2012 Record: 10-6

Point Differential: +31        

Turnover Margin: -1                      

Sack Differential: +12 


2012 Ranks

Rushing YPC: 1st    

Passer Rating: 23rd           

3rd Down: 20th        

Scoring: 17th

QB: The last time the Minnesota Vikings have entered a season with the same starting quarterback for the third consecutive year, Hurricane Katrina had just rocked New Orleans, the XBOX 360 was not yet available for retail, 50 Cent’s music was still popular and Daunte Culpepper wore the purple and gold. Since the day Culpepper went down clutching his knee in Carolina, the position has been a long-term uncertainty for the Vikings. Brett Favre provided only temporary relief to the Vikings' long awaited permanent answer at quarterback.

Head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman back Christian Ponder as their long-term answer at quarterback. It’s a fair assumption that this is a make-or-break season for the wiry passer though. Even Ponder’s most adamant detractors must admit he has a few positive traits to build on. His athleticism is certainly what gives him a semblance of starting quarterback ability.  Almost every other aspect of his play needs to be raised. He’s simply far too erratic and inconsistent at this stage in his development. Ponder completed 62 percent of his passes in 2012, which seems like a passable statistic.

When one delves a bit deeper, Ponder had the highest expected adjusted completion percentage at Pro Football Focus. This means that due to the relative lack of difficulty in the throws he made, he was expected to make the highest percentage of them. Related to that is the fact that Ponder had the lowest average depth of target in the league, due to the reliance on screens to Percy Harvin and other shallow routes. His completion percentage on the deep ball was a paltry 25 percent. The statistics back up what Ponder shows on tape, that he struggles to find consistency in the simple throws and doesn’t have a variety of ways to beat defenses through the air.

It is difficult to pinpoint clear areas of improvement in Ponder’s game since he was drafted 12th overall in 2011. He stills struggles to make accurate throws when his feet aren’t set, struggles to work through multiple reads, and has a penchant for leaving clean pockets. His total command of the offense just isn’t where it needs to be with 26 career starts. 

The direction the offense may head in 2013 to maximize the efficiency of what the coaching staff must admit internally is a limited quarterback remains to be seen. Speculation abounds that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave may install some pistol sets to use on occasion.  The base of the offense won’t change, but situational variations could make a difference. This not-so-new formation, which seems to be the craze of the league now, could give the Vikings the best of both under center and shotgun. The short snap would quicken Ponder’s drops and allow him to settle in the pocket more quickly. The formation would also allow for the Vikings to run a majority of the same concepts in the running game out of I-formation and its variations. By all means, the read-option could even be utilized on occasion if it was properly installed and polished through repetition. Ponder certainly has the athleticism and footwork to do these things. 

With raised expectations in 2013, a rough patch of games could see Ponder removed in favor of the wily veteran Matt Cassel. Doing so would be an admittance of defeat on the part of Frazier and Spielman, immediately raising the likelihood that the Vikings will be looking for a new quarterback after the season. Cassel cannot be the answer any longer than the next 16 games. He may just be the best chance to win in the short-term though. Cassel is an experienced quarterback of eight NFL seasons. The Chiefs' experiment didn’t pay off for either party as Cassel struggled to stay healthy at times and was simply asked to do too much by a team who expected more from him than he was capable. That isn’t to say he couldn’t command a Peterson-led Vikings offense in a better way than Ponder.  

RB: It is no secret that Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. He carried the Vikings' offense down the stretch last season, averaging 6.8 yards per carry over his last 10 games. What is even more impressive is the production Peterson put up after contact. He totaled 1,438 rushing yards after first contact, which alone would have made him the sixth leading rusher in the league. His explosive play ability was a major spark of the offense. All Day finished off runs of 20 or more yards on 27 occasions. The back with the nearest amount of explosive runs was C.J. Spiller with 12.  Peterson also moved the chains more than any other back in the league last season, showing the huge reliance the Vikings offense has on him. 

The scary part is that nobody really knows that he’s due to take a step back in 2013.  While his near record-breaking production a year ago may have been circumstantial, it’s hard to argue that Peterson is any less of a back today than he was. In fact, he’s back to full health and had a full offseason to digest the fact that he was nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s record. That should terrify opposing defensive coordinators.

