10 Reasons 2012 Hasn't Been a Complete Loss for the Minnesota Vikings
Before you rip me for calling this a lost season, I acknowledge it. At this juncture it's far from a lost season.
The Vikings (8-6) are in the heat of a postseason push, a push that actually has them in if the playoffs began today.
This is an article whose focus is on the positives and things that went right this season (10 to be exact), postseason berth be damned.
Regardless of the outcome, this season wasn't a lost one.
Adrian Peterson Has Solidified Himself as the No. 1 Back in the NFL
Wow. Wow. And wow.
He's been the best running back in the league this season and maybe the league's best player.
The sixth-year back has already set a career rushing mark and is on his way to breaking the NFL's single-season mark by Eric Dickerson (2,105 yards). Peterson has 1,812 yards with two to go. He must average 146.5 yards per game to tie the mark.
Entering this season NFL executives, medical experts, NFL players, media members and fans were worried about how the Vikings star would return coming off of ACL and MCL surgery. Many athletes come back changed for the worse after a serious injury like that.
Instead of coming back damaged, Peterson has come back stronger than ever. And, at 27 years old (he'll turn 28 in March), he should have two to three more years at the top of his game (maybe more).
Percy Harvin Has Proven Himself a Playmaker
Percy Harvin had shown glimpses. He had teased Vikings fans with plays here and there. Brett Favre helped him look very good in 2009.
It was tough pickings in 2010 and 2011 with Donovan McNabb, Joe Webb and rookie Christian Ponder throwing him very few bones.
But in 2012, even with a limited Ponder, Harvin demonstrated that he has the playmaking capabilities of a true No. 1 receiver. Minnesota doesn't use him like a traditional No. 1, but it targets him like a No. 1.
Harvin has missed the past five games with an ankle injury and will miss the final two because of that same left ankle.
Despite missing the final seven games, Harvin leading Minnesota in receptions and receiving yards is possible. With two games to go, he still leads the team in those two categories (62 receptions, 677 yards). Kyle Rudolph is closest in both categories (48 receptions, 434 yards).
Unless Harvin throws a fit this offseason and demands more than Minnesota is willing to give him, the Vikings will have two of the game's best offensive players (Harvin and Peterson) lining up on that side of the ball for opening day 2013.
Kyle Rudolph Has Proven Himself as a Receiver Too
While Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson have been the guys the national media have talked about, it's important not to overlook the growth of Kyle Rudolph this season.
With two games to go he's surpassed his totals from his rookie campaign (26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns). He has 48 receptions for 434 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
Rudolph has proven himself an assassin in the red zone and is Christian Ponder's favorite target inside of the 20-yard line. At 6'6" and 258 pounds with 10 3/4 inch hands, he has the frame to only get better in that part of the field as he learns to use his body better (and as his quarterback improves).
His skills as a blocker are still underwhelming, but that's not why Minnesota used its second-round pick in 2011 on him. It selected the Notre Dame product to become a deadly receiving threat from the tight end position. And he's on pace to meet Minnesota's expectations.
One Safety Spot Is Filled
Safety play was A-W-F-U-L during the 2011 campaign. If the duo wasn't the worst in the NFL it was in the top five.
Because of the putrid display in 2011 that led to the 28th-best pass defense, Minnesota traded back into the first round of the 2012 draft to snag Harrison Smith.
The Notre Dame safety is playing like one of the league's best safeties this season and should earn a Pro Bowl nod when the season is through. He has 91 tackles and three interceptions. Of those three picks Smith has taken two to the end zone.
Smith has good hands and doesn't make many silly mistakes in Minnesota's Cover-2.
In addition to being an active safety, he plays the game at a physical level not seen from any Minnesota safeties since Robert Griffith left (Griffith hasn't worn Purple and Gold since 2000).
He's only a rookie folks. Enjoy.
The Blind Side Is Protected for the Near Future
Minnesota's other first-round pick has been playing on a level similar to Harrison Smith.
Matt Kalil has solidified Minnesota's blindside for at least the next 10 years, should he choose to stay in Minnesota and remains healthy.
Kalil is quick enough in pass protection to go toe-to-toe with the game's best defensive ends, which he proved in training camp by infuriating Jared Allen, and has enough power to move defenders out of the way for Adrian Peterson.
