With OTAs just one week away, the upcoming 2013 NFL season is laced with all sorts of questions for our beloved Minnesota Vikings. In a league that is notorious for teams turning things around in a hurry, the Vikings sit on the edge of a grueling NFC North division, looking to improve on their prior year's success.
Last season, the purple-and-gold machine finished a surprising 10-6, earning themselves a Week 17 rematch with division foe the Green Bay Packers during Wild Card Weekend. Thanks to an injury to starting quarterback Christian Ponder and the dismal play of backup signal-caller Joe Webb, the Vikings' season came to an abrupt ending on a chilly night in Lambeau.
Now, on the heels of a great draft this past April and some key roster additions, the Vikings are poised to break through once again and make a deep playoff run.
Here are five reasons why the Minnesota Vikings will make the playoffs next season.
Coming off a gut-wrenching knee injury, Peterson helped the Vikings' offense tremendously with his near record-setting season.
Churning out a staggering 2,097 yards on 348 attempts, Peterson fell just eight yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's 1984 single-season rushing record. With a healthier knee, Vikings' fans have to love the prospect of having their workhorse franchise tailback giving it his all each and every Sunday.
While the offense as a whole should see an increase in production thanks to the growth of Christian Ponder and the additions of Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, the heart and soul of what the Vikings want to do with the ball in their hands will always revolve around Peterson.
A nearly unstoppable player, a healthy AP gives the Vikings a leg up on everyone else in the division when it comes to the ground attack.
With Antoine Winfield leaving for the Seattle Seahawks, the Vikings knew right away that they had to improve their secondary if they had any hopes of getting back into the playoff picture next season.
Using the draft as their weapon of choice, the Vikes added arguably the best corner on the board in former Florida State product Xavier Rhodes. During rookie minicamp, Rhodes impressed everyone in attendance and left Vikings fans thrilled at the prospect of having this young man line up across from opposing wide receivers for a long time to come.
Outside of Rhodes, the Vikings already boast a pretty talented young crop of defensive backs. From a future Pro Bowl safety named Harrison Smith to a physical cover corner like Chris Cook, the Vikings' secondary has continued to improve over the last few seasons.
If Rhodes can come in and make an impact from Day 1, the Vikings' chances of making the playoffs should skyrocket.
The most talked-about player on the Vikings' roster has to be starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Over the course of this offseason, it's been well documented that this is a make-or-break year for the third-year QB out of Florida State.
The criticisms of Ponder stem from an improving roster surrounding him and the fact that a lot of Vikings' fans are still bitter the team "reached" for him in the 2011 draft. While Ponder has shown flashes of being a quality starting NFL quarterback with good mobility and a strong arm, his inconsistencies have led a lot of the purple-and-gold faithful to abandon ship.
No matter what happens to Ponder this year, for the first time in his career he will be faced with a ton of pressure to perform.
And in my humble opinion, increased pressure brings out the true character of an athlete.
If this young man can rise to the occasion and help guide this franchise to another playoff run, then without a doubt he will deserve the respect of Vikings' nation. But, if he fails or drags his feet at all, Ponder's time should be brought an abrupt end.
This roster, while young, is too talented not to have a QB who can guide them. When you have a star like Adrian Peterson shattering tackles in your backfield and you bring in a gifted, veteran receiver like Greg Jennings to serve as a safety blanket, well, it's time for your leader to step up.
That's why with Kyle Rudolph, Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings at his disposal, you'd have to believe that Christian Ponder will break through the clutter and help guide this team back into playoffs.
The teams who find success in the NFL are usually ones that have the luxury of adding premium playmakers to their rosters.
One thing general manager Rick Spielman deserves a ton of credit for is adding these types of players. From recent draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson to the signing of former Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings, the Vikings have added some serious weapons to an already impressive roster.
After losing Percy Harvin, arguably the most dynamic player in all of football, the Vikings went out and added integral pieces to improve their roster and make sure the sting of Harvin leaving would have a minimal effect.
While this will serve as a make-or-break year for Vikings' signal-caller Christian Ponder, the team has done everything in its power to give this offense a potent injection of Mad Men-like speed and energy. Outside of the additions of Jennings and Patterson, slot receiver Jarius Wright will have a real chance to help fill part of the massive void Harvin left behind.
All in all, you have to love having these guys on your roster if you're a Vikings supporter and hate it if you root for any of the other NFC North teams.
Sure, next year's schedule is loaded with tough games, but looking at it, you have to believe that this team has a real shot to start next season off on a high note and continue that trend for the remainder of the year.
From their season opener on the road at Detroit to their back-to-back home games against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers (the game will be played in London, but is considered a Vikings' home game), this year's schedule lays out nicely for the purple-and-gold bandits.
In a league where the competition is always feverish and franchises can turn around their luck in a blink of an eye, no win is ever guaranteed. But if we are judging every NFC North team side by side, strictly on talent, coaching and schedule, the Vikings should be able to secure themselves another playoff spot next season.
It's going to be another intense year for Vikings fans, but honestly, we're Vikings fans. We wouldn't have it any other way!