The growth of Peterson from his rookie season to this point should not be understated. His vision has developed to the point where he can pick out a seam and cut to it on a dime. He’s no longer bouncing runs to the outside necessarily, where he’s always been an easier task for tacklers. Instead, he’s showing patience to let holes develop in front of him and explodes through them when they do.  While he’s still prone to the occasional fumble, the overall concern has been mitigated. His development in passing situations is notable as well. He’s no longer a liability as a pass blocker and is no longer a fish out of water trying to catch passes checked down to him. Now that he can be kept on the field for all three downs, defenses can never truly take their eyes off him.

While Toby Gerhart is a serviceable backup in the way that he could step in as a lead back if Peterson were to go down, his lack of situational ability makes him less valuable to the Vikings. He’s the type of back who’s at his best with 15 or more carries in a game. He’s not the type to enter the game in specific situations and thrive. The Vikings used a second round pick on a back who has played a very small role during his time with the organization. Gerhart will be a free agent after the 2013 season and is likely to look for greener pastures. If a team views him as favorably as the Bengals did BenJarvus Green-Ellis, he may even get a lion’s share of carries somewhere else.

The cupboard is essentially bare after that, with guys like Bradley Randle, Joe Banyard and Matt Asiata vying for a place on the team. Matt Asiata played a minor role a season ago and has the kind of versatility that team’s look for in a third back. Zach Line has also put his name up in lights during the preseason. 

Despite Peterson’s assertion that he would rather run out of single back sets than have a fullback in front of him, his most productive seasons have come with a featured lead blocker. The Vikings signing of Jerome Felton last summer didn’t register on anyone’s football seismograph but turned out to be a bargain. Some of Peterson’s most explosive gains were sparked by a key Jerome Felton block at the second level. His ability to square up linebackers, get underneath their pads, and create movement is vital to the Vikings’ success out of I-formation and its variations.  One of the staples of the running game, the lead draw, often gets Felton one on one with an inside linebacker with Peterson cutting off it. The occasions where Felton stonewalled a linebacker and Peterson shot into the secondary were quite frequent. The dirty work Felton does in the offense often goes unnoticed, but he’s twice the fullback the Vikings ever had with Naufahu Tahi.

WR/TE: While the thought of Percy Harvin missing meaningful games for the Seattle Seahawks is surprising to nobody in Minnesota, there are quite a few questions at the wide receiver position for the Vikings. The front office did make the right decision in trading Percy Harvin and actually got terrific compensation for him, considering he had pushed their backs up against the wall. 

The marquee signing for Minnesota was Greg Jennings, who was brought in as the veteran leader of what will be a young and inexperienced group of receivers. That isn’t to say the coaching staff doesn’t expect Jennings to be highly productive. He’s coming off a season hampered by a groin injury and missed eight games for the Packers. He missed three games in 2011 as well, which may lead some to believe there’s a pattern going for Jennings. The passing game will need him to stay healthy for the length of the season and will need him to brew up some chemistry with Christian Ponder, who desperately needs a go-to receiver. Expect Musgrave to use his new No. 1 more in a Harvin-like role than a true intermediate or downfield threat. That isn’t to say Jennings will catch bubble screens until he’s blue in the face, but he will probably be a consistent outlet for Ponder underneath. What’s important for the success of the offense is that Jennings provides a consistent target that moves the chains on crucial third down situations.

Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is the one most fans are excited about and have big expectations.  Those should be tempered early on. Once Patterson develops his route running, his potential is almost limitless. Any time he touches the ball, it might just go the distance, he’s that special of an athlete. The way the team plans to use him remains to be seen exactly. Though most assume he’s the new Harvin, his skillset will eventually be that of an X receiver, not as fitting in the slot. The explosive plays should be there as a rookie, but if his development quickens and he becomes a consistent target that Ponder can rely on it would do wonders for the offense. 

The rest of the receiving corps has more questions than answers, but both Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson will get important snaps and be put in positions to make plays in crucial situations. Wright is a guy who can be used in the slot or outside and has a diverse skillset to put to use. After finally making the active roster in November of his rookie season, he became a downfield target and hauled in some significant deep passes from Christian Ponder down the stretch. Jarius Wright’s career trajectory looks promising as things stand today. Simpson was given a second stint in Minnesota this offseason, to the surprise of many. His talent is undeniable, but his mindset and concentration lapses lead to drops, fumbles, and general inconsistencies. He’s not a guy the Vikings will look to rely on in any way in 2013, but if Jennings or others go down they will be forced to do just that.  Stephen Burton and Joe Webb fill out the roster, but neither will see an increased role in 2013 and don’t really look like long-term answers.

