The first-year head coach slowly, but surely, integrated his style and personality into this team. They played hard. They didn't give up when they were down, even to superior teams. They were feisty and scrappy all year, and were in almost every game they played in. That's because Zimmer refused to make excuses or give up. He was looked at as a real upgrade from previous head man Leslie Frazier, and that couldn't have been more accurate. He proved himself to be the man for the job going forward.
Ann Heisenfelt/Associated PressAnn Heisenfelt
TCF Bank Stadium
Yes, this is only going to be their home until the end of the 2015 season (they move to their new digs to kick off 2016). But it has become a place that the Vikings have enjoyed making their home, even if it's temporary. They also used the bitter cold of the Twin Cities to their advantage. Vikings fans know how brutal Minnesota winters can get, and now the team can use those winters against teams from outside the area who'll be shaking in their tights come gameday at TCF Bank. The Vikings were 5-3 at home this season. With another season at TCF under their belts, the team could make this temporary home a place where no one wants to play. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY SportsJesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
No more Adrian Peterson distractions (hopefully)
A.P. is a legend, a former franchise face, and one of the greatest Vikings of all-time. He was also a shadow that hung over this team for much of the season. Regardless of what happens this off-season between him and this team, the storyline of Peterson's off-the-field behavior, his future, etc. will soon be old news. Or, in a positive twist of fate, he could return to the Twin Cities next year ready to help a young offense reach it's full potential. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsKevin Jairaj
The beastly rookie LB was a revelation this season before he was forced to the sidelines with a knee injury in early-December. He had a return touchdown, he recovered three fumbles, and he had 55 tackles and four sacks. Barr can only get better in his second season, considering he'll be healthy; and especially since he plays for a defensive-minded head coach. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
This defense got stingier and stingier as the 2014 season went on. Again, it helped that Mike Zimmer is a defensive-minded coach; it also helped that the team had good talent on that side of the ball. Everson Griffen earned his contract and then some with stellar play all year long. Anthony Barr was a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Sharif Floyd, Linval Joseph, Captain Munnerlyn, and the much-improved Xavier Rhodes (who became a shutdown corner before our eyes) made up a defense that improved by leaps and bounds; not just since the 2013 season, but since Week 1 of this past 2014 season. This unit finished 14th in total defense, 11th in scoring defense, and seventh against the pass. Another year under Zimmer and with these players, and the sky's the limit with how good they can be defensively.
Ann Heisenfelt/Associated PressAnn Heisenfelt
Teddy got better and better as the 2014 season went on. He threw a touchdown in ten consecutive contests to end the year, and had four two TD games in five weeks from Week 12- Week 16. He only had three multi-interception games since his Week 3 debut, and in his last five games he only had two games where his passer rating was sub-100! While he still needs to work on his deep ball a bit; his moxie, ability to move, accuracy, and decision-making all improved significantly since that Week 3 debut against the Saints in New Orleans. More importantly the Vikings went 6-6 with him at the helm after that Week 3 loss, and with time and an off-season to learn from his mistakes; he and this team, can only get better. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
The other young standouts will have a year under their belts
Besides Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr, this team has other young players who've been playing very well: Jerick McKinnon, Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson, Xavier Rhodes, Jabari Price, Chase Ford, Joe Banyard, and Antone Exum. Even Cordarrelle Patterson has a chance to be better (and better utilized) with an entire offseason to work on his game, work with OC Norv Turner, and work with Teddy Bridgewater to allow his talents to shine much brighter in 2015.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AssociatedCharles Rex Arbogast
Who knows what the NFC North will be like next year?
OK, so Green Bay isn't going anywhere as long as they have Aaron Rodgers. Even the Lions have a pretty good future ahead of them with that defense, Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and their coaching staff (which has breathed life back into what was an underachieving Detroit squad). Granted, the Lions could still be the Lions and melt down next year. However, even if Detroit continues to get their act together, at least the Bears look like they're in for a long offseason. Chicago has been a huge disappointment and changes are on the horizon. Also, as long as they're paying Jay Cutler to be their QB, Chicago's playoff hopes will always be tenuous at best. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports