Head Coach: Mike Zimmer
2014 record: 7-9 overall, 1-5 NFC North
2014 Postseason results: None
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 47/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 25/1
Odds to win NFC North Division: 7/1
Regular season wins: over 7.5 -200 / under 7.5 +160
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Last year, under first year coach Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings went 7-9. The season was marred when star running back Adrian Peterson was suspended for the season after just one game because of troubling child abuse allegations. Peterson plead guilty in November, but did not serve any jail time. He was reinstated in February and looks to return to his role as arguably the best running back in the league.
Zimmer is also back, and the Vikings hope to compete for a playoff spot this season. There is reason for optimism. Last year, the Vikings started off the season 2-4, but would finish the season 5-5. The Vikings blew out the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers 31-13 in late November. However, the other 9 games in the last part of the season were decided by 8 points or less.
Minnesota was #27 in total offense at 316 yards per game, including 203 passing and 113 rushing yards. The Vikings were #28 in passing. Minnesota averaged 20 points per game last year. Coordinator Norv Turner is back for his second season as well.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater became the starter after the second game last year. In 13 games, he threw for 2,919 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and rushed for 209 yards on 47 carries with a touchdown. Bridgewater should be better with a season under his belt and learning from Turner, one of the best offensive minds in the league. Back-ups Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder are both gone. Cassell is with the Buffalo Bills and Christian Ponder is with the Oakland Raiders. Shaun Hill will likely serve as the back-up this year, but barring injury this is Bridgewater’s show now.
Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon filled in for Peterson last year at running back. Asiata had 164 carries for 570 yards with 9 touchdowns, and also had 44 catches for 312 yards with a touchdown. McKinnon had 113 carries for 538 yards, but did not have a touchdown. He also made 27 catches for 135 yards. Both are back, but obviously they will return to the immense shadow of Peterson. He rushed for over 1,200 yards with 10 touchdowns in 2013, and also made 29 catches The Vikings also added DuJuan Harris from the rival Green Bay Packers. Fullbacks Zach Line and Rhett Ellison will also get some carries.
The Vikings traded a fifth round pick to the Miami Dolphins for receiver Mike Wallace. Last year’s leading receiver for the Vikings, Greg Jennings then signed with the Dolphins as a free agent. Wallace had 67 catches for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns last year for Miami. Jennings had 59 catches for 742 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jarius Wright had 42 catches for 588 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also had 71 rushing yards on 5 carries. Charles Johnson was signed midway through the season off the Cleveland Brown’s practice squad and became the deep threat the offense needed. He had 31 catches for 475 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cordarelle Patterson is very versatile but he seemed to regress in 2014. He had 33 catches for 384 yards and a touchdown, and also had 10 carries for 117 yards with a touchdown.
Tight ends Chase Ford (23 catches for 258 yards and a touchdown) and Kyle Rudolph (24 catches for 231 yards and 2 touchdowns) will also get targets. Rudolph played in only 9 games last year, but is a top tier tight end when healthy. The Vikings also picked up tight end Brandon Bostick from the Packers. Ellison had 19 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown. He can play either fullback or tight end. The Vikings drafted tight end MyCole Pruitt and receiver Stefon Diggs in the fifth round of this year’s draft.
The offensive line needs to improve drastically if this team wants to truly contend for a playoff spot. The line took a hit when right tackle Phil Loadholt suffered a torn ACL in training camp. Look for Mike Harris to start in his place. Left tackle Matt Kalil struggled badly last season after undergoing pre-season knee surgery. He is healthy and looks to live up to his potential. The Vikings used three of their ten draft picks on offensive linemen to bolster the depth. Center John Sullivan had a great year last season and looks to improve even more in 2015. The big question is a left guard. Joe Berger moves from right guard to left guard, and 2014 first round pick David Yankey is also in the mix.
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Last year, Minnesota allowed 345 yards per game on defense, including 223 passing and 122 rushing yards. The pass defense was #7 in the league but the rush defense was #25. Minnesota allowed 21.4 points per game. George Edwards is the defensive coordinator.
Defensive end Everson Griffen had 55 tackles and 12 sacks last year. Brian Robison will start at the other end. Tackle Shariff Floyd had 43 quarterback hurries last year, but only 4.5 sacks. His back-up Tom Johnson had 6.5 sacks. Linval Joseph will start at nose tackle. The Vikings also drafted ends Danielle Hunter (3rd round, LSU) and B.J. Dubose (6th round, Louisville).
Strong side linebacker Anthony Barr had a fantastic rookie season last year before missing the last 4 games with a knee injury. He still had 70 tackles and 4 sacks. The Vikings drafted Eric Kendricks in the second round out of UCLA, and he will likely start right away in the middle. Barr and Kendricks were teammates at UCLA at one time. Veteran weak side linebacker Chad Greenway is back for his tenth season, after making 93 tackles last year. The unit took a hit when it was announced free agent pick-up Casey Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles would miss the entire season with a hip injury.
The Vikings drafted cornerback Trae Waynes in the first round out of Michigan State. He will start at one cornerback, and Xavier Rhodes will start at the other. Safeties Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith led the Vikings in tackles, and combined for almost 200 tackles. Smith also had 5 interceptions including a pick six. Antone Exum, Jr will see some time at safety also. The Vikings added Taylor Mays and Terrance Newman both from the Cincinnati Bengals to bolster the secondary.
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Kicker Blair Walsh made only 26 of 35 field goals last year. However, the Vikings moved to a temporary outdoor stadium for last year and this year, while the new stadium is being built. Punter Jeff Locke averaged only 38.7 net yards per punt and needs to be more consistent. Patterson will return kicks again after averaging 25.6 yards per return last year. He took two kicks to the house in 2013 and looks to get back into that form. Marcus Sherels averaged 11 yards per punt return last year but could be challenged by the rookie Diggs.
The Vikings open the season at the San Francisco 49ers on a Monday night, before hosting the Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers. In October, Minnesota travels to the Broncos before going on their bye at week five. The rest of the month includes a home game against the Kansas City Chiefs and a road game at the Lions. November brings road games at the Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons, and home games against the Packers and St. Louis Rams. December brings home games against the Seattle Seahawks, Bears and New York Giants, and a road game at the Arizona Cardinals on a Thursday night. The Vikings close the season at the Packers.
Peterson is 30 years old, so there is no guarantee he will return to his dominant self. The year off might be be good because he didn’t take the pounding that an NFL running back takes in a year. Either way, Peterson’s return should help open the passing game if the young Bridgewater can take advantage of eight or nine defensive players in box on almost every play. The defense is young but very talented, with most of the top stars under 28. The Lions lost a lot of talent especially on defense, so Minnesota could make some strides in the NFC North. I think this team wins 9 games but comes up just short of a playoff berth.
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