Kyle Rudolph took a big step towards becoming one of the best tight ends in the league in 2012, but still has some ways to go yet. The things the 6’6” target does best are crucial to the success of the Vikings offense. Rudolph plucks the ball out of the air with massive hands, making him a formidable red zone and third down threat for defenses.  His pass catching radius is enormous, which gives Ponder a decent room for error. If Rudolph could continue to evolve into a crisp route runner who can separate more consistently, we could be looking at an 80 reception tight end down the road. It’s important that he continues to provide Ponder an efficient redzone and third down target in 2013. 

Rhett Ellison is a name that few know but most should. As a fourth round rookie, he played a vital role as a do-it-all H-back for Bill Musgrave’s offense.  Ellison thrived both as a run blocker and as a pass catcher. While receptions were few and far between, they made an impact to say the least.  He only played 251 snaps for the Vikings offense last season, but his arrow is pointing up as his workload will increase and the staff’s confidence in him grows. Not too bad for a guy who didn’t expect to get drafted.

The most disappointing signing during the Spielman reign as GM is undoubtedly John Carlson. To be fair, he’s only had a single season to settle in, but things aren’t looking up. Carlson may see significant snaps in 2013, but don’t expect a big jump in production. Considering he’s due to see a $2.4 million jump in base salary before the 2014 season, this is probably Carlson’s last straw.

OL: The big uglies up front were an underrated part of the success of Peterson last season and were more than passable as pass blockers. The unit seems to have been built very strategically, with two high-investment tackles to bookend things and a heady center who calls the shots up front. Both guards are merely fill players at this point and that’s okay with the way the offensive line is structured. 

Matt Kalil was everything the coaching staff could have hoped he would be as a rookie last season.  He may have had a few rough moments, but he looks the part of a franchise left tackle at this stage in his career. Kalil made his biggest impact as a pass blocker, consistently giving Ponder space to operate on the left side. His athleticism is fantastic and allows him to compete against the likes of Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. He only gave up two sacks in the regular season, which is quite impressive considering the task he had against some of the league’s best pass rushers. The next step in his development will come as a run blocker. He looked indecisive if not apathetic at times in the running game, but his movement skills mean high potential. If he’s able to improve his technique and build up his strength in the running game, he can be one of the league’s best left tackles.

While his cohort on the left side claims accolades, Phil Loadholt has quietly developed into one of the league’s better right tackles. Gone are his younger seasons of pass blocking gaffes and the clockwork penalties. He’s all but removed the inconsistencies in his game. Loadholt is a drive blocker in the running game and can create all kinds of space to widen holes. His ability to anchor against power rushers (usually the lesser rusher) means bigger pockets for Ponder to work with. The improvement of Loadholt’s game doesn’t get enough of a mention, so credit both the play and the coaching staff. 

As the anchor of the offensive line, John Sullivan may just be the most underrated player on the team. At Pro Football Focus, he graded out as the league’s third best center in 2011 and the best in 2012. He brings a nastiness to the front that sets the tone for the other four guys. His exploits in the running game cannot go unnoticed, as Adrian Peterson is at his most productive hitting defenses in their A gaps. Peterson averaged out to 5.2 and 6.4 yards per carry when rushing to Sullivan’s left and right gaps respectively. The center deserves all kinds of credit for that. Considering he was a sixth round pick in 2008, Sullivan is a steal of massive proportions.

That leaves the not-so-exciting pair of offensive guards. After proving to be an inadequate left tackle, Charlie Johnson was kicked inside and has been somewhat serviceable during his time there.  He’s still prone to a few glaring errors a game, but isn’t a liability overall. Nobody expects him to be an answer at the spot for too much longer though. Despite being groomed to be the Vikings’ right guard of the future, Brandon Fusco still has much to prove after a more down than up 2012.  Most people would tell you that Geoff Schwartz was a better guard all season long, but the coaching staff insisted on allowing Fusco to ride out the rough moments. He must play with a more decisive and confident demeanor in 2013 in order to take that next step. If he’s unable to do that, we’re likely looking for a new guard or maybe even two in 2014.

There’s not too much to write home about in terms of depth in the moving company. Two rookies, Jeff Baca and Travis Bond, haven’t made a big enough impact early on to push for a starting spot and probably weren’t expected to. The rest of the group consists of journeymen blockers who, based on camp reports and what we’ve seen in preseason to this point, would be major liabilities if pressed into meaningful action. The health of the offensive line is crucial as a result. Look for Spielman to continue to address the lack of depth when it comes to the hog mollies. 


