NFC North Rank: 4th
Projected Record: 6-10
The Minnesota Vikings are the clear cellar of the NFC North. They finished 5-10-1 in a division that was stifled by some injuries to significant players last year. This ineffectiveness cannot be attributed to one sole aspect of the team though. There are a multitude of factors contributing to their dismal performance. The quarterback controversy in Minnesota consumed too much time over the course of the regular season. Meanwhile, RB Adrian Peterson was not even close to duplicating his feats from the incredible 2012 campaign. The defense did not play particularly well in either the pass or run defense despite what we are accustomed to watching. As a result of these failures, HC Leslie Frazier was fired immediately at season’s end. But more importantly, does this year hold any more optimism?
Minnesota boasted three quarterbacks on their roster who each held starting jobs at some point in their respective careers. QBs Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman are not exactly adept enough to hold starting roles around the league. Neither one was able to effectively lead the offense, as they threw a combined 18 touchdowns all of last season. With Ponder and Cassel returning for the upcoming season, Vikings fans can only hope for a better outcome. The coaching staff believes they have sorted out the issue for this season by naming Cassel the starter prior to Week 1. Minnesota additionally drafted QB Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. The Louisville product will backup Cassel for the time being. However, if he can prove himself, perhaps the Vikings will give him an opportunity. Cassel did not answer the call last season despite constant pressure from the backups, so Bridgewater starting is certainly in the realm of possibility.
The Vikings have a decent wide receiver corps surrounding Cassel and Bridgewater. WR Greg Jennings brings veteran leadership to the table as the number one option in the passing game. He caught 68 receptions for 804 yards and four touchdowns. The last statistic was the most important, since it indicated the passing game failed to work in the Redzone. This may have been obvious by the underwhelming passing touchdowns from the quarterbacks, but Jennings has caught 54 touchdowns in the last seven seasons. He should be an endzone option each year, so he’ll look to bounce back as the quarterback play improves in the coming season.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the consensus breakout candidate on this roster. He will undoubtedly add another dimension to this offense. His “deep threat” label is due to his tremendous speed and agility and he showed it off during his first year in the league. In his rookie season, Patterson not only served as a good receiver but as an incredible kick returner. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 32.4 yards on 43 returns. His receiving is second on the team to Jennings. Patterson caught 45 passes for 469 yards and tied for a team-high four receiving touchdowns. His status as a deep threat is only cemented by the fact that he led the team in touchdowns but was always an afterthought in his capacity as a receiver. Cordarrelle has the potential to reach the 75-reception threshold, eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, and even attain eight or nine touchdowns next season. His transition to the number one option in the passing game will be critical to the elevation of Minnesota and its offense.
The running game in Minnesota has never seen better days. The Adrian Peterson era has seen players come and go, but the only constant has been of course, Peterson. He has been the fail-safe for the offense for the last seven years and intends on being just that in Year Eight. With a questionable passing game, OC Norv Turner will look to AP for another big statistical season. Yet, as we saw last season, opposing defenses are stacking the line with more men to contain Peterson. His numbers saw an inevitable dip from the prior season as he ran for 1,266 yards compared to 2,097 yards in 2012. His success will largely be determined by how well the quarterback performs. Last season, Peterson saw his numbers dwindle as atrocious quarterback play impacted the offense. There is a clear correlation between the defense committing more men to shrouding Peterson in the box and his lower rushing total. AP will be able to surpass last year’s rushing total, as it will be difficult for his quarterbacks to do worse than last year.
The defensive unit’s ineffectiveness last season was shrouded by the offense’s dreadful play. DE Jared Allen has been a menace on the Vikings’ defensive line for the last six seasons. In that span, he’s tallied 85.5 sacks and made the Pro-Bowl four times. Allen is consistently listed as one of the league’s top pass rushers each year. Despite his success in a Vikings uniform, he left for the division rival Bears this offseason, leaving a void in the heart of the defense. DE Everson Griffen will look to fill the hole as a young pass rusher. Meanwhile, the middle of the line consists of DTs Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Those two big men will be the biggest factors in stuffing opposing running backs.
The group of linebackers acts as the backbone for the defensive unit. Veteran LB Chad Greenway led the team last season in interceptions and tackles with three and 134 respectively. LBs Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley round out the group. Barr was Minnesota’s first round selection in the draft this year. The former Bruin is set to use his natural athleticism to help out in pass defense, where the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL. He will end up being more likely to get to the quarterback than defending the run. Barr will unsurprisingly improve the starting core of the linebacker roster.
The Vikings have improved this offseason through the draft. That’s not an understatement. Teddy Bridgewater may be on the bench at the beginning of the season, but he will see playing time as the season progresses. The coaching staff will have a hard time keeping him as a backup as Cassel once again proves his doubters right. Additionally, Anthony Barr will make an immediate impact on the defense as he fills into a starting outside linebacker role. Those additions were absolutely vital for the future of the franchise. Adrian Peterson will continue to do what he’s always done, but the rest of the team will not necessarily follow. It will take some time for the quarterbacks to click in the offense, so Vikings’ fans should not expect much out of the first few games. Even if the rest of the team works well under the new leadership of head coach Mike Zimmer, it will be difficult to win at the start of the season. A difficult division coupled with issues stemming from last season will force the Vikings into succumb.
Pics and Stat from ESPN.com