There is perhaps no team in NFL history that has faced the roller-coaster ride that the Vikings have been on the last few years. There are still big questions in Minnesota, but the ship finally seems to be sailing in the right direction to start the 2017 season. The defense is great, But it remains to be seen whether this offensive unit has enough to push them back into the postseason
The Vikings headed into 2016 with high hopes. After dethroning the Packers in the NFC North, they were a chip-shot field goal away from their first playoff win since 2009. They surprised everyone by starting the season 5-0, with three wins coming against eventual playoff teams; and all this despite Teddy Bridgewater’s horrific knee injuring on the last day of preseason practices and Adrain Peterson tearing his meniscus in Week 2. The newly acquired Sam Bradford hadn’t yet thrown an interception and had an average quarterback rating of 109.8 in his first four games after sitting out Week 1.
Then the team started to hit their very-understandable trials. They would lose their next four in a row, and the offense that was shockingly ok before was only able to reach the 20-point mark once in that time. The season went as expected from then on for the Vikings, finishing 8-8 and 3rd in the NFC North.
Not lost in all the chaos was the emergence of the Vikings defense as a force in the league. The D allowed the 3rd-fewest yards per game to their opponents and only surrendered 19.2 points per game. The Vikings sent five members of their defense to the 2017 Pro Bowl, beating the Seahawks for the most in the NFC.
If the Vikings are to trend upward after such an up and down 2016 season, it will need some consistency on offense, to go alongside the young and tenacious defense they have put together.
|Dalvin Cook, RB||Brandon Fusco, G|
|Pat Elflein, C||Mike Harris, G|
|Jaleel Johnson, DT||Adrian Peterson, RB|
|Ben Gedeon, LB||Matt Asiata, RB|
|Marshall Koehn, K||Chad Greenway, OLB|
|Reid Fragel, OT||Rhett Ellison, TE|
|Taylor Symmank, P||Matt Kalil, OT|
|Riley Reiff, OT||Jeff Locke, P|
|Mike Remmers, OT||Charles Johnson, WR|
|Datone Jones, DT||Captain Munnerlyn, CB|
|Latavius Murray, RB||Audie Cole, LB|
|Terrell Sinkfield, CB||Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR|
|Mitch Mathews, WR||Andre Smith, OT|
|Nick Truesdell, TE||Scott Crichton, DT|
|Case Keenum, QB||Marquis Lucas, OT|
|Ryan Quigley, P||Sterling Bailey, DE|
|Michael Floyd, WR||Cedric Thompson, S|
|Will Sutton, DT||B. J. Dubose, DT|
|Toby Johnson, DT|
|Mitch Mathews, WR|
Clearly, the biggest name on the board is Adrian Peterson. The former MVP and face of the franchise had a great but injury-riddled tenure with the Vikings. The team has done well in trying to replace Peterson though, drafting Dalvin Cook out of Florida State and also adding Latavius Murray from Oakland. Both are quality additions, and the rookie Cook looks like he will get the first shot at carrying the load with Murray dealing with lingering injuries, but in the end, it will probably be a two-headed monster approach. while adding these two cannot replace Peterson, alongside the additions of offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers they should allow Mike Zimmer to keep his heavy run strategy effective in Minnesota.
|1||vs New Orleans Saints|
|2||@ Pittsburgh Steelers|
|3||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|4||vs Detroit Lions|
|5||@ Chicago Bears|
|6||vs Green Bay Packers|
|7||vs Baltimore Ravens|
|8||vs Cleveland Browns|
|10||@ Washington Redskins|
|11||vs Los Angeles Rams|
|12||@ Detroit Lions|
|13||@ Atlanta Falcons|
|14||@ Carolina Panthers|
|15||vs Cincinnati Bengals|
|16||@ Green Bay Packers|
|17||vs Chicago Bears|
It could be another fast start for Minnesota. The Vikings had a tougher start to their schedule a year ago and went 5-0. All eyes will be on the Vikings in Week 1 when Adrian Peterson returns in a New Orleans uniform. The good news for Minnesota is that while they do play some great offenses, they avoid a lot of teams with a stellar D, which should help an offense that held them back last year. the question is will these additions to the offense be able to gel enough to get points on the board this year. The trickiest stretch of the season will be their three-week roadtrip to Detroit, Atlanta, and Carolina, it comes at the time of year when it could ruin their season too. If they can go 1-2 in that stretch though it won’t be the end of the world.
Three players to watch
With so much turnover in their player personnel there are a lot of snaps to be won, and a lot of new faces who could make themselves serious players for the Vikings.
Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback
Teddy Bridgewater is still trying to get back from his knee injury almost one year ago. Currently on the PUP list, he is unlikely to be taken off before the start of the season, which means he doesn’t have a chance to play until Week 7.
The thing is, reports are Bridgewater still has the support of the locker room and the coaching staff. If that’s true, what happens Week 7 if he’s ready to return but the team is winning with Bradford?
Bradford had his highest career quarterback rating last year with the Vikings, despite joining the team at the end of the preseason. Will we see Bridgewater on the field in 2017? And what happens if Bradford balls out this year? What is Bridgewater’s future in Minnesota? I don’t think anyone knows, but it’ll be fascinating to watch.
Dalvin Cook, running back
Replacing the greatest running back in franchise history can sometimes feel unfair. How Dalvin Cook can fill the void Adrian Peterson left, that remains to be seen. He’ll get his chance though, with fellow RB Latavius Murray questionable to ready for the start of the season. In college, Cook had three consecutive 1,000+ rushing yard seasons, finishing his career with 48 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. There are high hopes for the young back, and with Latavius Murray to lighten the load, there is potential for Cook to have a huge rookie campaign.
Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver
Treadwell did not have a huge rookie campaign. In fact, the 23rd overall pick from a year ago only had one catch during his rookie season. But with the departure of Cordarrelle Patterson and the suspension of newly acquired WR Michael Floyd, there is room for Treadwell to step in if he can step-up. The top receiver from the 2016 Draft was having a strong offseason this year until sidelined with a leg injury, but it should not affect his Week 1 availability. He will get his chance to prove himself this year, and I think Treadwell will make the most of it.
It’s all too easy to write off the Vikings. They lost their star running back, they play in the same division as the Packers, and this time last year they were all in on a different QB than the one starting for them now. But the Vikings have a top-3 defense in the league, which can keep you in any game you play. It’s worth noting that of the Vikings eight losses last year, 5 were decided by less than a touchdown.
I see the Vikings playing well this year. I think the tandem of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray work out really well in Minnesota, and their outstanding defense will continue to dominate. I think the Vikings could finish 9-7 this year pretty easily, and depending on the rest of the NFC could grab a wild card spot and return to the postseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did better than that though, and reclaimed the NFC North crown; overall their roster is more complete than Green Bay’s, But I’m sure that if a particular member of the Pack heard me say that, he’d tell me to R-E-L-A-X.
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