2012 Ranks

Rushing YPC: 6th    

Passer Rating: 26th

3rd Down: 24th        

Scoring: 16th

DL:  The defensive line is undoubtedly the backbone of Leslie Frazier and Alan Williams’ version of the Tampa 2. Its job is to set the tone by stopping the run on early downs to force offenses into predictably passing situations. Then they pin their ears back and are expected to generate pressure with four on a majority of calls. While this is a lofty job description, the group has gotten the job done ever since Jared Allen was brought in from Kansas City. 

The culinary academy’s finest is starting on the downslope of his career (and in a contract year), but he still has a lot to bring to the Vikings’ front. He’s both a menace on the edge as a pass rusher and a rock on the edge against the run. It’s entirely possible that, in the near future, Allen will be a better run defender than pass rusher. His reliance on speed and ability to bend and rush the circle may see his productivity dip as a rusher. He still has something to bring in terms of down-to-down consistency though and is a great locker room guy. 

It seems to be only a matter of time until Everson Griffen steps in to take his job as the starting right end. He took a big step in the right direction in 2012 and is the most versatile pass rusher on the team. His play excelled down the stretch, with ten quarterback hurries and three sacks in the final three games of the regular season. It’s no coincidence that these three games occurred after Griffen was pressed into a starting role (Robison nicked up) in the St. Louis game. Once given starter snaps, he made as big an impact on the game as any Vikings defender. The potential is unlimited as Griffen continues to evolve his game, so look for an even higher workload and even more productivity in 2013 with an eye towards a starting job and a new contract.

Brian Robison has been Mr. Dependable for the Vikings defense since coming on as a fourth round pick and displacing Ray Edwards. He provides consistent support against the run and a non-stop work rate as a rusher, which is what most teams look for in a left defensive end. At Pro Football Focus, he actually graded out as the Vikings second best defender in 2012 behind only Antoine Winfield. He has hit the dreaded 30 years old mark, but expect him to be re-signed and keep his starting spot for a few more years on the left side. 

Depth consists of newly-signed Lawrence Jackson and D’Aundre Reed. Neither is expected to see significant snaps, but certainly could be pressed into action if the injury bug hits.

The interior defensive line is in the beginning of a transition period (at least so it seems) to one without Kevin Williams. The five-time All-Pro performer has been phenomenal ever since the Vikings drafted him in the first round in 2003. Entering the twilight of his career, the Vikings went ahead and dropped the last year off his contract, making him a free agent in 2014. The writing seems to be on the wall that this is the last year of Kevin Williams in the purple and gold. He’s still going to see a majority of snaps at the three technique position and will still be productive enough to justify those snaps.  He’s not the player he once was anymore though and every last bit of production the Vikings can squeeze out of him they’ll take. 

Sharrif Floyd fell into the Vikings lap on draft day and they had no choice but to take him. The fit is perfect, with Floyd the understudy to Williams as a rookie. Floyd is a tackle-for-loss machine who was very productive shooting gaps at Florida and disrupting backfields. It’s important that he makes improvements in his pad level, as he tends to get too high and is negated by blockers easily. If he’s able to stay healthy, fans can expect him to see less snaps than Williams but certainly not an irrelevant amount. 

The rest of the group includes starting nose tackle Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, and Christian Ballard.  Guion has been a serviceable 1 technique in the Vikings’ base sets since the team moved on from Pat Williams. He still doesn’t command and hold double teams the way a nose tackle should and isn’t a high upside player down the line. Fred Evans has been a spark plug of sorts as a rotational defensive tackle the past few years. He’s very explosive off the ball and certainly looks the part of a starting player when at his best.  Inconsistencies are still there, which is why he’s not going to feature in the defense. Christian Ballard was expected to get rotational snaps, but has taken an indefinite leave from the team for personal reasons.

LB: While everyone knows the Vikings' starting lineup will list three linebackers, the necessity that is the nickel package means most defenses trot out two linebackers on a consistent basis. The Vikings are no different; 54 percent of their defensive snaps were in the nickel as opposed to 42 percent in the base 4-3. So while there is turnover in the group, their main pairing of Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson is still intact.

