Can the Minnesota Vikings follow the Atlanta Falcons path to the Super Bowl?


The Minnesota Vikings drew comparisons to the Atlanta Falcons this week. Are the Vikings that far off from a Super Bowl appearance?

Although the Atlanta Falcons spoiled the Minnesota Vikings Super Bowl hopes in the 1998 NFC Championship game, the Dirty Birds could provide a clean formula for success next season for the purple. By now, you’ve probably heard the comparison brought up between the two teams.

Like the Vikings this season, the 2015 Falcons started 5-0 but finished 8-8. Minnesota contributed to Atlanta’s downfall last season via a 20-10 victory in Week 12 at the Georgia Dome. How did the Falcons recover from a disappointing 2015 to make the Super Bowl in 2016?

The good news for Minnesota is that Atlanta did not make any drastic changes to their roster from last season to this. But, they did make two moves that the Vikings could model. First, they added four-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Then, they signed fourth-year wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

Both players made significant contributions to the team this season. Mack started while Sanu was the team’s second-leading receiver behind Julio Jones. The next two steps, though not as visible, the Vikings may have already taken.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Falcons selected safety Keanu Neal in the first round, 17th overall, who started 14 games. In the fourth round, they added defensive depth with linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who started 10 games. The Vikings already have two-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith and a lethal combination of linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks to make up the league’s third-best defense this regular season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the era of quarterback Sam Bradford should continue under center. Like Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Bradford has his doubters. However, Ryan shut down voices of dissent with a Super Bowl appearance and MVP talk this season. Likewise, Bradford set an NFL record 71.6 completion percentage this season.

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Bradford’s success was due in large part to offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who, will craft the offense around the quarterback he has coached on and off since 2010. The Falcons have equally reliable coaching in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen could add a Jones-Sanu-like combination to the offense as well. The ability of Thielen to step up in Diggs’ three absences this season should give fans confidence in the pass-catching corps. Jones and Sanu combined for 69.9 percent of the Falcons 203 receptions among receivers. Diggs and Thielen caught 64.5 percent of the Vikings 237 receiver receptions.

The Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman know that they must bolster the offensive line and add depth at every position this offseason. Injuries were the largest contributor to the team’s struggles this season. Depth will be needed if they expect to make it through the season, much less advance in the playoffs.

Next: Should the Vikings re-sign Cordarrelle Patterson?

Although the 2016 regular season already seems like a distant memory, the Minnesota Vikings should remember that they aren’t that far off from success.

Brad Omland is a contributor to The Viking Age. Follow him on Twitter: @bradradio.