Over the next few days we’ll have a preview of each of the other teams in the NFC North. And since we know nothing about these teams (and care even less), we brought in some experts to talk about said teams. Because you should know a little bit about the teams the Green Bay Packers are going to stomp all over this season.
First up, we have the much-despised Minnesota Vikings because we’re going in order. From greatest amount of hatred to the least.
For that task, we brought in Warren Ludford of Daily Norseman, which is great place to stop in and watch Vikings fans implode with rage.
We asked some questions. He answered them.
1. We haven’t been paying any attention to the Vikings, mostly because we don’t give a shit. Tell us about your crappy team and why we should pay attention.
Well, we understand that the most epic choke in NFC championship history and pissing another year of Rodgers’ prime down your leg, may be cause for introspection and mental fatigue, but life does go on outside of Packerland.
Over here there is some cautious, budding optimism that the Vikings are on the verge of playoff contention. The Vikings seem to be a trendy pick for a dark horse Wild Card team among many national media outlets, and here’s why:
The Vikings managed to go 7-9 last year despite losing their best player and former league MVP Adrian Peterson after the first week, losing their starting QB a few weeks later, having an injury-riddled offensive line ranked worst in the league in pass protection, losing their starting TE to injury for most of the year, and going through a total coaching and system overhaul on both sides of the ball. What was promising about last year was our backup QB, a guy named Teddy Bridgewater. He was once picked to go No. 1 overall in the draft, but the Vikings picked him up at the bottom of the first round. Apparently some late doubts about his ability and temperament caused his draft stock to plunge… has that ever happened before? Beyond that, the Vikings lost absolutely no one they didn’t want to lose in the offseason and had another excellent draft.
Anyway, turns out the kid Bridgewater can play. He showed all the poise, pocket presence, accuracy, completion percentage, and mobility at the NFL level that he had shown for three seasons in college, despite learning a new system, only getting backup reps with the second team in camp, and being a rookie. Imagine that. In fact, after some early up-and-down performances in his first few games, Bridgewater progressed to the point where over the last five weeks of the season, he was the highest rated QB by Pro Football Focus, best in the division in terms of QB rating, completion percentage, and average yards per attempt and second best in the league in those measures. All that behind the worst pass blocking line in the NFL as a rookie. All signs this preseason point to continued success for the young QB.
Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson is back and is looking as explosive as ever. Whatever people are saying about his missteps off the field, no one is saying he’s lost a step on the field — even after not playing since week one last year and turning 30. In fact, a few beat reporters are hinting that not only does he look ready-to-go, he looks like he’s got something to prove — like he did after coming off knee surgery a few years ago — which led to his MVP season.
Offensively, the Vikings traded in your old friend Greg Jennings for the younger, taller and speedier Mike Wallace, who is the legitimate deep-ball threat Norv Turner was looking for to go with the 6’2″, 4.4 40 Charles Johnson who emerged as Bridgewater’s favorite target late in the season last year. But more than that, the Vikings offense will be helped considerably by the return of a healthy Matt Kalil and Brandon Fusco, and an upgrade at the other guard position. Though the Vikings lost stalwart right tackle Phil Loadholt to a season-ending injury (he missed a lot of last season as well) the Vikings got a bargain in fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings, who looks to be a solid replacement for Big Phil.
But, despite most of the media attention going to Teddy Bridgewater and the return of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings defense under Mike Zimmer will likely be the higher-ranked unit, and make the jump from low teens in the rankings to the top 10. The most improved position group will likely be the linebacker corps, which has gone from a liability to a strength, with the emergence of Gerald Hodges and the addition of second-round pick Eric Kendricks to go along with his old UCLA teammate Anthony Barr. These three will likely see the most playing time as long-time veteran Chad Greenway is phased out. All three are modern linebackers with speed, range, and can cover, blitz, and pack a punch.
The defensive line is poised to build on a solid year last year, led by Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen, who are both entering their prime in their second season in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Nose tackle Linval Joseph also looks much improved during camp this year, after a slow start getting acclimated to Zimmer’s defense last year. Beyond that, the Vikings defensive line is probably the deepest position group on the team and a solid rotation will keep it fresh through the 4th quarter.
