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2010 Minnesota Vikings Preview

August 30, 2010

Favre, Offense Look to Keep Rare Form for Another Run
Last year: 12-4, 4th in TABRankings

The 2009 season was nothing short of a fairy tale for the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Brad Childress got his wish by signing QB Brett Favre. Favre got his wish by getting coddled among his wallowing and flip-flopping for seven months in the offseason. Vikings fans got their wish by seeing a career year from Favre and strong showing from the rest of the season. However, it all fell short in an OT loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship Game.

Now the Vikings must find out if that fairy tale has a bit of lasting truth. Favre once again got to wallow in his flip-flopping until August, but other teams have been expected to game plan against him all offseason. WR Sidney Rice won’t be able to follow up his breakout season, as a hip injury will likely keep off the field for the entire season (if not most of it). The defensive stars are getting older by the year, and it now becomes a major question if the team can keep its defense at an elite level for another season.

There are several things that won’t be replicated, like Favre throwing only seven interceptions last year and TE Visanthe Shiancoe catching 11 touchdown passes. Minnesota must answer the concerns if the travel back to the truer realm of reality means the Vikings will no longer be a legitimate contender in the NFC.

UNREPEATABLE PERFORMANCE: Favre did plenty of proving the critics wrong last year, especially yours truly, but it’s basically a guarantee that he won’t have a repeat performance in 2010. Let’s not forget that Favre has yet to have consecutive elite seasons since his great run from 1994 to ’97. The fact that people expect the same numbers again from a 40-year-old who just had a 33-7 TD-INT ratio seems outlandish at the least.

The NFL has proven players almost always take a step back one year after showing huge progression. The regression has already begun with the team losing WR Sidney Rice, the players most credit Favre for helping out along the way. The truth was that Rice was finally healthy for a full season, and he was just entering the peak of his career, as most receivers do in their third season. Favre and Rice came together at just the right time last year, and they were both bound to bounce back to reality some this year anyways, even before the injury to Rice.

That puts considerable pressure on sophomore WR Percy Harvin to keep the receivers going.

FRANCHISE BREAKER? WR Percy Harvin: Perhaps it’s unfair to throw Harvin, who had a very impressive rookie Percy Harvin (photo rights to NFL.com)season, under this spotlight. However, without Rice, the Vikings suddenly lack a go-to receiver. Rice played like a top five last year, so Harvin won’t be able to give the same production. Still, Harvin would be able to keep the Vikings offense going if he can demand the attention and get the production of a number one receiver. That will mean that Harvin adds a new element to his game, becoming a reliable route runner along with established ability to spread defenses with his speed.

However, he has already battled migraines during training camp, which could be stunting his progress to becoming a consistent standout receiver. A player like Harvin comes into the league with great, yet raw ability. His game needs to be polished, and he can’t afford to miss time in camp when he’s going to be relied upon to act like a top-flight receiver until Rice comes back. If Harvin struggles in his sophomore season, the passing game will take a massive hit.

WINDOW CLOSING? You don’t need to be an expert to realize that the Vikings just had as good of a chance to make the Super Bowl as they’ll probably ever get. After all, Minnesota was just one completion and one field goal away from playing in Miami against the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Still, the conventional wisdom is that the Vikings still can make another run at the Lombardi Trophy, even if the team has setbacks this year. That may not be the case for a team that has some serious aging concerns.

Favre is an obvious case, but the Vikings also have key starters like LG Steve Hutchinson, DT Pat Williams and CB Antoine Winfield who have been in the NFL for a decade. Hutchinson and Winfield have already begun to decline, and Williams is basically limited to run downs only. MLB E.J. Henderson, OLB Ben Leber, OLT Bryan McKinnie and DT Kevin Williams will be there soon. Even a super stud like DE Jared Allen will be at the end of his prime very soon.

All in all, the Vikings have a median age of 29 among its starters on both sides of the ball, according to Football Outsiders. Of the 15 teams fitting those criteria over the last decade, only the 2003 Patriots and 2005 Chiefs improved their record. Furthermore, only the 2001 Raiders and 2003 Patriots made the playoffs. Can Minnesota be like the early 2000s Raiders and make a playoff run with aging stars?

ELITE PLAYERS, RB Adrian Peterson, DE Jared Allen and DT Kevin Williams: Peterson was regularly Adrian Peterson (photo rights to NFL.com)lauded as the best running back until Chris Johnson’s 2000-yard season last year. In terms of efficiency, that simply isn’t the case, as Peterson has dropped in efficiency every year after his impressive rookie campaign. However, “All Day” still puts up better production than most backs. He had 1760 rushing yards in 2008 while just avoiding exposure to the “Curse of 370.” He then had 18 touchdowns last year while running at a 4.4 yards per carry clip. His only true problem involves fumbling, which seems to be an aftereffect of running so hard.

Jared Allen (photo rights to NFL.com)Allen was an absolute force in his last few years in Kansas City, so the Vikings went to get him to upgrade the team’s pass rush without having the run defense suffer. Allen did that, and then some, when he completely turned around the team’s ability to pressure the quarterback. Not only did Allen make things easier for Kevin Williams in the interior pass rush, but he has helped the emergence of Ray Edwards. With three consecutive seasons of at least 14.5 sacks, it’s safe to say that Allen probably has two more elite seasons.

Kevin Williams (photo rights to NFL.com)Like Allen, the younger and smaller part of the Williams wall is one of the best at run stuffing and pass rushing at his position. Kevin Williams is very much the unappreciated guy on the Vikings’ defensive line, with Allen getting the pass rush plaudits and Pat Williams getting more headlines. However, Kevin may be the most important player on the line. Although he hasn’t bested his first two seasons, when he had double-digit sacks in each season, Williams can’t be unaccounted for in the pass rush.

UNDER THE RADAR, DE Ray Edwards: Most probably consider Edwards the lucky product of two elite defensive Ray Edwards (photo rights to NFL.com)linemen and one fantastic run stuffer, but the Purdue product may soon be the key player on the defensive line. He has improved every year and had 8.5 sacks last year. Edwards even played rather well against the run last year, and there’s a good chance he eventually gets schemed against, especially after his dominant game in the Divisional Round win against Dallas. That’s exactly what Minnesota needs in the future when Pat Williams retires and the elite players begin to decline.

FRANCHISE MAKER? MLB Jasper Brinkley: Part of this has to do with the broken femur E.J. Henderson suffered Jasper Brinkley (photo rights to NFL.com)last year and part of this has to do with a lack of emerging young players on defense. It’s unknown when Henderson comes back, and if so, how well he plays. Even if both happen, Henderson doesn’t have a lot of years left. After Henderson’s injury, Brinkley showed he was capable of being a good player at a key defensive position. He may see a lot more playing time if Henderson isn’t 100 percent, which will in effect make the team’s defensive future brighter.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Last year marked the first time both defending NFC Championship Game combatants made the playoffs since 2000. Don’t expect that to happen again. Many think the Saints will regress, which will probably happen, but enough to knock an elite quarterback like Drew Brees out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Favre hasn’t had back-to-back great seasons in a decade-plus. The passing game relied on unretainable performances by Favre and Shiancoe, while the team already lost Sidney Rice for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, the secondary is poor on a defense with aging stars.

Brett Favre has been a habitual choker over the years since the team’s Super Bowl XXXI victory. Since 1999, whenever the Packers are in the playoff hunt, it’s been Favre failing that has led to his teams’ shortcomings. That theme will return in 2010 as the Vikings will fall short of the playoffs. PROJECTION: 2nd in NFC North


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