The recent rumor mill surrounding Brett Favre has him retiring from football this upcoming season. The Minnesota Vikings were considered primed to make a Super Bowl in 2010 with Favre at the helm, and now many are writing the Vikings off as an afterthought in the NFC without Favre at the helm.
Is this valid? Or are the Vikings still contenders in 2010 with Tarvaris Jackson as the starting quarterback?
Tarvaris Jackson actually showed a flash of his potential at the end of the 2008 season. How much of a flash? Here are his passing numbers through the final four games of the season:
3-1 record, 57/84 comp/att (64%), 740 yards, 8.3 YPA, 8 TD, 1 INT, 115.4 quarterback rating
That was before Brett Favre ever came to the Vikings. Now, Jackson has had a year under Favre to further learn the position from a guy who's been one of the best for a very long time, and should improve greatly.
Jackson also brings his running abilities to the table. His athleticism gives the Vikings' already dangerous running game yet another dimension.
Alright, despite all of the positives, Jackson can't carry a team by himself. That much is obvious. However, with the rest of the Vikings roster, he doesn't have to. In the four games that I referred to above, Jackson only averaged 21 passing attempts per game. If Brad Childress keeps him around that number of attempts per game, Jackson can be a solid contributor and let the rest of the team do its job.
The Vikings also have Adrian Peterson, who has established himself as one of the best running backs in the game. Peterson has a career average of 4.9 yards per carry and has run for over 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his three seasons in the league.
However, the Vikings lost a major contributor in third down running back Chester Taylor. Taylor was able to substitute in for Peterson and give the latter rest on passing downs.
The absence of Taylor means that rookie second round pick Toby Gerhart will be asked to be a contributor right away, because you don't want your star running back having to carry the ball 370+ times next season. The risk for injury would just be too high. Peterson also must learn to control his fumbling and avoid turnovers.
The Vikings' skill positions are rounded out with an excellent receiving corps. Visanthe Shiancoe had a solid year with both Jackson in 2008 and Favre in 2009. Sydney Rice finally was able to show that he was worth the second round selection last year by being one of the more dynamic deep threats in the NFL. We will see if he can carry over what he learned from Favre and continue to be a top flight receiver now that Favre is no longer there.
Percy Harvin gives Jackson an excellent safety valve underneath. His ability to catch short passes and get yards after the catch takes pressure off of Jackson to throw the deep passes. Harvin is also able to play running back effectively and run reverses, which gives the Vikings even more options offensively to confuse the opposing defenses.
To sum it up, the Vikings still have enough weapons to put points on the board. As long as they keep Jackson on a managable number of attempts and run the ball effectively, the offense can still work, albeit not anywhere near as well as in 2009.
The Vikings' defense is still a solid unit. They retain their entire front four with Ray Edwards, the Williams' Wall, and Jared Allen. This defensive line is one of, if not the best, defensive line in all of football. They are able to both put pressure on opposing quarterbacks (led the league in sacks in 2009) and effectively shut down the run (second in the league in rush defense in 2009).
Not to mention that the linebackers that the Vikings have are excellent as well. Chad Greenway had a breakout season and is one of the better young linebackers in the game. If healthy, EJ Henderson is also an excellent run defender, and the Vikings run defense was still great in his absence.
The Vikings' secondary might be a slight concern, as they gave up the sixth highest quarterback rating of any defense in the league. However, an elite defensive line can help the secondary in a huge way, and the Vikings definitely have that.
Even without Brett Favre on this team, the Vikings still have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot. Tarvaris Jackson has shown that he can be a good quarterback AS LONG AS he gets A LOT of help from his teammates, which the Vikings can provide.
Now, I don't think they will still be able to post a 12 or 13 win season, because asking Jackson to play like Brett Favre is simply unrealistic. However, they can get 9 to 11 wins and make it into the playoffs. From there, it has been shown time and time again that just about anything can happen.