The Vikings haven't won the NFC North since 2009 when a guy named Brett Favre was their quarterback. Many think the Vikes are on the rise, however. Might they contend in the division this season? We project their exact division result on NFL odds.
Recapping Vikings' 2014 Season
In many ways, the Vikings started a new era in 2014 as they had a new head coach in Mike Zimmer, the former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, and also saw their future at quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings made a deal with Seattle to get the 32nd and last pick of the first round of the 2014 draft in order to draft Bridgewater out of Louisville. Minnesota felt it had no choice because Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel were already off the board and Houston was sitting there with the first pick of the second round and most likely would have taken Bridgewater. That trade looks really good right now as Bridgewater was much better than either Bortles or Manziel last season, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 picks in 13 games as Minnesota finished 7-9.
Think of how much better Bridgewater might have been -- Matt Cassel began the year as the starter before getting hurt -- had he had future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson to hand off to. Peterson rushed 21 times for 75 yards in the season-opening rout of the Rams but that was his only game as he was suspended for the rest of the season (with pay) for the child abuse charges in Texas for how Peterson disciplined his young son. Peterson is back now and unquestionably will be playing with a massive chip on his shoulder. For a while there this offseason, it looked like the Vikings might trade Peterson, who didn't want to be there. But all the bad feelings are gone now and this week the team restructured the final three years of his contract. Peterson now has $20 million in guarantees ($13 million this year, $7 million in 2016, including $5 million roster bonus in March 2016). Interesting decision to give that to a 30-year-old running back as that's the age where tailbacks usually start trending downward in a big way. Peterson's deal previously had no guaranteed money in the final three years.
Zimmer definitely had an impact on the Minnesota defense as it finished 11th in scoring. The Vikings took linebacker Anthony Barr with their initial first-round pick in 2014 (over Manziel), and Barr looked like a future Pro Bowler when on the field. In 12 games, he had 70 tackles, four sacks, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed. So it appears the Vikings have their leader going forward on both offense and defense. You can see why many experts are high on this team.
Vikings' Offseason Moves
Obviously keeping Peterson was the biggest move. Minnesota's receiving corps was rather weak last season, with Greg Jennings leading with 59 catches for 742 yards and six scores, so the team traded for Miami's Mike Wallace, giving up just a fifth-round pick for him. Wallace led the Dolphins in receiving yards (862) and touchdowns (10) and was second in receptions (67) in 2014. He's one of the better deep threats in the NFL. The Vikings completed just 17 passes of 20 yards or more last season, tied for the seventh-lowest figure in the league. Wallace was thrown 60 passes (24.5 percent of his total targets) 20-plus yards down the field in two years with the Dolphins. True, Wallace can be a bit of a headache as he reportedly quit on his teammates last season, but the guy has talent. Because the rest of his contract is all base salary with no bonuses, the Vikings can move on from Wallace after the 2015 or 2016 seasons at no cost if they chose. That's a great trade.
Getting Wallace was really the only major move. The team dumped Jennings. It added Shaun Hill to back up Bridgewater with Cassel moving on. The Vikings also got perhaps the best cornerback in the draft in Michigan State's Trae Waynes with their first-round pick.
Minnesota's schedule ranks as the 12th toughest in the NFL as its opponents were 138-118 last season for a winning percentage of .539. There are seven games against 2014 playoff teams, and four of those come in the division.
The opener is the Monday nightcap at San Francisco, with the Niners are 3-point favorites. The past few years, that would look like an automatic loss for the Vikings but perhaps no team had a worse offseason than San Francisco. The 49ers are one of six straight teams that finished 8-8 or better that Minnesota faces to begin the year. The Vikings open at home on Sept. 20 vs. Detroit, host San Diego on Sept. 27, visit Denver on Oct. 4, have the bye week, host Kansas City on Oct. 18 and go to Detroit on Oct. 25. Get through that at 3-3 and Minnesota should be happy.
November opens with a game at Chicago, followed by home vs. St. Louis and at Oakland. The Vikings get their first shot against division-favorite Green Bay on Nov. 22 at the University of Minnesota. The Vikes finish at Atlanta, vs. Seattle, at Arizona, vs. Chicago, vs. NY Giants and at Green Bay. Remember, Minnesota plays outdoors again this season as they head to a new domed stadium in 2016. So weather will be a major factor in late-season home games.
NFL Free Picks: The Vikings have a wins total of 7.5, with the 'over' a -150 favorite. They are +260 to make the playoffs and -350 not to. Minnesota's projected odds to win the North are first at +800, second at +350, third at +150 and fourth at +175. I'm going 'over' the wins, projecting an 8-8 record. That will be good for third in the North but no playoff spot.