Our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days leading up to the start of the season, continuess as the NFC North comes to an end with the Minnesota Vikings, who won the division last season.
Last season was a successful one for the Vikings, who bested the Packers to win their first division title since 2009. The offense worked well for the Vikings as QB Teddy Bridgewater took a step forward in his sophomore season and RB Adrian Peterson came back after being suspended for most of the 2014 season to put up good numbers in the running game to help lead the team to an 11-win season.
In his second season in the league, Bridgewater threw for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns, with 9 interceptions, and added 3 rushing touchdowns on the ground. A well-rested Peterson carried the ball 327 times for 1,485 and 11 touchdowns, pretty much picking up where he left off in the 2013 season. RB Jerick McKinnon served as the No. 2 back, rushing 52 times for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rookie WR Stefon Diggs outperformed expectations, leading the team with 52 receptions for 720 yards and 4 touchdowns, while TE Kyle Rudolph‘s 5 receiving touchdowns were the most on the team. He had 49 catches on the season for 495 yards. The defense was among the best in the league, giving up the fifth-fewest points with 302, but was slightly below the league average with 13 interceptions.
Other than Diggs, the wide receivers were a disappointment last season, limiting Bridgewater’s upside. The Vikings looked to fix that by using their first-round draft pick to select WR Laquon Treadwell, hoping that he’ll be a viable option to start opposite Diggs. There could be some concern with the running game after Peterson, now 31, is coming off a season in which he was the only running back to total more than 300 rushes. That workload, combined with his age, makes it possible that he could start to break down during the season. If he does, McKinnon can be a viable replacement, but he likely wouldn’t be able to match the production the team expects to get out of Peterson.
The Vikings open their schedule on the road at the Titans in Week 1, then open their new home, U.S. Bank Stadium, with a Sunday night contest against the division-rival Packers in Week 2. It doesn’t get easier after that, with a Week 3 road game at the defending NFC champion Panthers. In Weeks 10 and 11, the Vikings face back-to-back games against playoff teams, when they visit the Redskins and host the Cardinals. They host the Colts in Week 15, then play their road game at the Packers on Christmas Eve before ending the season at home against the Bears on New Year’s Day. Outside of some of the games mentioned above, the Vikings’ schedule isn’t that tough. I’m picking them to go 13-3 this season, which would still only be good for second place if my projections pan out.
Update (8/31): The Vikings’ season took a major hit on Tuesday when Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL that will keep him out for the season. If the Vikings don’t trade for or sign a veteran quarterback, that’ll likely leave QB Shaun Hill as the starter, with QB Joel Stave the backup. HIll is a veteran journeyman who has started in the league before when filling in for injured quarterbacks, but he’s never put up outstanding numbers. Stave is an unproven rookie. Both are significant downgrades from Bridgewater, and with them under the center for the season the Vikings’ outlook has to be downgraded. I originally projected a 13-3 record, but now I think they’ll be lucky to win 10 games.