While the Minnesota Vikings only improved marginally on their 5-11 record from 2013, last year’s 7-9 mark provided a lot of optimism. Minnesota believes they found a franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and first year head coach Mike Zimmer completely changed the culture of the defense. Not to mention the Vikings got just 1 game out of future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
It’s definitely a concern that of the 7 wins Minnesota recorded, none of them came against a team that finished with a winning record, but it’s not like this team wasn’t competitive against the top teams in the league. The Vikings had 5 losses by 8-points or less and 4 of those came during their 5-4 finish to the season.
Not a lot of people are talking about the Vikings as a serious playoff contender, but I certainly believe this team is poised for a breakout season.
2016 Roster Changes
Top Draft Picks
|WR Laquon Treadwell, CB Mackensie Alexander, OT Willie Beavers|
|OT Andre Smith, G Alex Boone, OLB Emmanuel Lamur, OLB Travis Lewis, S Michael Griffin|
|WR Mike Wallace, S Robert Blanton|
2016 Schedule & Odds
|Week||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|Estimated Wins: 9.15|
Considering Minnesota was working with a rookie quarterback and without their best offensive player in Peterson for basically the entire season, it wasn’t a big surprise to see them finishing in the bottom half of the league in both total offense (315.5 ypg, 27th) and scoring offense (20.3 ppg, 20th).
Bridgewater ended up throwing for 2,919 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, not great numbers by any means, but when you factor in the lack of respect opposing teams had to pay to the running game and the lack of talent at wide receiver, it was a pretty impressive rookie season. Not to mention, Bridgewater’s 64.4% completion percentage was the 3rd best all-time by a rookie.
How bad was the receiving corps? Bad enough that Charles Johnson, who was claimed of the Cleveland Browns practice squad, emerged as the No. 1 option. While Johnson figures to remain a key part of the passing game, the hope is that Cordarrelle Patterson can rebound from a disappointing sophomore season and newly acquired deep-threat Mike Wallace can revert to his form with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Vikings also are expected to incorporate tight end Kyle Rudolph more into the offense, as injuries have kept him from playing up to his potential.
Another promising sign for Bridgewater taking that next step, is the offensive line figures to be better than it was in 2014. Left tackle Matt Kalil was hampered by knee problems and should be better off in 2015. They got rid of a liability at left guard in Charlie Johnson. Right guard Brandon Fusco will move to the left side and the hope is that rookie T.J. Clemmings can step in and start in place of Fusco at right guard.
Last but not least, the offense will take on a whole new dynamic with the return of Adrian Peterson, who has made it clear that he plans on taking out his frustrations from missing most of last season on the rest of the NFL. Peterson is nearing the end of his prime, but still has enough in the tank to be the best back in the league. If he’s anywhere close to 2,000 yards, this offense is going to be greatly improved.
Some might have been surprised with how the Vikings defense went from last in the league in scoring defense in 2013 (30.0 ppg) to the top half in 2014 (21.4 ppg, 11th). I wasn’t. That’s how good of a defensive coach that Zimmer is and it figures to only get better in year 2.
The defensive line is anchored by a couple of emerging stars in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and defensive end Everson Griffin. Floyd was a dominant presence in the trenches, while Griffin led the team with 12 sacks. Minnesota also returns starting defensive tackle Linval Joseph and talented backup Tom Johnson (6.5 sacks). The key for this unit will be getting more out of veteran defensive end Brian Robison, who had just 4.5 sacks after registering at least 8 in each of the previous 3 years.
At linebacker the Vikings have another promising star in the makings in outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who was in the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year discussions before a knee injury. Barr will be joined by former UCLA teammate and best friend Eric Kendricks, who Minnesota selected with their 2nd round pick and is expected to start right away at middle linebacker. Veteran Chad Greenway will likely open as the other starter on the outside, but has shown signs of major regression and could be pushed for playing time by backup Gerald Hodges.
The secondary might just be the strength of the defense. Minnesota has two more rising stars in the defensive backfield in corner Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith. The unit could be elite if 1st round rookie corner Trae Waynes is as good as advertised and 2nd-year safety Antone Exum Jr. takes the strides that Zimmer is expecting. They also added veteran corner Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays from Cincinnati.
Regular Season Win Total
to Win the NFC North
to Win Super Bowl
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
While I’m not about to pick the Vikings to overtake the Green Bay Packers (won 4 straight division titles) for the top spot in the NFC North, I do believe Minnesota is going to finish ahead of both Detroit and Chicago and challenge for a Wild Card in the NFC.
I really think the Vikings are on the verge of building a serious contender. With AP back in the mix on offense and Bridgewater in line for a big improvement in year two, Minnesota’s offense should be able to generate a lot more points than they did a season ago. Defensively, this team has the potential to be great with so much young talent and a better understanding of what Zimmer is expecting with his aggressive attack that thrives on multiple fronts and blitz packages.
As with every team in the NFC North, the schedule isn’t easy in 2015, as they draw both the NFC West and AFC West. Minnesota does benefit from drawing both the Falcons and Giants in their two cross-conference matchups and have a very manageable home schedule aside from two games against the Packers and Seahawks.
I’m calling for the Vikings to go 9-7, which should have them right in the thick of things for a Wild Card spot. With Minnesota’s win total sitting at 6.5, it’s safe to say that the Vikings OVER 6.5 is one of my favorite win total bets of 2015.
NFC North Finish
Win Total Prediction
Vikings 10-Year Recap