Well it’s official, the 2011-12 season has been formally announced, and we now have every single mouth-watering game set in stone, ready to be placed under the microscope.
*Sigh of relief*
Obviously there are a slew of details that have to be taken into consideration:
1. What will happen in the NFL Draft?
2. Will Sidney Rice return?
3. Will the Vikings actually land Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb or another free agent quarterback?
4. Who will replace Bernard Berrian?
5. How much playing time will Toby Gerhart get this season?
So I am simply going to extend this slide as a giant leap of faith. Why not, right?
The Vikings will land McNabb, Rice will return to Minnesota, Berrian is as easy to replace as a light bulb and Gerhart will play in a slightly-extended version of what Chester Taylor used to do.
We’ll start off by analyzing the divisional matchups since six of the 16 games are concentrated there, and go from that point on. So sit back, take it all in and be sure to leave your predictions at the bottom.
Six games, three teams, half on the road and half at home.
The ‘Norris’ division matchups are some of the most memorable in all of football, and as of late, they have been the most intense out of any other division in the NFL.
Well that’s simply due to the parity level continuing to rise in the NFC North.
So how will the Vikings fare?
Vikings vs. Bears
Series Record: Vikings lead 52-45-2.
2011 Prediction: Vikings sweep Bears…again.
The Vikings have owned the last three out of four meetings against the Bears dating back to 2009, and with a veteran acquisition like McNabb and a full complement of veteran offensive weapons, the Vikings move ahead and make it five in a row against the Monsters of the Midway.
Vikings vs. Lions
Series Record: Vikings lead 66-31-2.
2011 Prediction: Vikings split series 1-1.
The Vikings are 6-2 against the Lions dating back to 2007, but this season, the Lions will show themselves to be a vastly-improved team across the board.
The Vikings will wind up having a host of problems with Calvin Johnson’s newly—and creatively—designed plays, but the Lions will have their hands full with Peterson and company as well.
Vikings vs. Packers
Series Record: Packers lead 47-51-1.
2011 Prediction: Packers sweep Vikings.
The problem here is the new "anti-West Coast" offense that will be deployed in Minny thanks to Mike Mularkey's teachings and Bill Musgrave's implementation of a new style.
"It will have its roots in language, I'm sure, from my history with coach (Mike) Shanahan and most recently from my experience with (Falcons offensive coordinator) Mike Mularkey. There will be some language that our guys will recognize off the bat, because it will have some West Coast roots, and it will have some formations and protections that are more along the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense, which we ran down here in Atlanta with Coach Mularkey." - Bill Musgrave, Offensive Coordinator.
Yes, the team is getting away from the WCO, and they will be implementing a more run-first oriented approach with additional double TE sets. It’s an interesting way of approaching the 2011 season, but in order to stick with the Packers, a team must be able to handle a shootout, and the Vikings are simply outmatched there.
Final Division Record: 3-3
Series Record: Tied at 5-5-0.
Prediction: Chargers win 27-10.
Terrible. The Vikings travel to the West Coast to square off against the pass-happy Chargers, which is just a horrible way to begin the season.
I believe the Vikings could still be in adjust mode with whatever new acquisitions they wind up with, and the secondary will still be very questionable.
Against a multi-weapon team such as San Diego, the Vikings will find out very quickly that they still have a lot of work to do and actually get off the hook, ending the game with only a 17-point deficit.
Series Record: Vikings lead 31-20-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 17-7.
The Vikings travel back home dejected and upset with their opening day road performance, coach Frazier gathers the troops and pulls them back into form in preparation for a visit from the work-in-progress Buccaneers.
The Bucs put up a good show in the early goings, making strides on nearly every drive, but the Vikings only bend, holding the Bucs to a single touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Vikings methodically chip away at the impressive—but youthful—Buccaneers defense and win their home-opener by 10.
Series Record: Vikings lead 11-10-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 27-10.
And the wheel keeps rolling.
The Cardinals come limping to the barn when they arrive in Minnesota with little to offer in regard to offense and defense, and the Vikings take full advantage of the Cardinals’ clipped wings.
With a very balanced attack and an oppressive defensive approach, the Vikings are able to control this game from the first quarter en route to a 27-10 victory.
And after their defeat of the Bears a week later, the Vikings are unexpectedly looking like the team to beat at 5-1.
Series Record: Vikings lead 5-4-0.
Prediction: Carolina wins 24-10.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Carolina Panthers is their linebackers and how they use them to their advantage.
