Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Season Preview.

2009 was the last time the Minnesota Vikings made it past the Wild Card round of the playoffs, in a game that saw both Vikings fans and neutrals gasping as the New Orleans Saints pummelled an aging Brett Favre into the ground, in what turned out to be the pinnacle of “bountygate”. 2009 was the peak of a Vikings team that was in dire need of some big changes and between 2009 and 2013, there was zero consistency, with another trip to the playoffs being sandwiched in-between 2 losing seasons, for which the running theme was a lack of Adrian Peterson. After the firing of Leslie Frazer however the Vikings fortunes have turned around and 2015 saw them take the NFC North for the 1st time since Brett Favre was under centre. So in 2016, with a number of additions, a QB that now has all the tools he needs and a deeper than ever defence can they do the one thing no other Vikings team has done and win a Super bowl.

2015’s NFC North Champions

After an average 2014, with a brand new QB and a year without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings were looking to make big leaps forward in 2015… Which they did. On offence they managed to move the ball on the ground with Peterson clocking up 1500 yards and 11 of the 32 touchdowns they gained on offence. Peterson did make a slight return to his fumbling ways, seemingly putting the ball on the ground several times at key moments, but that was a small price to pay for what he brought to a team that desperately needed a spark on offence, an offence that struggled to move the ball through the air, with the team ranked 31st for touchdowns and yards. Teddy Bridgewater, in his 2nd year simply didn’t seem to be given the tools to succeed. Despite Stephon Diggs stepping up in a big way as his number one choice for wideout, everyone else at the position had a rough year. The wide receivers can’t take the whole blame however, a combination of injuries and a lack of depth to the offensive line meant that Bridgewater was under constant duress. According to pro football focus, no QB faced more pressure than Teddy. The 2nd year QB also struggled with scheme issues. Bridgewater played best throwing out of shotgun. Peterson hates running out of shotgun. This led to some teething issues that the Vikings managed to work out by simply telegraphing what they were going to do. If they lined up in shotgun, they’d throw the ball, if Bridgewater lined up under centre, it’d be Peterson running the ball. There would be occasional deviations from this and they’d use Jerrick McKinnon as a pass catching back, but generally they’d just accept that it was obvious what they were going to do, with Peterson still having a standout year.

The defence was the real strength of the team for me and looked like one of the most exciting units in the league, with a giant cast of big names and standout players all fitting perfectly into what Mike Zimmer wanted to do. In 2nd round pick Eric Kendrick they found an excellent partner for 2014 1st round pick Anthony Barr and looked like one of the better line-backer duos in the future. On the line Griffen, Floyd and Joseph are key components on what could be one of the best defensive lines in the league, with 3 of the best individual components. The secondary gets little love, but they’re loaded with talent. Harrison Smith will be ranked as one of the top safeties in the league, a player who is finally getting the attention he deserves. At corner their number 1 pick Trae Waynes struggled through the majority of the season, but seemed to gain some traction as they headed towards the play offs and now looks like a decent prospect. Starting the majority of the season for the Vikings were Terrance Newman and Xavier Rhodes, who had a great season. Newman has done a great job teaching Zimmer’s system to Rhodes, who is turning into one of the top corners in the league. It’s fair to say that the amount I said “one of the top [insert position] in the league”, should tell you the depth of quality they have on this team.

With Peterson back and a 2nd year with Mike Zimmer in charge, the Vikings can feel pretty hard done by that their season ended with a wayward field goal attempt at the end of a wild card game with the Seahawks. This should be pretty encouraging heading into 2016.

Addressing Needs

Whilst I don’t believe the Vikings had the best free agency of any team, I think it could be summed up by saying that the team had needs… and they addressed all of them.

The offensive line was the biggest issue for the Vikings last year, with Bridgewater struggling to have any time to move the ball down field. In free agency they picked up Andre Smith and Alex Boone, 2 veteran players that add experience to an offensive line that’s struggled to find a solid line-up. Smith with wrestle with Loadholt for the starting right tackle position and Boone should walk into the right guard spot. Michael Griffin has struggled a little for the Titans over the last couple of years, which is what saw him released early from his contract. Griffin will now challenge Sendejo for the starting role, who himself was re-signed by the Vikings.

In the draft the Vikings addressed more needs and began to future proof the team. 1st round pick Laquon Treadwell was being picked up anywhere between 10th and 40th in mock drafts. In the actual draft he wasn’t even the 1st wide receiver drafted, but in my opinion could have the biggest impact of any of them. Aside from being a solid receiver, Treadwell is excellent on run plays and will add some much needed nastiness to the offence. Speaking of nastiness the pickup of Mackensie Alexander as a long-term replacement for Terrance Newman, is one of my favourite moves in the draft. Alexander has been compared to Chris Harris and brings an element of “in your face” aggression to Minnesota’s cornerbacks. Other than Alexander and Treadwell though the Vikings did a good job of adding depth at key areas. Willie Beavers is a raw player but could step up at a pinch later in the season and Stephen Weatherly and Kentrell Brothers add some depth to an already deep defence, with possibility of upside from both players. The real star of the late round however was Moritz Boehringer, who became the 1st player to be drafted directly out of Europe. Boehringer is pretty much an unknown entity, but provides raw potential for the Vikings. The Vikings are beginning to resemble Zimmer’s old team, the Cincinnati Bengals.

The 2016 NFC North Champions?

With a revamped offensive line, a new wide receiver, a fully fit Adrian Peterson and one of the best defences in the league, there is really only one question on everyone’s lips.

Is Teddy Bridgewater good enough to win the Vikings a Super bowl?

Personally I’m a huge fan, but this season should go a long way to seeing what they have. The previous 2 seasons, have been riddled by issues on offence and Bridgewater has struggled to gain any traction, constantly under duress and with a lack of open targets. Now there are no excuses. Bridgewater sinking or swimming will be the difference between a winning season followed by a potential Super bowl performance and a winning season followed by an immediate playoff exit.

This is a win now Vikings team. They have the pieces they need to be one of the top teams in the NFC, they just need to know if they’ve got the quarterback they think they have.