Coming off back to back Pro Bowl seasons (as alternates), Chad Greenway is the unquestioned leader of the defense. He’s both a strong defender in fitting the run and has a knack for making plays in pass coverage. Greenway’s a very reliable tackler and is a steady contributor.  While he may have some trouble matched up against tight ends on occasion, he still makes plays on balls that most other linebackers can’t on occasion. With Greenway, you know what you’re going to get every single week and it’s tough to put a price on that.

Erin Henderson is making a well-publicized move to the mike linebacker position, but it may not be as difficult a transition as most think. Henderson’s experience in this defense will do wonders for him. Also, the base 4-3 is not the predominant set in the defense. He’s a smart enough linebacker to adjust as far as gap responsibility and has the strength to hold up on the inside. We should see the same type of play from Erin Henderson. While his 2012 season wasn’t poor by any means, if he’s able to return to his 2011 form the Vikings will have a terrific pair of linebackers in Greenway and Henderson.

The final starting spot (Will linebacker in the base set) is still up for grabs. Marvin Mitchell is listed at the top of the depth chart, but there’s a high likelihood that Vikings fans see a variety of players in the role considering the depth. Desmond Bishop was brought in from Green Bay, and if he’s healthy it’s tough to argue against him getting meaningful snaps. Rookie Gerald Hodges may have a role to play as well, though it’s likely he gets groomed to be the starter of the future and doesn’t feature much as a rookie. Audie Cole has struggled to break through from his backup mike linebacker spot. Some speculated he could have a chance at the starting job before Henderson made the switch. One player to keep an eye on for the future is Michael Mauti. He was brought in as a seventh round pick, but was only picked that late because of injury history. If his knees come around and can sustain health, it’s not a stretch to think he’s a better linebacker than Cole or even Hodges and could be a starter down the line. 

Secondary:  The release of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield caught all the headlines for the Vikings secondary over the offseason. Winfield has been the best run support cornerback in the league for the majority of his career and may have even been an underrated coverage back. His on-field play will be missed as will his leadership. The decision to let him go still seems to be a feasible one though, considering Winfield will be 36 during the 2013 season. It’s tough to tell just how much Winfield has left and letting him go allows younger players behind him to grow through an increase in meaningful reps.

The Vikings pulled the trigger on a talented cornerback in the first round in Xavier Rhodes, the pick they acquired in the Harvin trade. Rhodes is a great fit skillset-wise for the Tampa 2 base coverage scheme, but may also bring talents that could allow the Vikings to mix up coverage techniques even more than they already do. He thrived in a press man coverage scheme for Florida State, but has the movement skills and football IQ to transition into a zone scheme. Rhodes may take some lumps as a rookie, but has the potential to be the best cover cornerback the Vikings have had in quite some time.

One player who might make Rhodes’ job a bit easier in 2013 is Chris Cook. Cook has been matching up against opponents’ number one receivers for a few years now and that’s not about to change.  When healthy and not suspended, he’s been one of the more underappreciated cornerbacks in the NFL. Cook is at his best when he can get physical with receivers. Considering the size and strength of Rhodes, we could see more press coverage from the outside cornerback tandem this coming season.

Josh Robinson will be moved to the third cornerback spot and nickel role now that Winfield is no longer in the picture. Robinson is nowhere near the run support level Winfield is on, so the adjustment the Vikings make schematically as far as run fits is something to keep an eye on.  Robinson flashed potential on occasion as a rookie, but came up empty in some big spots down the stretch. The talent and athleticism is still there so if he can find a comfort zone in his new role we might just see a big improvement in his second season.

The last cornerback of real impact is A.J. Jefferson, who was pressed into action last season and was up and down. Jefferson doesn’t instill confidence in too many as a starter, but he’s adequate depth and can fill a spot in a pinch.

As a rookie in 2012, Harrison Smith outdid the expectations almost anyone had for him. His ability to drop into deep coverage positions and break on the ball with exceptional range was huge for the defense. He has proven to be a great schematic fit and plays with an intensity that rubs off on others. If he’s able to avoid a sophomore slump and instead continue the upward trend he’s on in 2013, he may be on his way to becoming one of the better safeties in the league. He has to clean up his tackling technique though, as he simply missed on too many ball carriers when coming forward last season.

The strong safety position isn’t quite as clear a picture as that of the free safety. A Mistral Raymond injury opened the door for Jamarca Sanford in 2012, and Sanford ran with the opportunity. Sanford is a thick-cut safety who’s a great tackler and an even better special teamer.  While he wasn’t a game-changer in pass coverage a year ago, the fact that he wasn’t exposed or even often attacked is promising. Not many expected him to grab and hold onto his starting job, but it’s his to lose now in 2013.

