Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: we take a look at the Minnesota Vikings, led by Purple Jesus himself.
The 2013 Vikings face the task of living up to a 2012 campaign where they overachieved. In 2012, the team improved by seven wins upon the previous year for their first playoff berth since the Brett Favre era, backed by Adrian Peterson putting together one of the best seasons ever by a running back. Leslie Fraser’s team has been the picture of stability this offseason, so why are they screwed to the “pretty much” degree?
A regression by Adrian Peterson is inevitable.
There’s no denying Adrian Peterson is a phenomenal running back and he earned every accolade he received last season. In 2012 he recorded 2,097 rush yards, 12 TDs, averaged a career high six yards a carry and finished just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. That kind of stat line just doesn’t repeat itself two years in a row.
Remember Chris Johnson’s 2,000-yard season in 2009. Johnson followed that up with a 1,364 rushing yards in 2010. Not a bad year, but nothing close to the expectations many analysts had going into the season. Peterson could definitely make it into the 1,600-1,800 yard range, but reaching 2,000 yards again is highly unlikely. There have only been seven players to reached that mark in NFL history, and none repeated it the next year. Don’t get me wrong, nothing would make me happier than seeing Peterson out do himself this year, but it’s a near statistical impossibility.
Even with a phenomenal AP season, the Vikings didn’t make the playoffs until the last minute of the last game in the regular season. An average Peterson season would lead to a couple less wins, as the Vikings defense would get less time to rest and Christian Ponder would have a lot more opportunities to do Christian Ponder-type things. He’s a fine quarterback, but we all know he’s simply a game manager. He’s good for 3,000-3,500 yards a season and 15-20 TDs, that’s all he’s going to be.
The schedule gods didn’t smile on them either.
The Vikings drew a rough schedule this year. Not only do they play everyone in an above average NFC North twice, but they also play every team in the NFC East and AFC North. The only easy game in all of those 14 is the Cleveland Browns; their other two regular season games are home for Carolina and the dreaded “at Seattle.”
One reason you might not be screwed:There’s a fraction of a percent chance Adrian Peterson is not a human being and he can carry them to the promised land yet again. Also, I like the addition of Greg Jennings, who may not be as flashy as Percy Harvin, but has proven he can stay on the field with the exception of last year. Furthermore, Minnesota had a nice draft with three first round picks, consisting of a defensive tackle, a cornerback and a wide receiver.
Matt Cassel’s signing is the real wildcard in this Vikings team. He has been in a terrible situation on the Chiefs. If he can recapture some of the production he had on the Patriots, I could see him taking the starting job from Ponder and leading the Vikings to a playoff spot. But maybe I’ve been looking at this Matt Cassel gif for too long:
Actual season prediction: 8-8, tied last in NFC North. As I mentioned above, expectations this year are a little over inflated. I see 2013 as a building block to a strong 2014.
Photo via Getty Images