He could be better in the run, but you don't want to get too greedy with a rookie. What he lacks in power in the run he makes up for in speed and the ability to get downfield and make blocks.
The Pass Defense Has Improved Drastically
Harrison Smith has been an important piece to solving the puzzle of Minnesota's secondary. But he is far from the only one.
The return of Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook (for however temporary) and the additions of Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson have gone a long way to fixing this unit's problems.
Statistics don't show a massive improvement in performance as the Vikings allowed the seventh most in 2011 (251.2 yards per game), and they allow the 11th most (244.4 yards per game) in 2012. But the improvement is evident.
More changes need to be made, but the unit has taken steps in the right direction. An addition or two more, combined with the growth of Robinson, will help the unit take another big step forward.
Minnesota Sees Its Gaps to Fill for 2013
As is the case with every NFL season, the Vikings should be well aware of where they need to improve in 2013.
There are some positions where massive changes must be made (wide receiver, left guard) and other positions where some change is needed (middle linebacker, safety).
The quarterback position needs to improve DRASTICALLY for Minnesota to be considered a serious contender in 2013, but Minnesota is unlikely to do anything too drastic to alter the position next season with Christian Ponder expected back as the starter for the 2013 season.
But at left guard, wide receiver, safety and middle linebacker Minnesota should seek additional personnel as the players filling those positions cannot be trusted (we're talking the safety opposite of Harrison Smith here).
Minnesota took its chances with Jasper Brinkley, Mistral Raymond/Jamarca Sanford, Jerome Simpson/Michael Jenkins/Devin Aromashodu and Charlie Johnson. But those players have shown they don't deserve to be starters on a contending team.
The Vikings may not take my advice and discard or bench all those players, but I guarantee that not every player in that group will be back for 2013.
Shown the Ability to Win in Different Ways
One of the more notable parts of the 2011 season was the way in which Minnesota lost its first three games. It possessed double-digit leads in each of those affairs at halftime only to see that lead evaporate in the second half and end in defeat.
In 2012 Minnesota not only held on to many of its halftime leads, but it demonstrated the ability to comeback. Christian Ponder orchestrated game-winning and game-tying drives in the final two minutes of play against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 and Week 2, respectively.
Minnesota has won its last two games on the back of Adrian Peterson and the rushing attack. Ponder and the defense earned Minnesota its Week 4 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Week 3 in Detroit highlighted special teams as Minnesota returned a punt and a kickoff for six points.
Vikings fans would like to see an improved passing game, but the result is all that matters at the end of the day, especially with two games to go in this season.
Proven They Can Compete in the "New" NFC North
The NFC North was arguably the NFL's toughest division when play began in 2012.
With Detroit and Green Bay coming off playoff appearances in 2012 and much of the same personnel back and Chicago a Jay Cutler and Matt Forte injury away from a serious playoff push, Minnesota appeared to be destined for cellar dwelling.
With adversity staring them in the face, the Vikings have proven everyone wrong about their standing within the division. Minnesota is 3-2 against division foes entering its Week 17 showdown with the Packers.
Minnesota defeated Detroit twice and Chicago at home. It played Green Bay very tough at Lambeau Field and got destroyed at Soldier Field in Chicago.
I expected Minnesota to go 1-5 against division foes before 2012 began. Instead, Minnesota is in position to finish .500 and may finish with a .667 win percentage when it's all said and done.
Regardless of the final record, what's been impressive has been the manner in which Minnesota has played its division foes. Outside of the Chicago debacle, Minnesota has either won or played tough in its divisional games.
If the Vikings develop any sort of passing attack in the future, then the franchise has a good chance to be very competitive in this tough division for the next few years with Adrian Peterson still at the top of his game.
Competed for a Postseason Spot
As mentioned on the opening slide, this isn't a lost season yet.
Minnesota is in the playoffs as of today and once the playoffs begin it all comes down to who is the hottest team.
The expectations for Minnesota were very low by most people's standards. A season with between four and six wins was the general expectation.
The Vikings will be in the playoff hunt through the season's final week, which is more than most could have hoped for prior to 2012.
Leslie Frazier has shown the ability to coach a postseason contender, which bodes well for 2013 with a young roster returning.