It's now clear the 2012 Vikings were a fluke, carried to a 10-win season and a wild-card spot on the greatness of Adrian Peterson, the NFL MVP that season. Alas, the Vikings didn't do anything to address a questionable quarterback situation heading into last season and it cost them. Christian Ponder was bad out of the gate, the Vikings started 0-3 and that was about it. Matt Cassel led the team to a Week 4 win in place of an injured Ponder but that was fool's gold as well. The Vikings were so desperate at one point that they signed Josh Freeman off waivers, started him in a disastrous effort on a Monday night at the Giants and then never used Freeman again. The team did play better at the end of the season under Cassel, winning three of its final five games.
Peterson was terrific, although nowhere near his nearly-historic 2012 season. He rushed for 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games despite almost always facing 8-9 guys in the box because defenses didn't fear the Minnesota passing game. Rookie receiver Cordarelle Patterson showed some big-play flashes, including as a return man. The defense wasn't good, ranking 31st in yards allowed and last in points at 30.0 per game. There's a lot of work to be done on both sides of the ball.
Key Offseason Moves
There were some rumors the Vikings might trade Peterson in a Herschel Walker-type deal because they aren't likely to contend while he's still in his prime. However, losing Peterson would give fans few reasons to come to home games and might make the Vikings the worst offense in the NFL. While Freeman is a goner, Cassel was re-signed and he appears to be the front-runner over Ponder to start. It's certain the Vikings take a QB in the first few rounds of May's draft. Minnesota's big additions were cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (Rams), defensive end Corey Wootton (Bears) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (Giants). The big loss was one of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, end Jared Allen.
Minnesota hired Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to replace Frazier, who was 21-32-1 in three seasons. The Cincinnati defense ranked in the Top 10 of the NFL under Zimmer four of that past five seasons. He had never been a head coach despite interviewing several times; Nebraska once offered its job to him. Zimmer hired highly respected Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator, something that pleased Peterson.
2014 Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Atlanta, 4:25 p.m.
Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 2, at Green Bay, 8:25 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, Chicago, 1 p.m.
Minnesota's schedule is ranked as the easiest of the NFC North teams, the 12th-easiest in the NFL, with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .477. The Vikings play five playoff teams.
The Vikes opened as 6-point underdogs on NFL odds for Week 1 at St. Louis. They did not play the Rams last season. Minnesota was 0-7-1 on the road in 2013. Three of those losses were by four points or fewer while the others all by double digits. The Vikings welcome New England for their first regular-season game at the University of Minnesota, where the team will play the next two years. That starts the toughest four-game stretch of the season with three games against playoff teams and a fourth against a Falcons club that reached the NFC Championship Game in 2012 and should be much better than last year.
Minnesota should be very competitive from Weeks 6-10 for consideration in your NFL picks. The Vikings have won 15 of their past 16 home games against the Lions, including closing the Metrodome with a 14-13 win in Week 17 last year. We shall see if playing outdoors changes things. The Vikes didn't play the Bills or Bucs last year but beat visiting Washington 34-27. Robert Griffin III threw three incomplete passes from the Minnesota 4-yard line at the end of the game. This will be the fifth straight year the Redskins and Vikings play, a record for Minnesota against a non-division team.
Coming out of the bye, Minnesota tries for its first win in Chicago since 2007, losing 31-30 in the final seconds last year. The Packers and Vikings tied in Minnesota last season, the first-ever tie to end in a score of 26-26. Minnesota blew a 23-7 fourth-quarter lead. Interestingly, that Bears-Vikings regular-season finale won't be the first time the teams play at TCF Bank Stadium on the U. of Minnesota campus. They did in 2010 in a Monday night game following the collapse of the Metrodome room. That's the return of Chicago's Allen to Minnesota, where he put up Hall of Fame numbers.
NFL free picks: 'Under' 7 wins. If you don't have a quarterback, you aren't going to win in the NFL. The Vikings don't. Cassel is a solid backup but shouldn't be a starter. Ditto Ponder. Either guy is likely only holding the job for one season (or half season) while the 2014 pick learns.