Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so), leading up to the start of the season, continue with the last NFC North team — the Minnesota Vikings, who finished last season in third place in the division.
The Vikings had a tumultuous season in 2014, with star RB Adrian Peterson playing in just the first game of the season before being suspended for the remainder of the campaign due to off-the-field legal issues he faced. It wasn’t a completely lost season for the Vikings, though, because rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had a promising first year in the league, which he’ll look to build upon in his sophomore season.
Bridgewater started 12 games, throwing for 2,919 yards and 14 touchdowns. Not terrific numbers, but not bad for a quarterback’s rookie season. With Peterson missing 15 games, the Vikings went to a running back by committee for the season, with Matt Asiata getting slightly more work than rookie Jerick McKinnon, 164 rushes vs. 113. Asiata ran for 570 yards and nine touchdowns, while McKinnon had 538 rushing yards but did not get in the endzone. Likewise, there wasn’t a breakout star in the receiving game last season. Veteran WR Greg Jennings led the team with 59 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns. Overall, the team’s offense ranked 20th in the league. The defense, which ranked 11th in the league, helped make up for some of the deficiencies in the offense to help the team approach the .500 mark, with a 7-9 record.
I would expect the offense to be better this season with Bridgewater having a season under his belt and Peterson not only returning but returning after nearly a year off of football, meaning he should be rested and ready to play. Last year’s leading receiver is no longer on the team, though, as Jennings signed with the Dolphins in the offseason. The Vikings traded for WR Mike Wallace, from the Dolphins, and he will likely take up the team’s No. 1 receiver role this season. While he has good numbers in his career, he hasn’t surpassed 1,000 receiving yards since the 2011 season. There’s no strong No. 2 receiver behind him; one of Charles Johnson or Cordarrelle Patterson could move into that role with a breakout season.
So what does the schedule have in store for the Vikings? Several tough games to begin the campaign, including an opening-week Monday night game on the road at the 49ers, followed by home games with the Lions and Chargers, then a road game against the Broncos. Later in the season, they host the Seahawks in week 13 and end the season at the Packers, which could be for the division title if things work out that way, which I don’t think they will. I think the Vikings are the second best team in the division and could win about 10 games — particularly if they can win a game or two in that opening four-game stretch — and compete for a Wild Card, but — outside of the running back position — they’re still significantly behind Green Bay in terms of talent. I think the Vikings will improve upon last year’s record, but they still have a ways to go to compete for the division title.