Minnesota Vikings: Realistic 2015 Predictions for Every Major Stat Category
So how are the Minnesota Vikings going to do in 2015?
Minnesota lost one less game during head coach Mike Zimmer's first season than they did under their last season under former coach Leslie Frazier.
The Vikings finished 7-9 last season and most prognostications for the 2015 season probably won't have them winning much more than that. The guess is that most predictions will be between seven and nine wins.
Hopes are a little bit higher than that in Minnesota, though. Vikings fans are optimistic for a playoff run next season, and there are plenty of reasons for them to be bullish heading toward the 2015 season.
Zimmer was very impressive during his first year in charge. He's a no-nonsense guy who's all about football. He says what's on his mind and seems to have an ability to block anything out that doesn't directly affect his football team. With the Adrian Peterson situation overriding nearly everything else involving the team in 2014, Zimmer proved he can block out the white noise and keep his concentration on football.
Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater didn't put up spectacular numbers last year. Still, he showed plenty of moxie and poise after taking over an offense that was stuck in neutral after losing Peterson for the season and playing behind an offensive line that was having a poor season and a below average group of receivers.
While Minnesota's record might not have been a lot better in 2014, the defense certainly was. Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr added the size and speed that were missing at linebacker, and Everson Griffen proved he was worth all the money the Vikings signed him for.
Minnesota's defense improved from 31st in the league to 14th in the their first year under Zimmer.
So, what should we expect in 2015? Here's a look at how the Vikings might fare in every major stat category.
Bridgewater received almost universal praise following his rookie season. As we said previously, the 22-year-old played with the calm demeanor of a 10-year veteran for most of the season.
He'll have to be better in 2015.
With a year under his belt and a better offense around him, that should be no problem for Bridgewater, who completed 71.7 percent of his passes over the season's final five weeks.
Any offense that loses its best player and is forced to start using a rookie quarterback in the third week of the season is going to struggle, and the Vikings certainly did.
Minnesota finished with just 5,048 yards of total offense, an average of 315.5 yards a game. That placed them 27th in the league, almost 96 yards a game behind the New Orleans Saints, who led the league with 411.4 yards per game.
Here's how the Vikings offense matched up against their rivals in the NFC North:
|Team||NFL Rank||Yards||Per Game|
|Green Bay Packers||6th||6,178||386.1|
All Stats courtesy of Profootballreference.com.
It's pretty easy to assume Minnesota will see a substantial improvement on these numbers in 2015. Bridgewater's maturation, the return of Peterson, the arrival of Mike Wallace and the improved play of several other players will make that inevitable.
2015 Prediction for Total Yards: 5,800, 362.5 per game
2014 was a lost season for Peterson.
He played in the first game of the season before his year was derailed after being indicted in Texas on charges of being reckless or negligent injury to a child.
He spent the rest of the season on the exempt list and was suspended by the NFL until April 15.
The offseason has been full of more questions than answers as Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, did everything but beg for a trade, but the Vikings never wavered and are expecting him to be on the team come training camp.
For most Vikings fans, it will be nice to see No. 28 in the backfield once again.
Minnesota's rushing attack wasn't abysmal without Peterson, but it certainly lacked the explosiveness that he brings. The Vikings went with a two-pronged attack, using Matt Asiata and rookie Jerick McKinnon.
Asiata was mostly plodding, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, picking up 570 yards on 164 carries. McKinnon was more productive, averaging 4.8 yards a rush in gaining 538 yards on 113 attempts.
Overall, Minnesota picked up 1,804 yards on the ground, good for 112.8 yards a game and the 14th highest total in the league. That was still a pretty big drop, though—with Peterson running, the Vikings averaged 130.1 yards per game and 164.6 yards per game in the two previous years.
The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL by a wide margin in 2014, averaging 172.6 yards per game. It certainly helps your yards per game average when your quarterback rushes for 849 yards on the season.