In a general way of speaking—without going into a laboring explanation—the Panthers try to funnel most of their opponent’s traffic to their weak side linebackers.
The reason for this mention is that a run-first double TE approach never fares well against a defensive front such as this.
The Panthers should be able to contain the Vikings in the early goings and jump out to an early lead, which will make McNabb force his hand, and he'll wind up throwing a pair of picks.
This particular event should make the NFC picture very interesting after Week 8. The Vikings were riding high before their defeat at the hands of the Packers in Week 7, and the Panthers make matters worse by taking care of the surging Vikes.
Suddenly the "team to beat" is right back into the mix at 5-3 as they head into the bye.
Had to go with the old photo here.
Series Record: Oakland leads 4-8-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 31-13.
The losing streak that started with Green Bay continues with another defeat at the hands of the Packers in Week 10. But in Week 11, the Vikings redefine the term “bounce back.”
Not only will Minnesota be looking to get back on track, but McNabb will be looking to make some personal reparations against an Oakland team that beat him up pretty good when he was with the Eagles.
The Vikings stun the stout defense of the Raiders by keeping them off balance the entire game en route to a commanding 31-13 victory.
At 6-4, the Vikings are beginning to now think about the playoffs.
Series Record: Vikings lead 15-9-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 14-13.
The Falcons will undoubtedly enter the 2011 season with a giant chip on their shoulder after last year’s finish, making things terribly difficult on the Vikes in the early goings by trying to exploit the secondary with Roddy White and co.
But the Vikings have a way of adjusting, and NFL trends have a funny way of sticking.
Since 1996, these two teams have traded wins for losses every time they’ve met, and if the trend sticks— which I think it will—the Vikings are due their turn in the cycle.
The plot thickens at 7-4.
Series Record: Vikings lead 7-5-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 34-31 (OT).
The first real Vikings thriller of the year comes just at the right time when the Vikings try to steady their pace in the postseason hunt with a awe-inspiring matchup against the Broncos.
The Broncos, a team with a lot to prove themselves, roll into Minnesota with a bevy of weapons that begin to wreak havoc on the Vikings' secondary. Quarterback Kyle Orton and WR Brandon Lloyd exploit the holes deep early on and force the Vikings to stay away from their vaunted ground game that is just getting a head of steam to it.
But McNabb returns the favor by showing he's still got it by lighting up an even poorer secondary with three straight TD passes—one to Harvin, one to Rice and one to Shiancoe—en route to…wait a tie?
The game goes into overtime, and since the Vikings start off with a clean slate, they return to that ground game. It proves to be the difference-maker and sends the Broncos packing.
Series Record: 18-8-0.
Prediction: Saints win 28-17.
The three-game winning streak that elevated the Vikings to an impressive 8-4 stalls after a nail-biting defeat at the hands of the Lions in Week 14, and it doesn’t get any better when Drew Brees and company come to town.
While the defense has progressively been getting better, the Saints' full complement of weapons—both in the air and on the ground—prove to be too much, as the Vikings find trouble shutting down the playoff-bound Saints.
This game will quickly be forgotten in lieu of the next matchup on the block…
Series Record: Washington leads 7-8-0.
Prediction: Vikings win 27-13.
…McNabb versus his old team, part two.
Obviously this matchup gets the "most intriguing" award should McNabb actually wind up in the Twin Cities, so tentatively mark those calendars kids; this game takes place on Christmas Eve (I hope Santa has TiVo).
I’m looking for the Vikings to easily handle the Redskins' flat offensive attack and counter with a steady dose of, "let’s cram the ground game right down your throat" approach, as D.C. gets beat up by their former gunslinger and his new army of bandits.
Don’t be surprised if McNabb doesn’t take a few opportunistic shots downfield against his former mates. Ya know, just to sort of "set things straight."
After defeating the Bears in their season finale, the Vikings' roller coaster season finally comes to an end at a respectable 10-6.
But more importantly is what the team—and their fan base—learn from all this.
Since the infamous boating incident a few years back, this team has been the subject of more media headlines than even TMZ was able to keep up with.
Aside from the aforementioned debacle, the Vikings have had to deal with Brett Favre and his embarrassment of the franchise—not to mention himself, really— Brad Childress’ mismanagement of the team and a few years of very disappointing finishes.
But in 2011, the new regime establishes a connection with the players.
They earn back the trust of the fan base and collectively play as a different team; one that is on a mission, on a search—a quest, if you will—to reinvent themselves…and it works.
And with that, the Vikings quietly take their 10-6 record into…???
Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!!!
Well, that's the way I write it anyway...