Did we forget about the Vikings?
Since Minnesota put away the Packers for the second time in 2009 during Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau Field almost four weeks ago, the NFL has shifted its attention to other stories, other headlines and the wild-card races.
After the win over Green Bay, the Vikings faded away from the front page with a bye week and two blowout home wins over the rebuilding Lions and the mess that has become the Seattle Seahawks in year one under Jim Mora, Jr.
But, starting tomorrow up in the Dome—or Mall of America Field—the Vikings start a stretch of schedule that will determine if they can get that No.1 seed in the playoffs, which from my perspective, could make them almost unbeatable in January.
Here is a look at Minnesota’s last six games…
11/29 vs. Chicago (4-6)
12/6 @ Arizona (7-3)
12/13 vs. Cincinnati (7-3)
12/20 @ Carolina (4-6)
12/28 @ Chicago (4-6)
1/3 vs. NY Giants (6-5)
This is a tougher stretch than we might think, due to going on the road to ‘Zona, hosting Mike Zimmer and his Cincinnati defense in the middle of December, and—despite Jay Cutler leading the NFL in interceptions—two games against Chicago, with the first taking place tomorrow in Minneapolis. Plus, divisional matchups are always tough due to the familiarity of common opponents.
But, even in looking at the Vikings’ schedule, it is hard not to admit that Minnesota could very easily win all six because, bottom line, Minnesota is a better football team than anyone on that list.
And I have a hard time arguing with that right now—especially with the effect Favre has had on this entire offense.
Favre has thrown 21 TDs this season compared to only 3 INTs with a huge QB rating of 112.1. But, besides those numbers—which are MVP-type numbers when you add in the team’s 9-1 record—Favre has made this offense so much more complete and so much more non-dependent on a breakout Adrian Peterson game each Sunday.
Sidney Rice, who was just another receiver in ‘08, has taken the place of Bernard Berrian as the No.1 receiver in Minneapolis. He has 50 receptions for 875 yards and 4 TDs. Even more impressive is that Rice is averaging over 17 yards a catch—something that is a direct reflection of Favre having the confidence in Rice to throw the ball down the field when he sees man coverage. And Rice has been productive because of it, going up and getting the ball. The TE position, one of Favre’s favorites in the red zone, has made huge strides. Visanthe Shiancoe already has seven TD catches. Rookie WR Percy Harvin—who is on the fast track to the Offensive Rookie of the Year award—is a weapon in the kicking game, but has also matured over the first 10 games for the Vikings. He provides major matchup issues for the defenses when he aligns inside the numbers, and is averaging almost 14 yards a catch.
And there is still Peterson, who we didn’t forget, but have come to realize that although he may be the top running back in the league—depending on who you talk to when discussing the Titans’ Chris Johnson—doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of the offense because of the weapons that Favre has developed on the outside. But, as we all know, over the last six weeks and into the postseason, A.P. will be the key to the Vikings’ ability to score touchdowns in the red zone and give Favre manageable down and distance situations to work with.
Plus, A.P. is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
And, just like this Vikings team that is flying under the radar of sorts on this holiday weekend, the Minnesota defense—which may not be as dominant as it was in ’08—is still a reason that we look at this club as a Super Bowl contender. The defense is third in the NFL against the rush—giving up just over 85 yards a game—and with Antoine Winfield coming back from injury, the secondary can start making some more plays on the football to go along with one of the nastiest defensive lines in the entire league.
But can they be beat? Sure, just as we saw when they went to Pittsburgh, on the road and outside of the Dome, turnovers did them in. And that’s just it—they can be beat, but they aren’t giving us any reason to believe that they will be beat.
And, as we start to see the playoffs unfold into December, it is time to give serious thought to the Vikings as not only one of the favorites along with New Orleans to win the NFC, but to also win down in Miami.
Yes, we talk about the Saints, the Colts and the Patriots when it comes to the best teams in the NFL, with the Vikings always seeming to be on the outside looking in.
But, when you start to stack up the best teams after nearly three months of NFL action, I would have a hard time arguing against the fact that the Vikings could beat all three.
And we’ll get to see it all happen and unfold in the season’s final month.
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Check out the Minnesota Vikings Team Page at the NFP.
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