At this point, there's no reason to think that Peterson will not be in the mix in 2015, and if that's the case, expect the Vikings to be right back near the top of the league in rushing yards.
2015 Prediction for Rushing Yards: 2,200, 137.5 yards per game
Peterson: 1,400 yards, 5.0 per carry
OK Vikings fans, you may want to avert your eyes from this slide. Suffice to say, Minnesota is a long ways away from the Randy Moss era.
Aside from Brett Favre's one season of brilliance (2009, 4,156 yards, ranked ninth in the league), it's been a terrible past decade for the Vikings passing game:
|Year||Passing Yards||NFL Rank|
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com
The Christian Ponder era was an abject failure in Minnesota, but it's over, and the team has moved on with Bridgewater. One could argue that a team with Peterson on its roster is bound to skew toward the lower end of the league in passing yards. At the same time, having Peterson should, in theory, open up the passing game, as well.
Argue it however you'd like, but the table above doesn't allow for a lot of wiggle room. The Vikings aren't a good passing team and haven't been for quite some time.
Poor quarterbacking? Poor receivers? A weak offensive line?
There's never just one answer, but for the Vikings teams over the last decade, it's been all of the above. Favre illustrated how valuable a great quarterback can be as he dropped in during the middle of this stretch of incompetency and quarterbacked Minnesota to the NFC Championship game.
Minnesota hasn't developed its own franchise-type quarterback since Daunte Culpepper, and the table above is pretty much a direct reflection of that. Ponder was a whiffed attempt at drafting one and other than the one phenomenal season from Favre, none of the placeholder bandages the Vikings have trotted out have worked well either.
Minnesota now heads toward year No. 2 of the Bridgewater era, and there is every reason to be optimistic. You can go over his rookie season with a fine-tooth comb and crunch the numbers all you want, but the bottom line is that Bridgewater passed the eyeball test.
He usually didn't have a ton of pocket time and his receiving corps were below average, but he did just fine anyway. The passing numbers didn't end up being great, but the one that stood out at the end of the season was his 64.4 completion percentage. More importantly, as we wrote in the first slide, it was 71.7 percent over the last five games.
He was good, and he was getting better.
Look for 2015 to be the season when the Vikings move into the upper half of the league in passing yards. It's been too long.
2015 Prediction for Passing Yards: 3,750
When an NFL team doesn't re-sign its leading receiver from the year before and nobody seems to mind, you probably didn't have a very good receiving group.
Veteran Greg Jennings led the way for the Vikings wideouts in 2014, but his 742 receiving yards only ranked him 58th in the NFL.
Jennings clearly didn't have enough left in the gas tank to take on the No. 1 receiver role the Vikings hoped he could take on when they signed him in March 2013.
As disappointing as Jennings was for Minnesota, second-year man Cordarrelle Patterson was perhaps the biggest disappointment on the roster in 2014. After a successful rookie season that saw Patterson score nine touchdowns in both an electric and eclectic fashion, he fell to Earth with a thud last season.
Patterson spent most of 2014 in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's dog house after seemingly being unable to figure out how to correctly run pass patterns. If you would have told any Vikings fan last August that Patterson would finish the season with just 384 receiving yards, they never would have believed you.
Patterson's reclamation in 2015 is perhaps the most important ingredient to an improved passing game for Minnesota. He was a first-round draft pick in 2013, and the Vikings' immediate success depends on Patterson cashing in on his multitude of talents.
Here are the receiving numbers for 2014—they aren't very pretty:
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
Jennings was replaced with deep threat Wallace, who was a disappointment himself with the Miami Dolphins, but whose 862 yards and 10 touchdowns would have easily led the Vikings.
The return of a healthy Kyle Rudolph also should provide a big boost to Minnesota's receiving totals. We're probably erring a bit on the optimistic side as far as the distribution of catches goes here, but there's certainly no doubt the Vikings numbers will increase over 2014.
