Despite coming off a frustrating 2016 campaign that started strong and ended miserably, the Minnesota Vikings appear in position to make a serious run at Super Bowl 52.
The 2016 season was a roller-coaster ride for the Minnesota Vikings. They were the only undefeated team through five weeks, but managed only three more wins through the final 11 games. That doesn’t mean things will be the same this upcoming campaign.
In 2017, things are going to be different for the Vikings. They’ve made significant upgrades across the board, especially along the offensive line. A strong 2017 draft class (despite not having a first-round pick) will certainly help. Overall, Minnesota put together an exceptional offseason that should yield significant results in the coming months.
It also helps that they already sported a loaded roster. The defense proved a season ago it belongs among the NFL’s most lauded. While the offense had its fair share of struggles, there are plenty of pieces in place for this unit to take off in 2017. We saw the potential through the first five games last year, and now we’ll get another opportunity to witness the damage they can do.
So here they are, five reasons why the Vikings are legitimate contenders for Super Bowl 52. Not only would it be great for them to have home-field advantage, but it would be the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. This is the season to make it happen.
The Vikings started last season with a 5-0 record. And then, as injuries along the offensive line pilled up, things quickly went south. When the year had finally come to a merciful end, Minnesota had managed a pedestrian 8-8 record.
That’s why the Vikings invested heavily in the front five this offseason. Not only did they spend big to acquire free agents Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, but they spent two mid-round picks on blockers during the draft. In doing so, the Vikings secured the tackle spots and added some quality depth and a rookie who could start from Day 1.
Plus, they still have Alex Boone and Joe Berger. While both are aging starters, they shouldn’t have too much trouble holding their own this year. Reiff and Remmers are two plus starters book-ending the offensive line, and I believe Pat Elflein will be atop the center depth chart before Week 1 arrives.
Is it going to be the best front five in the NFL? Not even close. However, it will be much improved from a season ago, especially if T.J. Clemmings isn’t seeing significant snaps. Either way, it’ll be better in 2017. That is, assuming the injuries don’t pile up yet again.
It kind of baffles me how little respect the Vikings secondary gets. Not only does it own three Pro Bowlers, but two of them are among the best at their position throughout the entire NFL. So why no love from the general public?
Oh whatever, who needs public recognition? Instead, I’m sure this group would prefer to rack up a big amount of wins and make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl this season. And based on the amount of talent available, I believe they’re more than capable of doing so.
It all starts with Xavier Rhodes, who proved this past season that he is undeniably one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Most people wouldn’t know it, but he’s actually among the top shutdown cover men in the league right now. Take this Pro Football Focus tweet for example:
You may also notice that Terence Newman is also on the list. Despite being 38 years old, he continues to defy Father Time and put outstanding work in for the Minnesota secondary. There are also intriguing youngsters Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander on the roster, both of whom should take significant steps forward in 2017.
Then, we can’t forget about one of the NFL’s most underrated safeties, Harrison Smith. He’s a human heat-seaking missile who never seems to stop making big plays. Although I’m not as fond of Andrew Sendejo, he showed some progress a season ago.
No matter how you spin it, this is a Vikings secondary that has the talent to shut down just about any opposing passing game.
Hey look–another outstanding Vikings defender who is unreasonably underrated. While most folks know about Everson Griffen, it’s Danielle Hunter who is getting hyped heading into 2017. That hype, however, is mainly coming from Minnesota.
It’s time for other people to get on board the Hunter hype train. Again, let’s look to Pro Football Focus to help illustrate my point:
Put simply, the guy gets after the quarterback. Not only did he notch a bunch of pressures, but he had little trouble bringing down passers as well. His 12.5 sacks tied him for third on the 2016 campaign throughout the league.
And then there’s Griffen, who’s already asserted himself as a star off the edge. Although he’s taken a step back in terms of production the last couple of seasons, he’s still a dynamic talent at defensive end. I’d guess he’ll continue to shine, especially as teams are forced to pay more attention to Hunter.
Brian Robison also contributes quality snaps, but is slowly fading with age. Still, he should see plenty of action in 2017 and continue to make his own underrated impact. Either way, look for the duo of Griffen and Hunter to have a huge year with the Vikings eyeing a deep playoff run.
Head coach Mike Zimmer may have a dysfunctional eye, but he’s still one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL. Since taking over for the Vikings in 2014, he’s turned this defense into one of the league’s best while developing this team into annual playoff contenders.
Chances are as he continues to role out his plan, the Vikings will get even better. The defense is verging on elite after finishing the 2017 campaign ranked third in the NFL. If it weren’t for the slew of injuries that decimated the offense a season ago, Minnesota easily would have finished with one of the best records in the league.
Mike Priefer is an exceptional special teams coach who has the experience and leadership to serve as interim head coach as needed. Then there are Pat Shurmur and Tony Sparano, two excellent assistants with head coaching experience. The entire staff as a whole is outstanding, and certainly can’t be overlooked.
Then there’s general manager Rick Spielman, the man calling the shots. He’s done a tremendous job of building this roster since taking his position in 2012, putting together one winning draft class after another. He makes smart free agency moves, finds capable talent in unlikely places, and even makes big trades to help this team succeed.
Much of the spotlight is shone on this talent-laden roster. However, we can’t give the players all of the credit. This coaching staff and the guy who put this team together play key roles in the Vikings past and future success. If Minnesota wants to be the first true Super Bowl home team, the coaching staff will be imperative in getting the job done.
I know. For some reason, the general sense is that Sam Bradford isn’t the guy to get the Vikings over the hump. I, however, am in the group that believes he didn’t get nearly the credit he deserved for his efforts in 2016.
Despite having arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL, Bradford still managed to put up impressive numbers. He stayed healthy, never seemed to lose confidence and kept the Minnesota offense afloat. If it wasn’t for a few untimely turnovers and the fact that he was taking hits seemingly ever snap, it might have been a different story for the Vikings.
I also know that several folks would love to have Teddy Bridgewater back. It’s a touching sentiment, but Bradford is more than capable of winning games for this team. Especially behind the Vikings’ improved front five, he should do an even better job in 2017 of taking advantage of his weapons and putting points on the board.
An improved running game will also help. With Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon all bringing their own unique flavor to the backfield, it won’t be nearly as easy for opponents to focus on slowing Bradford. That’ll give him more opportunities to make plays down the field to Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell (maybe?).
Last season, Bradford compiled a 99.3 passer rating (sixth in the NFL) with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. That was while taking the fourth-highest amount of sacks (37) and spending the entire second half of the season under pressure. Give him some better blocking in 2017, and Bradford will give this team a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl run.