Over the past month or so I’ve been writing a series of brief articles that I’ve entitled “Reality Check” with the hopes that I can set aside my fanboyism and take a truly objective and impartial view of all things Vikings. I’ve examined several key players who I expect to have some meaningful impact on the team this coming season, and I’ve made realistic, if not obvious and common-sense predictions as to how I think these players will perform. Admittedly, much of what I’ve said in these articles has been relatively mundane. Nothing too shocking or Earth shattering. My goal in all of this has been to at least attempt to overcome the feelings that every fan has about his team, that being the ever optimistic/unrealistically positive view we all have such a hard time letting go of, even in the most dire of circumstances.
We are all well aware of how poorly last season went for the Vikings, however we all believe that changes made during the off-season as well as another year under the belt of many important players (and coaches for that matter), will have a profound effect on the performance of the team this year. Christian Ponder and company have had a full offseason program, something that was lacking his rookie year. We’ve trimmed much of the fat, replacing aging players on the downside of their careers with vigorous, energetic youth. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has had ample time to put in place his tight end heavy offense that didn’t seem to show its effectiveness last season. Everyone, coaches and players alike, is back with renewed energy, ready to put last season’s woes behind them and move forward into the glory that they know they are capable of.
So here’s a reality check that will come as no surprise to anyone ever. Every team in the league feels this way. Every fan that has ever cared about an NFL game believes that this could be THE year for his or her chosen team. Whether you follow the Colts, who reached an all time low last season, or the Packers who dominated all season only to fall miserably short at the end, you believe that this season, things will be different. And why shouldn’t you. In essence, that is the point of sports. The idea that you, or the team that you feel represents you, can win on any given Sunday, can overcome all adversity to succeed, is why we enjoy football.
With all of this in mind, I’d like to take a look at the coming season for the Minnesota Vikings and attempt to predict, again with an eye towards rationality and objectivity, how the Vikings will fare this season. It’s worth pointing out that I’m more than well aware that predicting the future, especially when it comes to sports, is a fruitless endeavor. Science tells us that those touted as “experts” in any field, whether it be economics, sports, or impending apocalypses, actually do worse than chance when making their predictions. That is to say, on average, those who are supposed to have some insight on how things are going to go, are actually worse predictors than if you guessed an outcome at random. Expect no better from me. It is equally important for me to mention my awareness of how ridiculous it is to try to predict a record, down to the game, before a single game has even been played.
The point of this article is not necessarily to predict a win-loss ratio for the Minnesota Vikings this season, although I will do that at the end. More importantly the goal is to take a look at some likely outcomes, and examine why they may or may not have merit. So, without further ado, here are the four options: 3-13 or worse, 6-10, a pleasantly surprising 8-8, or finally a shocking 9+ win season accompanied (potentially) by a trip to the playoffs. Certainly there are points in between, but for all intents and purposes, these four options cover all of the bases.
To start out, let’s look at the first two options, because let’s be honest, in a segment entitled “Reality Check” it would be near blasphemy for me to suggest anything more than a six win season for this team. Not to spoil the ending of this long and rambling article, but if you’d like to stop reading now, here’s my prediction: 5-11. There seem to be many in the NFL world who think that the Vikings will be about the same as last year, perhaps improving by one win, or perhaps getting worse by a couple. Then there are those who think that the Vikes are sure to improve… but not by much, maybe getting five, six, or (on the outside) seven wins. In my assessment these two groups make up the vast majority of those who follow NFL football, if not the Minnesota Vikings fanbase. Then there are those who believe the Vikings can shock everyone, taking advantage of a relatively easy schedule, and enjoying a surprising explosion of new talent, to win upwards of eight games. Reaching the .500 mark would be a great achievement for the Purple, and honestly I think it’s perfectly doable (however unlikely).
To take that thought even further, why can’t Christian Ponder suddenly come alive beyond all expectations? Why can’t Jerome Simpson and Percy Harvin have career seasons? What if Adrian Peterson comes back from his ACL/MCL injury better than ever and shows yet again why he deserves to be called the greatest back in the league? All of this while our defensive front continues to show it’s dominance, and our secondary shows that it’s not the laughing stock of the league as it was last year. All of these things together would spell great things for the Vikings, perhaps even a playoff run. This is the pie-in-the-sky view that we as fans are so desperate to take. Citing recent examples like the Lions and 49’ers as teams who can turn things around seemingly overnight, going from below average to legitimate playoff contenders with key changes and additions. The Vikings have begun to take these steps, so why can’t they turn things around quickly?
When attempting to predict how a given team will do in the coming season, there are three things to look at, only two of which are truly important. Those are: Last year’s record, additions made through the draft and free agency, and less importantly, preseason. When you look back at the Vikings record last season, it looks horrible, and in fact it is. However those of you with half-full glasses might point out that the Vikings only took two real thrashings, the rest of the losses being by a touchdown or less. So what does that tell us? Honestly it could go either way. Perhaps they are better than we think, and will be able to finish off games like they couldn’t last year. Or perhaps the inability to win a game when you lead by 20 points at halftime is merely the mark of a horrible team, who won’t do any better this year. It’s also important to keep in mind that the 2012 Vikings are not the 2011 Vikings. There have been so many changes to the roster throughout the off-season that looking too hard at last season loses some of its meaning. Many of those who weren’t pulling their weight last year are gone, and their replacements are young and eager to learn and prove themselves. In this way, the Vikes have only improved. But with youth comes inexperience, and this will be the downfall of the Vikings this year.
I believe that the Vikings roster is full of excellent players, future pro-bowlers, most of whom are far from reaching the full extent of their potential. If Matt Kalil, Chris Cook, Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph, among many others, all live up to their potential then we’re in fine shape. But don’t expect that this season. Though the team is far better than they were when they last hit the field in December, that won’t be apparent right away. There are handfuls of players who need to take big steps, and make big plays, consistently, before we can really talk about winning the NFC North again. So, as I said earlier: 5-11 is my prediction for the 2012 season. I would have said 6-10, but that’s what everyone settles on, and I’m afraid 7-9 is too much of a commitment for me to make in this article. It boils down to the youth and inexperience of several key players, as well as lack of real talent at certain positions. I’m pleased with the way this new team is being built, and there is no doubt it will pay dividends, just not quickly enough for this season. I’m always hoping for surprises though, and I can certainly hope that this can be another case of a team surpassing all expectations and surprising everyone.