since the average starting QB threw for 27 last year. Peterson didn’t even take a drastic amount away from Ponder, getting only 12 TDs all of last season. If Ponder can develop a better pocket presence in the redzone, it would tremendously improve the versatility of this offense.
AP is the best running back the game has seen in a while, some even say the best since Barry Sanders, which would effectively make him the best since the turn of the century. To prove people wrong who say that last season’s numbers was a fluke, Peterson’s goal is for 2,500 yards this season. While I don’t believe that 2,500 is attainable, 2,000 yards is plausible. This will make NFL history as nobody in the game has ever reached the 2,000 yard rushing mark more than once. That would prove the people who aren’t already believers in Peterson, which is a tiny minority. In his six year career, Peterson has averaged 1,475 yards a season, which makes his career total 8,849 yards. In that time period, Peterson has rushed for more yards than any other halfback in the league. These statistics should prove his naysayers wrong and secure him an entrance to the Hall of Fame in Canton by the age of 28.
A major reason for the Vikings going 10-6 last season despite a lack of touchdowns through the passing game and a rushing attack that wasn’t top tier in regards to rushing touchdowns, was their lock-down defense. All-Pro DE Jared Allen highlights this defensive unit, which ranked in the top 10 in rushing defense and 5th in sacks. They allowed only 105.8 rushing yards per game and sacked opposing quarterbacks 44 times throughout last season. Their defensive line is a proven presence that can poke holes in opposing offensive lines and make them look inferior. Although this is probably the best part of the defense, their linebacker group is impressive as well, which is led by LB Chad Greenway. Greenway led the team in tackles last year with a whopping 148, which stands at a tie for second in the league with San Francisco’s LB NaVorro Bowman and behind only Carolina’s LB Luke Kuechly (164).
An issue with this defense seems to be the secondary. They didn’t force enough takeaways last year through the air, only intercepting 10 passes all of last season. To make matters worse, the Vikings released, CB Antoine Winfield, who signed with the Seahawks and was released by them too and subsequently retired. Winfield amassed 101 tackles last season, leading the cornerback group, but three tackles behind FS Harrison Smith. The Vikings have not taken adequate measures to fill the void left by Antoine Winfield. GM Rick Spielman drafted CB Xavier Rhodes, who could not possibly match Winfield’s production because of a lack of experience despite much potential. Rhodes is set to be #3 or #4 on the depth chart, but has a lot of room to improve in this secondary. Overall though, this defense needs to be as effective as it was last year for the Vikings to stay in postseason contention until late in the season.
Last year, the Vikings held a 4-2 mark in the NFC North. Look for them to repeat that record this year with one loss coming to the Chicago Bears and another at the hands of Green Bay. Adrian Peterson is the best player in the NFL, but he can’t single-handily will his team to the postseason again without support from QB Ponder. This defense can maintain the proficiency they were known for last season, in spite of the departure of a leading cornerback in the secondary. The Vikings are capable of dethroning the Packers and surprising the NFC North, but much of their success is contingent upon the competency of QB Christian Ponder.