Though he was a sixth round pick, Raymond was pressed into action as a rookie in 2011. His flashes of talent opened the door for him to win the starting job in 2012 before an ankle injury sidelined him. The Vikings coaching staff may hope that Raymond is able to win the starting job back this season by playing his way into it, because he could possibly be a long-term solution at strong-safety whereas Jamarca Sanford probably isn’t. 

Robert Blanton had praise heaped on him as a rookie but didn’t end up getting many opportunities and hasn’t come on strong in his second training camp.  It’s not likely he plays a significant role in 2013. 

The group as a whole is still young but has potential. The pairing of big and athletic cornerbacks is one to watch as the Vikings match up with receivers the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Jordy Nelson in divisional matchups. 

Special Teams: In his first season as special teams coordinator in 2012, Mike Priefer had his units absolutely humming.  The place-kicking, coverage, and return units all made positive impacts down the stretch to help push the Vikings into the playoffs. Football Outsiders ranked the Vikings' special teams at fifth in the league in 2012, using their formula which factors all units through statistical analysis. They clearly have taken a big step in the right direction under Priefer’s watch.

It goes without saying that Blair Walsh’s rookie season was equally surprising and phenomenal. The Vikings staff deserves credit for sticking their necks out by drafting Walsh after an underwhelming senior season and subsequently releasing veteran kick Ryan Longwell.  Walsh was one of the best kickers in the league, hitting 35 of his 36 attempts.  Ten of those field goals were from 50+ yards, a distance he didn’t miss from. The nearest kicker to him in terms of production at 50+ was Phil Dawson with seven. It may not be wise to expect the same from Walsh going forward, but he’s clearly a weapon with an impressive level of consistency over one season.

Despite the grumblings of conspiracy theorists, the Vikings made a wise move in the off-season by dumping Chris Kluwe and his hefty salary. By drafting Jeff Locke to replace him, they eased the burden on the salary cap. Locke’s effectiveness remains to be seen at the NFL level, but fans should expect him to do the job just as well if not better than Kluwe did.

The kick return unit will have some turnover with the departure of Harvin. Cordarrelle Patterson is expected to be the returner from day one and has a fitting skillset for the task. He must press the holes quicker than he did at Tennessee to have the effect Harvin did, but his ability to make defenders miss is incredible.

Marcus Sherels is the incumbent at punt returner and by all means is a fit for the spot. Of most importance is that he’s reliable catching punts and doesn’t put the ball on the ground. The fact that he has impressive lateral agility to elude tacklers is only gravy. While he doesn’t have the long speed or explosiveness to turn games on their heads, he’s steady and reliable.

Both kick and punt return units were tremendous in 2012 and fans should expect more of the same.  Guys like Larry Dean, Everson Griffen, Andrew Sendejo, and Rhett Ellison deserve mention for their exemplary work on special teams units that never get the spotlight. 

Forecast: The Vikings are still a relatively young team with a few veteran leaders mixed in. The offense has new pieces to work in at the receiver position and may go through some lumps early on. They’ll rely on Adrian Peterson, but need to take a step forward in the passing game to be more efficient than they were a season ago. The defense is young on the back end and will rely on pressure from the front four as usual. If the play of Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison doesn’t drop off, it will be an improved defense from what we saw last season.

The schedule doesn’t appear to be as forgiving as it was last year. Two critical division games on the road will either get the season started off on the right foot or put the Vikings behind the eight ball early. In one of the league’s tougher divisions, the Vikings may be in for a battle to reach .500 at the end of the season. A stroke of luck in the injury department could see a higher win total, but misfortune in the same way could see a last place finish. Either way, we’re going to find out a lot about Ponder and Frazier as leaders of this team.

Risdon’s take: Even though I really question Ponder and, to a lesser extent, the receiving corps, any offense with this solid of an offensive line and a healthy Adrian Peterson is dangerous. AD is a legit MVP candidate. He’ll need to be if the Vikings are going to sniff .500. I like the new faces on defense, but I think they’ll miss Antoine Winfield. The defense strikes me as one that will play well but not necessarily make a lot of plays. This is a solid team that will not be an easy one to beat, but isn’t a team that is going to catch anyone by surprise. The lack of an explosive passing game, even with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, relegates the Vikings to a 7-9 finish.