NFC North: Minnesota Vikings' Much-Too-Early Preview
2011 record: 3-13
The Minnesota Vikings will go as far as their two superstars take them; Adrian Peterson literally carries the offense, and Jared Allen spends as much time in opposing backfields as he does on his legendary mullet.
After a sluggish 1-5 start, Minnesota was wise to pull the plug on its Donovan McNabb experience in favor of first-round pick Christian Ponder. While Ponder certainly had his share of struggles in 2011, the Vikings hope the game experience he endured as a rookie will play a vital role in his development moving forward.
In hopes of protecting Ponder's blind side long-term, Minnesota used the fourth overall pick in last month's draft on USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Kalil will immediately step into the starting lineup at left tackle, allowing Charlie Johnson to slide inside to guard
The Vikings figure to have an improved offensive line after the unit allowed 49 sacks a season ago.
Along with the improvement of quarterback Christian Ponder and the passing game, the 2012 outlook for Minnesota depends heavily on the health of running back Adrian Peterson. Following a torn ACL suffered last Christmas against Washington, Peterson claims he's ahead of schedule in his rehab and hopes to be ready to play in the team's season opener against Jacksonville.
Early 2012 prediction: 6-10 (Fourth - NFC North)
The Vikings' key players will return to the team in 2012; however, Minnesota's deficiencies in the passing game extended beyond the offense, as they were ranked 26th in the league defending the pass.
With Antoine Winfield in and out of the lineup, and Chris Cook in and out of jail, the Vikings struggled to put NFL-caliber cornerbacks on the field a season ago. While both Winfield and Cook figure to be everyday starters as long as they're available, Minnesota added Zack Bowman and Chris Carr in free agency and selected Josh Robinson in the third round of the draft in hopes of counteracting the NFC North's elite passing attacks.
On top of the subpar play of their cornerbacks, the Vikings struggled mightily at the safety position. By trading back into the first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings hope they've found a solution to the questions in the middle of their secondary.
Smith is a highly intelligent player and a former linebacker, so Minnesota hopes his size and athleticism make for valuable assets in counteracting the NFL's new breed of athletic tight ends.
Despite having what appears to be an effective offseason up to this point, the Vikings don't appear to be at the same level as division rivals Green Bay, Detroit or Chicago; however, as long as Adrian Peterson is the focal point of Minnesota's offense, the Vikings are certainly a threat to beat anyone in the division on a given Sunday.
While it may not currently be a serious contender to win what might be the best division in football, Minnesota's arrow appears to be pointed up.
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