My series of intermittent team by team previews continues with: the Minnesota Vikings.
In 2011, the team played poorly enough to shove their rookie first round quarterback into the fire after just five games, and proceeded to go 2-9 the rest of the way. The offense continued to revolve around Adrian Peterson, as it should, but it led to a late-season injury that has All Day on the PUP list to start training camp.
The 2012 edition of the team should be somewhat improved, if by nothing else than growing pains. Peterson's effectiveness will likely be somewhat limited to start the year, which will lead erstwhile PSH favorite Toby Gerhart to pick up the slack and the carries early.
The rest of the offense will work through Ponder's growing pains. Once seen as the most NFL ready of the 2011 QB class, Ponder will have to prove on the field that he's good enough to be the Vikings franchise quarterback. In 11 games last season, Ponder threw for 13 touchdowns and 13 picks, and only played turnover free football in three games. That will not cut it if the Vikings want to follow through on Zygi Wilf's expectation of a division title.
On the outside, Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson will lead a decent group of receivers, and Kyle Rudolph will be playing the part of "over the middle threat" for Ponder. Up front, Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick, steps in as the new franchise left tackle, which should reduce the pressure on Ponder a bit.
Defensively, the Vikings were a lower tier squad last year, finishing 21st in total defense and giving up a stunning 44% conversion rate on third down. This year, the Vikings must get off the field more, which starts (and usually ends) with Jared Allen, he of 22 sacks last season.
The defensive front, led by Allen, is stout with the linebacking law firm of Brinkley, Henderson, and Greenway smacking ballcarriers over the middle. In the secondary, Harrison Smith should represent an upgrade at safety, but Antoine Winfield is getting a bit older, and Chris Cook is a question on the other side.
Overall, the Vikings could be a team on the rise...in 2013, but not in 2012 with a division returning two playoff teams and the Bears bringing back a healthy Jay Cutler.
So my prediction: 5-11.
My hope: 6-10.
My worst fear: 2-14.
My best possible outcome: 7-9, but only if Christian Ponder takes a huge step forward and Adrian Peterson returns full strength in Week 1.