Team preview: Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings are the X factor in the NFC North division, the team with a tremendous amount of upside potential against the spread, but with probably an equal amount of downside potential as well.

There are two things I really DON'T like about the Vikings coming into training camp.

First and foremost, this has to be, on paper, the worst passing game in the NFL. Tavaras Jackson has two career starts, coming from a Division 1-AA school, in only his second year in the league. Can we trust him throwing to draft bust Troy Williamson (great offseason, supposedly, but I'll need to see it on the field from this guy)? Bobby Wade was their big offseason addition at WR. Billy McMullen doesn’t scare anybody. I like two of their draft choices at WR: Aundrae Allison from East Carolina and Sidney Rice from South Carolina. But we all know that rookie WR’s in the NFL cannot be relied upon the same way that rookie RB’s or LB’s can be counted on – too many top prospects fall flat on their face at receiver against NFL caliber cornerbacks.

So, the passing game is clearly a problem. So is the coaching staff, in my opinion. Sorry, Brad Childress defenders, this coach clearly lost his team down the stretch last year when they closed out the campaign with eight losses in their final ten games following a promising 4-2 start. I didn’t like their effort, I didn’t like their focus and I didn’t like their chemistry. There was a lot of griping and groaning in this locker room, just like there was under Mike Tice and Denny Green before him.

Losing defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason was huge, in a bad way, as Tomlin related to the defensive players much better than Childress did to the offensive ones. Remember, this team had the single best run defense in the NFL last year, finishing 6-10, while the team with the 32nd ranked run defense won the Super Bowl! If things go south early for the Vikes, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect another second half disaster.

This key stretch of games in October, following their bye week, will define their season: at Chicago, at Dallas, home to Philly and home to San Diego. Pull off an upset or two, and their schedule appears tailor made for a second half run. Lose all four of those games, and Minnesota is probably in for a long second half of the season. It’s plausible to picture a 5-3 start for the Vikings, but it’s equally plausible to picture this team at 1-7 or so and already done for the year.

There are lots of things to like about the Vikings on paper. Their offensive line underachieved last year, but by the numbers, it ranks among the elite units of the NFL. We have to like the running game, with No. 1 pick Adrian Peterson joining Chester Taylor in the backfield. If the Vikings have some semblance of a passing game, this rushing offense could rank among the better units in the league.

We also have to like the defensive line, with defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, both coming off Pro Bowl seasons for the No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the NFL. If former first-round draft choice Chad Greenway is fully recovered from his season ending injury in training camp last year, their linebacking corps will be even better than it was in ’06. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are an above average duo at cornerback, but they’ll need more of a pass rush from Kenichi Udeze (0 sacks last year) to improve significantly on their 31st ranked pass defense.

For me, at least, the Vikings are a fascinating team. I’ll watch Minnesota as closely as I possibly can in the preseason, doing my best to answer all the questions I’ve listed above. This team could lose a dozen games this year, or they could win ten or more. There is real potential for pointspread value betting on or against this team – I just don’t see a middle of the pack kind of season.

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