The defensive secondary also looks better, with Xavier Rhodes making a push to be one of the top corners in the league and a surprise from Terence Newman. When Zimmer brought Newman in during the offseason, most of us figured he was another older vet well versed in Zimmer’s system brought in to be kind of a player/coach to help the young talent learn the system before being released at the last cut. Zimmer had done this before. But despite having just turned 37, the guy can still play at a high level and still has the speed to keep up with all the young receivers. That allows Zimmer to have Captain Munnerlyn play the slot exclusively, which he is better suited, and have the luxury of getting first-round pick Trae Waynes up to speed slowly, rather than throwing him out there before he’s NFL-ready. Finally, the safeties are unchanged, with Harrison Smith one of the best in the league, alongside the underrated Robert Blanton.
2. That’s a whole lot of information to process. Yes, we’ve been hearing all about Teddy Butthole. And yes, we’re going to call him Teddy Butthole. This leads us to believe that this clown, along with your camel-riding, child-abusing, totally-self-aware running back returning to the fold has Vikings fans dreaming big. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us how you’re going to the Super Bowl this year?
So, what will it take for the Vikings to win the Super Bowl you ask? Bridgewater and AP headlining a high-powered and balanced attack in Norv Turner’s Air Coryell offense for starters, followed closely by Mike Zimmer’s defense making the leap into the top 10, maybe even top five units in the league. Barring injury, the likelihood of Zimmer’s defense doing just that is pretty high. It was ranked in the low-teens last year in both points and yards allowed, and every position group looks as good or better than last year. For the offense to really fly, the offensive line needs to prove it can be solid and Bridgewater needs to continue on the path he was on last season. He’s already proven he can deliver the ball accurately, do well under pressure, and in high-pressure situations when the game is on the line, and looks improved reading defenses and making adjustments. If the Vikings make the playoffs, they will not be a team that will offer much in terms of matchup advantages, but will likely be versatile enough to exploit those offered by the opposition.
But, for this team to win it all, it will need its talented youth to play as proven veterans. They collectively have the most talent that coordinators Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer (whose also an early favorite for coach of the year) have had to work with in a long time, so their future is bright, but whether everything can gel yet this year remains to be seen.
3. Seriously, what is it like to be a Vikings fan? We couldn’t even imagine how awful that must be.
As for not knowing what it’s like to be a Vikings fan, surely you jest. Your 2014 Packers out-did even the worst of the Vikings postseason collapses — and by a wide margin. We had to give Brandon Bostick a preseason contract out of sheer gratitude for, to paraphrase a line from Casablanca, “leaving Packer players, coaches and fans with a comical look on their face, as their insides had just been kicked-out.” That, after a rash of one-and-dones despite having the best QB in a QB-driven league… well, we feel your pain.
4. I would say the Vikings losing to the Falcons in ’98 was worse. No one thought the Packers would beat Seattle to begin with, but anyway, I want you to concoct a dream scenario where the Vikings beat the Packers twice this season. What would the Vikings have to do to pull that off?
Well, the most likely scenario would start with the Vikings defense taking the air out of Mr. Rodgers’ high-powered offense and bringing it closer to earth, which is a more likely scenario this year than in any previous year No. 12 was at the helm. Second, Adrian Peterson returns to his old habit of attacking that soft underbelly of the Packers’ — the run defense. Meanwhile, low-and-behold, competence returns to the QB position on the Viking offense — after a long absence — and the Packers defense surrenders more points than Rodgers can drum up against a much more stingy Vikings defense.
5. Alright, try to be realistic for a moment. Who’s going to win the NFC North and why?
We still have to go with the proven over the up-and-coming, which means giving the Packers the nod. I would not be surprised to see the Vikings split the series with the Packers this year, which would be something of a shot across the bow considering the Packers’ dominance in the division the last several years. But that may be good enough to extend the Packers’ streak of division crowns another year. I will say that with the Packers’ losses during the offseason and more recently from injury, I don’t expect either the Packers offense or defense to be improved over a year ago — although I still expect the Packers offense to be a top unit as long as No. 12 is running the show. And, if some of the unproven aspects of this year’s Vikings team get proven over the course of the season, that final regular season in Green Bay may be for the division crown.
My prediction is that the Packers eek out the division crown, followed by the Vikings and a possible Wild Card, then the Lions at the .500 mark, with the Bears a distant last.