NFL Team Previews: Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have been a consistently successful team over the years, so it can easy to forget they‘ve not only never won a Super Bowl, but haven’t even been there since 1976. Well, I suppose if you’re a fan of the team it’s not very easy to forget, but an organization that has gone .500 or better 24 times in the last 34 years is accustomed to success. Therefore, even though they made the tough decision to bottom out last year, dropping to 3-13 in a rebuilding season, you have to think better days are ahead. Whether those days will arrive in 2012 is the focus here at TheSportsNotebook today as we preview the Vikings…
I’m going to break the mold of previous previews, where we broke them into a section for both the offense and defense. Because Minnesota looks to be two different teams, but one the dividing line isn’t offense and defense. In the trenches they look championship-caliber. On the outside and in the playmaking spots they look like they’d be better suited to playing in the Mid-American Conference.
IN THE TRENCHES: I love this offensive line. Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil was, in my view, the best player on the board in last April’s draft. Phil Loadholt is solid at tackle, and more to the point he’s got a name that makes him sound like a football player. John Sullivan is steady at center, and how can I not love an Irish Catholic with a name like this? So as you see, my passion for this line isn’t all football-based. But it’s still a pretty good group, with the guards being the main weak point. The Viking offensive line would be good enough to block for any competent NFL back, and when healthy, Adrian Peterson is much more than that. Peterson is supposedly going to be back for Week 1 after tearing his ACL at the end of last year, but even if he’s not, Toby Gerhart can at least keep the running game afloat until A.P. is back at full strength.
If you go to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, it’s even better. Jared Allen had 22 sacks from his defensive end spot and is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Brian Robison generated eight more sacks on the opposite side and Kevin Williams can bring the heat from inside. The linebackers are led by Chad Greenway and round out a good front seven where the middle linebacker spot is the only real weakness.
ON THE OUTSIDE: Percy Harvin is the main target at wide receiver and while he’s talented, he also lacks durability and would be more effective as a #2 target or slot receiver. Jerome Simpson is suspended until Week 4. I’m not sure if that’s a bigger problem than the fact his absence probably doesn’t make any difference. The tight ends are not a factor—Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson both played at Notre Dame. Between them and Sullivan, I have to wonder if somebody at the Vikings is in hock to someone in the athletic department in South Bend.
Antoine Winfield is a quality corner when he’s able to play, but that was only five games last year and at age 35, how much quality is left is a debatable point. Chris Cook is a liability at the other corner, and the safeties are terrible.
LAS VEGAS OVER/UNDER WIN PROJECTION: 6—I’d really like to go Over, because in my ideal world football success would start with the line play and move outward. But it doesn’t work that way in the NFL, and the incompetence at receiver and defensive back can’t be overlooked. Furthermore, I thought Ponder was an overrated in college and he’s overrated now.**Finally, the division is the toughest in football this year. So I’m going Under.

** It reminds me of the scene in Godfather III where Don Tommasino drives his car up the gate, spots the man who was hired to kill Michael Corleone, makes reference to the man’s past and hisses “You were an assassin then, you’re an assassin now!” If he saw Ponder I’m convinced he would growl that the Florida State quarterback was overrated then and is overrated now. How’s that for an off-the-wall movie tangent put in a Bill Simmons-style footnote?