The Minnesota Vikings took a huge, unexpected step up this season as they won seven more games than they did a year ago before losing in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Now they have to focus on taking the next step to try and contend for the Super Bowl.
Although they won 10 games, the Vikings were never considered serious contenders because they were average on both sides of the ball, finishing 14th in both points scored and allowed. They struggled both passing and defending the pass, as they ranked next-to-last in passing yards, 24th in passing yards allowed and 25th in opponents' passer rating.
They can't count on another 2,000-yard season from Adrian Peterson to carry them into the postseason. Peterson became the seventh player to run for 2,000 yards in a season when he ran for 199 against the Packers Week 17. However, none of the previous six even reached 1,500 yards the next season.
The seemingly easy fix for their offense is for the Vikings to get a new quarterback, but it isn't nearly as easy as it seems. The Vikings invested a first-round pick in Christian Ponder and he received the vote of confidence from Head Coach Leslie Frazier after the season ended.
Even if the Vikings wished to upgrade that position, they don't have a lot of options. It's a weak draft at that position and there aren't many top free agents. Still, the Vikings should do something at quarterback, since Ponder had his fair share of struggles and Joe Webb proved he is not an NFL-caliber quarterback in their playoff loss to the Packers.
The most interesting name for the Vikings is Matt Moore, an unrestricted free agent from the Dolphins. Moore was solid in 12 starts in 2011, finishing with 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 87.1. More important than the raw numbers, his style is what the Vikings need as he excels at throwing the ball down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore had an average passer rating of 89.3 on throws beyond 10 yards while Ponder's was just 50.25.
Grossman is no savior, but he has playoff experience, having led the 2006 Bears to the Super Bowl, and still has a strong arm. Although they'd have to deal with Grossman's poor decisions, it isn't as if Ponder has been steady. Even when Grossman is bad, he can throw the ball down the field.
Grossman struggled as Washington's starter in 2011, but he still had an average rating of 82 on throws beyond 10 yards, nearly 32 points better than Ponder had this year and he didn't have the advantage of having a player like Adrian Peterson in his backfield.
No matter who the Vikings quarterback is, they need better play from their receivers. Percy Harvin was their only receiver to play over 400 snaps and receive a positive grade from PFF. Assuming they keep him, a deep threat would help open up their offense even more and there they can steal from one of their rivals.
Greg Jennings is a free agent and acknowledged his time in Green Bay has likely come to an end. Jennings made his name as a deep threat and although his role has changed in Green Bay, he still has that ability and has always been good after the catch. Injuries have kept him under 1,000 yards the past two seasons, buy he has shown late this season that when he's healthy he can still make plays. He's only 29 years old, so he should have at least a few good season left.
The competition for Jennings will likely be stiff, but the Vikings have plenty of cap space and should make pairing Jennings with Percy Harvin a top priority. Should they miss out on Jennings, they should target a receiver with their first round draft pick.
If the Vikings are able to add depth at those two positions, they can then focus on improving their defense in the draft. The Vikings have the 23rd pick in the draft, where they should be able to get an impact player. They badly need a linebacker as all three starters graded out negatively on PFF. Should they decide not to go in that direction, no team ever has enough pass rushers and they're going to have to replace Antoine Winfield in their secondary eventually.
All in all, the outlook for the Vikings is much brighter than it was a year ago at this time. They're strong on both the offensive and defensive lines and have the best player in the NFL in Peterson. They're in a position where they just need to tweak their roster and, if they can add a few impact players, they could still be contenting for their first ring this time next year.