The 17th team we’ll be covering in our 32 NFL Team preview is the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will be playing their last season in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome this year. They’ve been in that venue since 1982, and will be playing their home games at the University of Minnesota until construction on their new establishment is completed. The design for their new home is extremely nice but I would prefer to see this team playing outside again because I feel it’d be a true home field advantage. Their Head Coach, Leslie Frazier, has turned this team around. He can solidify being a good hire for the team in his 3rd full season with another playoff appearance.
Offense: Adrian Peterson had a Hall of Fame year last season, rushing for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. Peterson led the team to 2nd in Total Rushing in the league on his way to having the 2nd best single-season rushing record in NFL History. If he can go over 2,000 again in 2013, he would be the only person to have done it twice in his career. Peterson had a lot of help from his Offensive Line, mainly Matt Kalil (Left Tackle) and Phil Loadholt (Right Tackle). Kalil only allowed 5.5 sacks in his rookie year, and was voted to the Pro Bowl. Loadholt has shown flashes of dominance but has never been extremely consistent. The Center, John Sullivan, has quietly gotten better year-by-year. He could use more strength for trying to handle bigger bodies, but was solid for the team last season. Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson will probably fill the starting Guard positions. Fusco had a decent 2012, giving up 4.5 sacks in his first full season as a starter. Newly acquired Travis Bond, who the team selected in the 7th Round of the Draft, could replace Johnson. Bond is a 6’6 329 pound powerhouse that can play either Guard or Tackle and might find his way in during Training Camp. Minnesota brought in some valuable Wide Receivers for the Quarterback to play with during the Offseason. They began by signing Greg Jennings in Free Agency. Jennings is an explosive and reliable target who, if he can stay healthy, will help this Offense on and off the field. Then, with one of their 3 1st round Draft choices, the Vikings chose Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson is a playmaker with the ball in his hands and should make for a perfect compliment to Jennings. Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs round out the Receivers. Childs would be a great addition if he can seem to get healthy. Simpson didn’t quite play as expected in his first season with the team, only catching 26 passes for 274 yards, but was re-signed for another. Wright got playing time in the later part of last season and caught a pass in every game from Week 10 on. Simpson and Wright should be battling for the slot position in Training Camp. Another notable is Joe Webb, the former Quarterback, who is going to shift positions in order to see playing time. Tight Ends, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, form a good 1-2 combo with Carlson healthy. Rudolph was the preferred Red Zone target and hauled in 9 touchdowns last season. The Vikings hope that Carlson can perform as the team expected him to last season, putting up numbers as he did with Seattle (2008-2010). The man who will be responsible for orchestrating this Offense will be Christian Ponder. I’ve always liked Ponder and felt he had an arm that could make any throw with a strong mental game. Ponder completed 62% of his passes in 2012, with 2,935 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. With the new weapons the team gave Christian to work with during the offseason, there should be more big plays in an Offense that ranked 31st in passing last season. If Ponder can throw for 3,500 yards with 20 touchdowns, keeping his interceptions below 12, to go with the combination of Peterson running, this team will win more games than I projected them too.
Defense: The Defense ranked 16th best last season placing 11th versus the run and 24th against the pass. Since his first season with the team in 2008, Jared Allen has racked up a total of 74 sacks. He and Brian Robison will be the team’s starting Defensive Ends. Robison always impressed me during Pre-Season games, so when he got his chance finally in 2011 to be a full time starter, it was no surprise to me. He’s had over 8 sacks the past two years and will be key for the team with offensive blocking schemes centered towards Allen. Kevin Williams has been a staple of this Defense for a decade already. He will bring his typical A-game and will be a perfect mentor for Sharrif Floyd, who should be the starting beside him at Defensive Tackle. Floyd was another one of the players chosen by the Vikings in the 1st round this past Draft. Most thought he would go in the top 3 to 10 picks, but he was taken 23rd overall by the team. Sharrif had 19.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks the past 2 years for the Gators. The position is not guaranteed for Floyd, but he should have no problems beating out Letroy Guion in Training Camp. Erin Henderson has started 21 games for Minnesota the past 2 seasons and will be switching from Outside Linebacker to the team’s starting Middle Linebacker. Henderson over that time frame has combined for 150 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. The Vikings signed Desmond Bishop to play Outside Linebacker with Chad Greenway. Bishop was very strong for the Packers in 2010 and 2011 (218 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 1 interception) but missed 2012 with a hamstring injury. Greenway has started every game for the team the past 6 years, accruing 765 combined tackles, 11.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 6 interceptions. He’s made the Pro Bowl the last two consecutive seasons and should be in Hawaii again by the end of 2013. The Secondary is where the questions arise for the Vikings. Their Defensive Backs have been the weakest link for some time, but the team thinks they found an elite Cornerback in Xavier Rhodes. He’s the other player who the team selected in the 1st round of the 2013 Draft and was my favorite Cornerback candidate. Rhodes is versatile, who can play the pass extremely well and should deflect or intercept quite a few passes in his rookie campaign. The other starter at Corner will be Chris Cook, looking to log his first full 16-game season. He’s been with the team the last 3 seasons (22 games, 18 starts) and hasn’t intercepted a pass yet in his career. Josh Robinson intercepted 2 in his rookie year last season. Robinson is a pretty solid player and should at least garner the same production in 2013, if not better. Playing Free Safety for Minnesota will be 2nd year player, Harrison Smith. Smith had a 104 total tackles, a sack, 3 interceptions, 11 pass deflected and 2 touchdowns as a rookie last season. If he has 2013 season with those numbers or better, he should be a name that’s floating around as a Pro Bowl selection. The Strong Safety job will probably go to Mistral Raymond or Jamarca Sanford. Raymond was named the team’s starter to begin the season, but after an injury in week 3, Sanford filled in for him and never relinquished the position. It should be a close race throughout Training Camp. The key for this Defense is the same as it’s been in the past. That’s to put stress on the Quarterback to help take the pressure off the Secondary.
End Result: It’s hard to predict any teams record in the NFC North these days with how stout the competition is. The first time I went through the schedule, Minnesota came out 6-10.