Now, we're spreading the wealth pretty evenly in those projections, and truth be told, the Vikings would probably like to see Patterson's numbers be a lot bigger than that if he has any hopes of becoming a legitimate No. 1 receiver.
Likewise, a return to form for Rudolph might mean catching more than five touchdown passes, but for now, we'll set the bar on the low side for him and hope he proves us wrong.
The Vikings scored 35 touchdowns in 2014, which ranked them 21st in the NFL.
For some perspective, the Denver Broncos and Packers tied for the NFL with 58. Minnesota scored 45 touchdowns in 2013, so scoring a lot more doesn't necessarily mean your team is going to be a lot better.
Minnesota scored 39 touchdowns in both 2011 and 2012. The 2009 team under Favre scored 56 touchdowns. The legendary 1998 Randy Moss led team scored 64.
The bottom line is is pretty simple: If you score a ton of touchdowns, the odds that you'll be a good team go up exponentially. Just one playoff team in 2014, the Arizona Cardinals, scored less touchdowns than Minnesota, coming in with just 32 scores.
The good news for Minnesota is that with Peterson (more than likely) returning, Rudolph being healthy again, Bridgewater having a season under his belt and Wallace giving the offense a legitimate deep threat, it's almost impossible to see a scenario where the Vikings don't score more touchdowns in 2015.
The Vikings defense did their part last season, scoring six touchdowns, tied for the second most in the league. You can't expect a repeat performance of that number, but the offense should more than make up for the difference.
2014 Touchdowns: 12 rushing, 17 receiving, 0 returns, 6 defense—35 Total
2015 Prediction: 18 rushing, 25 receiving, 1 return, 3 defense—47 Total
The Vikings finished the 2014 season tied for ninth in the NFL with 41 sacks. It was the exact same number they had in 2013. The lesson there might be that sacks are overrated, considering how much better the Minnesota defense was last season.
Of the 15 teams in the league that recorded 40 or more sacks last season, just six of them made the playoffs.
The Cincinnati Bengals, the team the Vikings plucked Zimmer away from, dropped from 10th in the league in sacks in 2013 to dead last in 2014.
So what does that all mean? Are sacks not important?
Well, they're probably not quite as important as most fans think they are. The Patriots tied for 13th in sacks, and the Seahawks came in 20th. Pressuring the quarterback and disrupting the passing game are far more important than sack numbers.
The Vikings were better on both fronts in Zimmer's first season, even if they did record the exact same number of sacks.
Minnesota's defense should be better in 2015. The core of the unit—Harrison Smith, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes and Barr—all have another year of experience under their belts. Eric Kendricks should be an immediate impact player at middle linebacker.
Will it add up to more sacks? We'll say a few, but we also will say that the sack number doesn't really matter that much.
2014 Sack Total: 41
Griffen: 12, Johnson: 6.5, Brian Robison: 4.5, Sharrif Floyd: 4.5 and Barr: 4
2015 Prediction Total: 47
Griffen: 13, Barr: 8, Floyd: 5, Robison: 5 and Johnson: 5
The Vikings had just 13 interceptions in 2014, which ranked tied for 18th in the league. It was still their highest total of picks since 2010, when they had 15.
Look for that number to go up in 2015.
Rhodes still only has one career interception, but his 18 passes defensed were among the league leaders, and it's only a matter of time before he starts hanging on to a few of those defensed balls.
Smith led the team with five interceptions last season and has 10 in his career. Smith has developed into one of the best safeties in the league and is now almost as equally good against the pass as he is against the run.
First-round draft pick Trae Waynes won't be handed a starting job in training camp, but look for him to earn it outright. Waynes has the speed, athletic ability and length to be an impact corner and will help solidify the Vikings pass defense.
2014 Interceptions: 13
2015 Prediction: 17
Smith: 4, Rhodes: 4, Barr: 3 and Waynes: 3