Anybody who saw this coming should go to Vegas.
The Vikings, coming off a 3-13 campaign in 2011, have silenced critics by leaping to a 4-1 start and are tied for first place with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North.
The Vikings have risen from being ranked 30th before Week 1 to being ranked 8th in the latest ESPN NFL Power Rankings, jumping up six spots from the previous week.
The Vikings are very old school. The only true 'black-and-blue' team left in the Black and Blue division, the Vikings prefer to run the ball down defense's throats rather than line up five wide and air it out like their three divisional opponents.
But if you had arguably the best running back tandem in the NFL with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, you'd likely do the same. The Vikings are averaging 133 yards per game on the ground, which is ninth in the NFL.
The Vikings have a relatively balanced offensive attack (31.1 pass attempts/31.6 rushing attempts per game compared to 40.8 opponent passing attempts/24.6 opponent rushing attempts per game), and a huge reason they are 4-1 is the improved play of Christian Ponder. In his first five starts of 2011, Ponder completed 83 of 152 pass attempts (54.6%) for 1,042 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions for a QB rating of 72.9 and an overall record of 1-4.
In his first five starts of 2012, Ponder is 109 of 158 (69%) for 1,082 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions and a QB rating of 95.5 with an overall record of 4-1. Ponder didn't throw a pick his first 146 pass attempts of the season before he was picked off by Tennessee Titans safety Robert Johnson at the end of the second quarter in the Vikings 30-7 win.
Something that Vikings fans have envied about the Green Bay Packers is how deep they've been able to draft and how good those players have been for them. Now, with a full-time general manager in Rick Spielman, the Vikings have put together a couple of good drafts.
Starting last season, the Vikings selected Christian Ponder 12th overall as their franchise QB. Their second-round pick, TE Kyle Rudolph, has become Ponder's favorite target and has four touchdown receptions this year.
Sixth-round pick Mistral Raymond began the season as the starting safety before injuring his ankle in the win against the San Francisco 49ers. Brandon Fusco, also a sixth-round pick, is the starting right guard for the Vikings.
The Vikings' rookie class of 2012 has looked incredible, too. Kicker Blair Walsh has hit 12 of 13 field goals this season, including a 55-yarder to send the season opener against Jacksonville to overtime, where he also hit the game-winner. Left tackle Matt Kalil is already a top-five tackle in the NFL, and DBs Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson have drastically improved a Vikings defensive backfield that gave up 28 points per game and only intercepted seven passes.
In correlation with the great play from the defensive backs, the defensive core as a whole has upped their game, giving up only 15 points per game so far in 2012.
The Vikings still have a long way to go to be respected in the NFL. While the surprising return to relevance is welcomed by Vikings fans, they still have a tough schedule ahead that will show how far they really have progressed.
They face Robert Griffin III, pending his concussion test results, this Sunday. They also have the Chicago-Green Bay-Chicago portion of their schedule coming up at beginning of December, as well as the 5-0 Houston Texans on December 23.
Regardless, it is exciting to see how drastically the Vikings have improved from last season, already surpassing their win total from 2011.
With the increased experience of Christian Ponder, the development of young players and the coming-out party for the defense, look for the Minnesota Vikings to continue to improve as they make a run at the playoffs.
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