Adrian Peterson Photo Credit: Icon SMI
With training camp underway in the NFL, we’re breaking down the league’s outlook division by division. With the AFC out of the way (links follow), we set our sights on the NFC North, where the Vikings are a trendy Super Bowl pick and the Lions are hoping to actually win a game. Don’t miss the AFC North, AFC West, AFC East, and AFC South previews too.
- Detroit Lions by Brian Spencer
- Minnesota Vikings by Andrew Thell
- Chicago Bears by Dave Wright
- Green Bay Packers by Darren Yuvan
1 – Minnesota Vikings
Despite the shaky quarterback play of Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte last season, the Minnesota Vikings went a respectable 10-6, winning the NFC North. Their defense was elite, ranking near the top in most metrics and finishing as the NFL’s stoutest rushing D in the NFL for the third consecutive season despite losing starting MLB EJ Henderson in Week 4.
On offense, second-year stud Adrian “All Day” Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,760, while Chester Taylor once again proved himself one of the league’s most valuable and reliable backup running backs. High-profile, and costly, free-agent acquisitions Bernard Berrian and Jared Allen earned their paychecks: deep threat Berrian led the league in yards per reception (20.1) while notching 7 TDs, and Allen provided a much-needed pass rush, finishing 5th in the league in sacks (14.5) despite battling injuries much of the year.
Given just those facts, it’s somewhat shocking that the Vikings didn’t win more games and that Minnesota was embarrassingly trounced in the first round of the playoffs by the wild card Philadelphia Eagles. It’s no secret among football fans that blame for the underwhelming final results can be squarely placed on quarterback play. In that deciding playoff game, Tarvaris Jackson was befuddled and bullied by the aggressive blitzing schemes of Philly’s late, great defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
It’s hard to overstate just how bad Mr. Jackson performed, but his final line in that game tells some of the story: 15-35 (42.9%) for 164 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT with a 45.4 QB Rating despite the Iggles stacking the box against Adrian Peterson all day. Long touted as the future of the franchise, and longtime Brad Childress pet project, it was clear the Vikings needed significant improvement in the passing game to become the legit Super Bowl contenders the rest of their roster says they should be.
The Vikings might just have that significant improvement, and it has nothing to do with the whims of a certain No. 4.
Minnesota unsurprisingly addressed the QB position quickly in the offseason, trading a 2009 fourth-round pick to the Houston Texans for longtime backup gunslinger Sage Rosenfels in February. Rosenfels is probably best known for the infamous fourth-quarter fumble he committed against Indianapolis back in October last season that cost Houston the game. And make no mistake about it, in his career Sage has had trouble taking care of the football. The nine-year vet boasts an unimpressive 30/29 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his career. But also make no mistake about this: Sage Rosenfels is an upgrade over the bumbling Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels can move the football.
Filling in for Matt Schaub in 15 games over the last two seasons Rosenfels boasts a stellar 65.2% completion rate and 7.5 yards-per-attempt. Similar numbers this year, which wouldn’t be shocking given the benefit of full-time starter status, would put him in the top 5-10 in the NFL in both categories (where he also figures to be in INTs).
The other two major upgrades to Minnesota’s offense came via the draft. First-round pick Percy Harvin has the look of an elite playmaker, a top-10 talent who slipped all the way to 22nd on draft day due to character and marijuana-related concerns. He’s got scary quicks and is an early candidate for NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Just a few days into camp, Minnesota is already working him into kickoff and punt return duties, using him on reverses and lining him up in Wildcat formations, in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield.
Meanwhile, the Vikings drafted a behemoth of a right tackle in 6-8, 343-pound Phil Loadholt in the second round. Paired with Bryant McKinnie, Loadholdt gives the Vikes two of the NFL’s seven largest tackles. He replaces the woeful Ryan Cook on the offensive line and by virtue of his sheer size and athleticism will make an already stellar offensive line elite.
On defense, the one major concern is the possible suspension of Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, the Williams Wall which has paced Minnesota’s NFL-best rushing defense. The proceedings remain ongoing with the pair facing a possible four-game suspension. That would be a major blow, but not the type of event that would derail a promising season. The defense should also be bolstered by talented rookie nickel back Asher Allen and the healthy return of starting MLB, former Butkus Award winner and tackling machine EJ Henderson. By all accounts, Henderson has been one of the most impressive Vikings in camp.
Breaking down the rest of the NFC North after the break…
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