The Minnesota Vikings are still searching for their long-term solution at quarterback, and until they find it, the playoffs will be out of reach for them.
2013 Season Recap
The Vikings overachieved in 2012 with a 10-6 record, and this was proven when they finished with a 5-10-1 record in 2013. Christian Ponder was finally benched in the middle of the season, and Matt Cassel took over as the starting quarterback. The Vikings went 4-3 in games where he played at least a half. Meanwhile, Ponder went 1-6-1, and his only good performances were against the Redskins and Packers, who both had awful defenses.
The Vikings had an abysmal defense of their own, finishing last in scoring defense with 30 points allowed per game.
2014 Offseason Recap
For their disappointing last-place finish, the Vikings fired head coach Leslie Frazier. They made the first step in their quest to improve the defense by hiring Mike Zimmer, who consistently churned out a top-10 defense from the Cincinnati Bengals.
They also acted by signing key free agents on the defensive side. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn both agreed to contracts with the Vikings.
In the draft, linebacker Anthony Barr was taken with the ninth overall pick, and he is already a frontrunner to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. His ferocity will mesh well with Zimmer’s tutelage.
The most significant draft pick was with the 32nd pick though. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was selected after the Vikings traded up to get him, and he is already a candidate to start in the regular season opener.
Position of strength
Running back is easily the strongest position the Vikings have, and this is mostly due to the presence of former MVP Adrian Peterson. He is the focal point of the offense, which is extremely rare for a running back to pull off in the modern NFL.
In what was considered an “off year” Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games. He also has capable backups behind him in Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon. If Peterson can play all 16 games and the Vikings’ quarterback play can improve, he will be an even more deadly weapon.
Position of weakness
Quarterback was what held the Vikings back last season, and it might be no different this year. Teddy Bridgewater has high upside, but he is still an unproven commodity, and Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder are not long-term answers. If the Vikings choose to let Bridgewater learn on the bench, Peterson may have to carry the offense on his back again, and the defense will receive very little rest.
Best case scenario
If Bridgewater wins the starting quarterback job and produces right away, the Vikings could very well be a sneaky playoff contender. This would help wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson reach his ceiling and help Greg Jennings bounce back. Tight end Kyle Rudolph staying healthy all 16 games would provide the starting quarterback a solid red-zone weapon, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows how to get the most out of his tight ends.
The defense can only go up with players like safety Harrison Smith primed for a bounceback year, and Anthony Barr looks ready to make an immediate impact, which will greatly help the pass rush. Joseph will also boost the run defense as Munnerlyn gives the Vikings an upgrade on their pass defense.
If this team can put it all together, they will be a legitimate threat to make the playoffs.
Worst case scenario
If the quarterback play does not improve, neither will the Vikings. The defense also needs to step up in a big way from last season. If Barr doesn’t pan out as expected, the pass rush will continue to allow big plays. This will be crucial for a team who has to face the Packers, Lions and Bears twice a year. The defensive line will also need to step up with Jared Allen gone. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison will each have a large amount of weight on their shoulders.
Cassel has proven to be nothing more than a journeyman quarterback who may have occasional flashes of brilliance, and if Bridgewater isn’t ready right away, the Vikings will be stuck with him and Ponder.
The Vikings have enough talent to compete in the NFL, but there are too many question marks to believe they can gel as a team right away. They are built to contend in the future, but not in the present. They inherited one of the hardest schedules in the league, which includes matches against the Patriots and the entire NFC South.
Playing in a competitive NFC North does the Vikings no favors either, so anything more than a fourth-place finish would be considered a surprise by many football fans.
Prediction: 4th place in NFC North, no playoffs