It's been a long and tumultuous few seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. While various names came and went (i.e., Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb) at the quarterback position, the window where they had their shot at a championship closed as the team got older.
After a mess of a season in 2011, the Vikings look to reboot and rebuild. They acquired a ton of talent in the 2012 NFL Draft, are led by second year quarterback Christian Ponder and get superstar running back Adrian Peterson back, healthy and hopefully 100 percent.
It's not hard to be optimistic going into this season, but the fact is that this team is rebuilding. How much they have to do isn't quite clear—like my old 1968 Mustang, anytime you start to fix something, you notice eight other things are wrong.
Therefore how long it will take to fix is equally unclear. What is clear is that the team could face a few lean years as they get it together.
That's why the best measure of success for the coming season isn't wins—though that's always welcome.
No, there are other things to achieve which are more important than winning.
Yes, Vince Lombardi and Henry Russell Sanders just rolled over in their graves.
Christian Ponder must step forward
This could have been "Ponder must be a better quarterback," but it's not just about throwing the football, although that is a big portion of it.
The difference in the above heading is simple—Ponder must step it up across the board. Period. Not in just one area, but in all areas.
He needs to start turning into the field general this team is seeking.
He needs to become the leader in the huddle and in team meetings, and he needs to speak with confidence and force.
I'm not saying he did none of that last year, I'm sure he did. It's time to do more. If he did it 80 percent of the time, turn it up to 100 percent. If he had it dialed up to 10, take it to 11.
Even if the Vikings lost nine, ten, or eleven games, this season would be a successful one if on the other side, they had a competent quarterback who was their unquestioned leader. Not just an offensive leader, but a leader of the team.
Of course, he has pure football issues to deal with. Ponder needs to read his progressions better, make better decisions and trust his receivers and offensive line more.
They need him to do more if they are to move forward.
Offensive line must work better
Attached to the first part is a need to make sure Ponder gets hit less. The offensive line wasn't nearly as bad as some have made it out to be, but it wasn't nearly as good as some others think either.
Somewhere between awful and awesome is where the truth lies.
They have to open more holes for Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart as well, but ultimately it comes down to making sure their quarterback has time to throw and use the weapons they drafted and signed for him.
If the offensive line continues to improve—with Matt Kalil in the house, it should—and Ponder gets hit less, this season will be a positive.
This is not the part where I spoil portions of The Avengers (that said, stay through ALL the credits).
No, this is where I point out that there are some super critical games on their schedule which could make things very interesting down the stretch.
I've talked about this a few times (that is to say, a billion times) before, but it bears repeating: The Vikings have a chance of being a huge factor at the end of this season with those three games.
If they lose a ton, they can still get some momentum as well as hurt at least one rival if they win one or two of those games.
Especially the Green Bay game, where not only the division title but home-field advantage and a first-round bye could be up for grabs.
If the Vikings can send the Pack or Bears (or Lions for that matter) home for the playoffs, or otherwise be a wrench in the gears, that would be a tone-setting moment for 2013.
Peterson gets healthy
It's a no-brainer to say, "hey, the Vikings hope AP is okay and as good as before," but let's think about how critical this really is.
Peterson is the biggest offensive weapon they have. Yes, Percy Harvin is vital, as is Ponder, but Peterson is really the biggest threat to do damage on any down and any carry.
Tearing both his MCL and ACL is bad. Many backs don't come back from that sort of thing at all, much less at 100 percent.
Peterson is reportedly rehabbing very well so he could be the exception to the rule, and let's face it—Peterson at 75 percent is better than 75 percent of the running backs in the league (possibly closer to 90 percent if I'm not trying to be clever).
Toby Gerhart is a fair replacement but he's not Peterson. Defenses will never respect him the way they have to with Peterson.
Having AP in there will keep the defense back on it's heels to contain, gaining Ponder critical moments to throw and the receivers (some of who will be very young) some room to work.
These are things that are much harder to come by when it's just Christian Ponder.
Teams fear Peterson and the Vikings need him at 100 percent to instill that fear, not just for this year but beyond.
Finding out he is healthy and whole would make this a very good season.
The Vikings get a new home
Even if Monday's vote passes, there will be other hurdles to clear to get the Vikings a new home and keep them in Minnesota.
The Vikings could surprise us all and make a run at the Super Bowl, and short of a win there, it would all be bittersweet if they are relocated.
Jared Allen was out stumping for new digs and there are plenty of people who want to see a new stadium.
As of now, it's still in the midst of a political brawl as much as anything else. Even if the vote passes, who's to say when the wrangling will end.
So while 10 wins on the field would be great, one win in the State Legislature would be better.