Ah...the start of a new NFL season—when all things are possible and any team can have aspirations to the championship.
The Vikings face a very tough challenge this season. As a team which is rebuilding and getting younger in a very tough division, beginning of the season or not, it's way too early to write them off.
Christian Ponder is playing well and looks confident behind a newly revamped offensive line. Adrian Peterson is getting healthier. The defense looks to have improved.
There's more to this team than people think.
In that vein here are five bold predictions about the Vikings for the coming season.
Let's start with an easy one, although I would get a debate from plenty of people I know on this. Since it may not seem bold that he is going to play all the games, I've tagged on some production.
Adrian Peterson is healthy and close to 100 percent. He's been ready to go mentally for weeks, and the Vikings sat on him because he is their most valuable offensive weapon (sorry, Mr. Harvin) and is vital to the team.
He may be eased into the first few games, but I fully expect him to be be a huge part of the game plan no later than Week 3.
Peterson is going to look like the old Peterson. I know we've talked about the difficulty of coming back from his injury and how it might be unprecedented for him to be as good as he was pre-injury, but everything we hear says he will be darn close to it.
When he takes the full load again, he will be running to prove everyone wrong. He will be running with attitude and determination matching what he had coming out of college.
Considering we all know the competitor he is on a weekly basis, you should see some excellent numbers even for him.
Everyone has written him off since he initially got hurt. Through every phase of the rehab he has been told "it won't work."
He's going to prove everyone wrong and then some.
You guys like to call him "The Mullet" or "The Hillbilly"—hold on, that was me.
Whatever anyone chooses to call him, there is one thing everyone has to recognize: He has just continued to play at a high level every year he's been in the league.
I still have no idea why Kansas City let him go.
As good as he is, Allen had never had more than 15 sacks until 2007 where he notched 15.5.
He reached that total again in 2011. Will he do the same in 2012?
Let's look at the facts here. First of all, he is playing in a division where every offensive line has at least one question mark. Green Bay is the high-water mark, but even they have Marshall Newhouse to contend with.
Detroit and Chicago though—they've got some real question marks protecting their quarterbacks. Aside from the division, you have to like his chances at multiple sack games against Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Arizona, Washington, Seattle, Tampa Bay and St Louis.
Allen looks poised for a great season in 2012.
Everything we heard from camp pointed to this. Ponder and Rudolph created some fantastic chemistry, and I've never really bought in on John Carlson taking too many touches away from Rudolph. As was evidenced during camp, Carlson is rarely healthy for a whole season.
On top of it, the team seemed to be thinking of using the tight ends to spread the defense out much like New England which will result in more targets.
Of course, with Jerome Simpson out for three games to start the season, there needs to be someone to step up opposite Percy Harvin anyway, and Rudolph is poised to be that guy.
As a big, athletic player who is a threat in the end zone, he also will get use with rookie Greg Childs out of the picture for 2012. Childs was a big guy who could use his size and vertical ability to overcome defenders—Rudolph has that same ability.
Finally, Rudolph has worked hard to overcome his issues holding onto the ball, and his drops will see a significant reduction.
All in all, he is in a perfect position to have a breakout year for the Vikings, which frankly, they will sorely need.
Here's a bold one, but I'm not just saying it to say it.
The team has made some major changes and there are still questions.
However, though there is a lot to prove for this unit, it's going to surprise people.
As I said a few slides ago, Jared Allen is poised to have another tremendous season. Add in what I expect to be high levels of production from Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Brian Robison and Audie Cole (you knew he would be here somewhere) and the front seven is very nice.
The tipping point for this defense—and this prediction—comes from the secondary. If this defense falls short of my prediction, it's going to be in large part because the secondary doesn't take a step forward like I expect.
Harrison Smith has a lot to live up to as the second first-round pick for the Vikings, and either Mistral Raymond or Jamarca Sanford need to take their play to the next level. Antoine Winfield needs to stay healthy, and Chris Cook will have to improve as well.
This is a group which has a tremendous amount of potential. They just have to prove it once and for all on the field.
If you pushed me, I'd say they beat the Bears and keep them home, but it's entirely possible they get the Packers instead if things fall right (or in the case of either Chicago or Green Bay, wrong).
However, they play both teams twice in the last six games. They get the Bears in Chicago and the Packers in Green Bay right after their Week 11 bye, then the Bears again after the Packers.
Who the heck made this schedule up? Satan?
Anyway, as tough as that stretch is, the games in Week 14 and against the Pack in Week 17 are at Minnesota where the team is very tough.
Even more so when it's possible that the team could be a spoiler and the fans are frothing at the mouth.
The Metrodome will be loud and raucous.
Most importantly, at the end of the season, one which will likely have the Vikings falling short of the playoffs, the best thing a team can do is build momentum.
What better way to head into 2013 than by destroying and shattering someone else's hopes and dreams?
A win then would be a huge boost into the next season.