In 2009, the Minnesota Vikings were one game short of the Super Bowl, finishing the regular season 12-4 and ultimately losing to the Saints in the NFC Championship game. From there, they have experienced a precipitous drop – going 6-10 in 2010 and a very disappointing 3-13 last season. Despite the roller coaster-like descent, there is reason to be optimistic up North, as the Vikings seem to have been making the right moves to rebuild this franchise into a winner.
Below are our top ten reasons for Vikings fans to get excited going into the 2012 season.
#10: The Vikings almost beat the Green Bay Packers last season. The Packers finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL, 15 wins and one loss. In the first game between the Vikings and Packers last season, week seven, the Vikings lost 33-27 and that is with Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers passing for 335 yards. If the Vikings pass defense improves, then they could pull off a big win over the Packers.
#9: The Vikings drafted an offensive tackle from USC with the fourth pick in the draft, Matt Kalil. The Vikings were ranked in the bottom five in sacks allowed last season, with 49. Kalil’s father was an offensive lineman in college and the NFL and his brother was an offensive lineman in college and is currently in the NFL. Kalil was named to the All-American first team and he received the Pac-12 Morris Trophy, voted as the top offensive lineman in the Pac-12 conference by the conference’s starting defensive linemen. He should make an impact and protect Christian Ponder’s blind side for years to come.
#8: The Vikings played 11 games last season where the winning team won by seven points or less. In those 11 games, the team’s record was two wins and nine losses. Seven of those 11 games were against teams that won eight or more games. The Vikings ended up finishing the season with three wins and they could easily have doubled their total if they had a little more luck. They were competitive in the vast majority of their losses, so moderate improvements could significantly increase their win total in 2012.
#7: The Vikings have a far more favorable interconference schedule this season. Their interconference opponents this season are the AFC South. Last season, the Vikings interconference opponents were in the AFC West, where the worst team, the Kansas City Chiefs, finished with seven wins and nine losses. Last season, in the AFC South the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with less than seven wins.
#6: The Vikings had the fourth best rushing yards per game average last season. They ended up averaging almost 145 rushing yards per game despite their top running back playing only 12 games. Adrian Peterson is recovering from a torn ACL and is hoping to be ready for the start of the upcoming season.
#5: The Vikings had a solid run defense – ranked number 11 for opposing rushing yards per game. Opposing teams averaged 107 rushing yards per game. Despite the Vikings success in opposing rushing yards per game, the rest of the defense struggled. The team was ranked in the bottom 10 for opposing points per game, opposing yards per game and opposing passing yards per game. Two of the team’s first three picks in the draft were defensive players to help the passing defense.
#4: The Vikings will not have to deal with any quarterback distractions or controversies. Last season, the team had a tough choice at quarterback between a veteran quarterback that struggled the year before with the Washington Redskins, Donovan McNabb, and a rookie quarterback, Christian Ponder. The previous two seasons, the team had to deal with busy offseason of ‘recruiting’ future hall of fame quarterback Brett Favre to play for the team. This season, the Vikings have named Ponder their starting quarterback.
#3: Ponder is no longer a rookie, and he looks like he has the stuff to be a solid NFL starter. Last season, he finished with 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a passing rating of 70.1. It was a tough season for Ponder and he was able to learn from one of the best quarterbacks in this millennium, McNabb. Ponder should be able to establish a great relationship with his teammates in his first offseason as the Vikings starting quarterback, which should lead to better production. Throw in improved protection from Kalil, and his numbers should improve greatly.
#2: The Vikings second best running back, Toby Gerhart, rushed for 531 yards on only 109 carries. Only two of the 14 running backs who finished last season with at least 1,000 rushing yards had a rushing average per play that was equal or better than Gerhart’s average of 4.9.
#1: Number 28 still plays for the Vikings – Adrian Peterson. He is considered one of the best running backs in the league and he almost rushed for 1,000 yards last season while playing in only 12 games. Peterson ranked third last season for rushing touchdowns and number 18 for rushing yards. According to NFL.com, the Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said that Peterson’s recovery is “on course.” ACL injuries aren’t the career ending injuries they once were, and Peterson is a legendary workout warrior who will be a serious threat when he is back.
When Peterson returns from the torn ACL, Vikings fans might be tempted to alter some lyrics from “Without Me” by Eminem, “Guess who’s back, back again…Shady’s back, tell a friend.”
By Noah Weintraub