We continue our team-by-team trip around the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 8-8 (365-311)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-4
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 9.5-6.5
All-time franchise record: 385-316-9 (.549)
Playoff record: 18-24 (.429)
Last five seasons: 40-40 (.500)
Best Quality Stat in 2007: Big Play Index (5th, tie)
Best game of 2007: Week 12, 41-17 win at N.Y. Giants. The Vikings also crushed the Chargers, 35-17, Week 9 in Minnesota. But their road win over the eventual is even more remarkable in retrospect. Hard to believe that two months later the Vikings were well into their offseason and the Giants were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Strength: Running game. Their run defense is also excellent, but Minnesota's running attack was legendary in 2007. It averaged 5.33 YPA, which stands as the 6th-best average in all of NFL history. It also boasted a league-best 87 runs of 10 yards or more. Between them, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor finished with 395 carries for 2,185 yards, 5.5 YPA and 19 TDs – and they were almost never on the field together. With the offensive line returning intact along with Peterson and Taylor, only injury can mess up Minnesota's ground game in 2008.
Weakness: The defensive edges. The D was excellent up the middle in 2007. But a subpar pass rush (24th in Negative Pass Plays forced) and shaky play at corner opposite Antoine Winfield cost the Vikings. Winfield proved a big factor for the team, too: the Vikings allowed 17.9 PPG in his 10 starts, 22.0 PPG in the six games he missed. Keeping Winfield healthy and adding FS Madieu Williams to the secondary should help, but the Vikings need growth from young CBs Marcus McCauley and Cedric Griffin.
Most underrated player: MLB E.J. Henderson. Kevin and Pat Williams get all the credit for Minnesota's run stuffing, but Henderson is a huge contributor. He led the NFL with 12.5 run stuffs (tackles behind the line), forced three fumbles and defensed four passes. He was also 9th in solo tackles. The Vikings run defense surrendered a mere 3.13 yards per rush attempt, which was second in the league last year, but also placed it among the very best of the entire Super Bowl Era.
Unit on the rise: Wide receivers. The addition of former Chicago WR Bernard Berrian is big. No team had weaker receivers than Minnesota last year, although the running game was so excellent that the Vikings still finished a respectable 19th in Passing Yards Per Attempt. With Berrian (71-951-5 last year), Minnesota has a potential No. 1 receiver – for a team that didn't even have a legitimate No. 2 guy on the roster last year. Rookie Sidney Rice showed flashes, and could break through this year or next, while Bobby Wade was a reliable option (54-647-3).
Youth/experience: The Vikings have a nice mix. Their skill position players are among the youngest in the league, but both lines are well-seasoned. They do have two key players fighting the battle with age in SS Darren Sharper (32) and DT Pat Williams (35).
2007 Draft grade: A. A draft like the one Minnesota had in 2007 can turn a franchise on a dime. Just getting wunderkind RB Adrian Peterson is worth an A grade, but the Vikings also added three players who started games (with varying levels of success) in DE Bryan Robison, WR Sidney Rice and DB Marcus McCauley. Fifth-rounder Aundrae Allison was also a solid contributor on kick returns.
2008 Draft power: 1st (17), 2nd (48), 3rd (74), 3rd (83, from Denver) 4th (114), 5th (145), 6th (176), 6th (186, from Jacksonville for Troy Williamson), 7th (194, from St. Louis for Adam Goldberg), 7th, (208)
General Draft strategy: The Vikings have had back-to-back great drafts after back-to-back bad ones, a trend that speaks well to the talents of VP Rick Spielman and coach Brad Childress. Spielman's hire was considered a bad one by many observers, but he's delivered talent to a Minnesota team that was bereft of it after chasing Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper out of town and totally choking on the 2004-05 drafts. Seven members of the last two draft classes were full-time starters last year. With three extra picks in this year's draft, the Vikings have a lot of flexibility to fill their needs. With a large stable of young talent, don't be surprised to see them trade for picks in future drafts or for veterans. Over the past decade, they've picked players all over the field but have chosen just one tight end in the first three rounds (Jimmy Kleinsasser, 2nd round, 1999) dating all the way back to 1991. That trend could change this year as they try to add options to the passing game.
Coaching: The jury is still out on Brad Childress. The Vikings have risen from the ashes of rebuilding, but Childress is just 14-18 in two years and 6-11 in close games (seven points or fewer). The much-mocked Mike Tice was 32-32 in his four years as head coach, 14-15 in close games. Childress has one of the most anonymous assistant staffs in the league. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell earned his stripes in 2007 with Minnesota's breakout season, making the most of his young talent. The defense wasn't as good, and first-year coordinator Leslie Frazier should shoulder some blame. With the best run-stoppers in the NFC, he couldn't figure out a way to keep opposing passing games in check, which ultimately cost the Vikings a playoff berth.
Overview: Minnesota fans were none too happy about jettisoning Moss and Culpepper in recent years, but the rebuilding has been moving along well. Even with question marks surrounding Tarvaris Jackson at QB, this looks like a potential playoff team for 2008. Their young players have been baptized by fire, getting in the lineup earlier than most, and this is a tried-and-true formula for growth in the NFL. Minnesota's team-wide passer rating was an almost respectable 74.2 in 2007, and if it gets to 80 with a repeat of last year's running success, the offense could be one of the five best in the NFL. Same goes for the pass defense – if they can get the Defensive Passer Rating down in the high 70s from 84.5 in 2007, success will ensue. The Vikings played like a 10-6 team in 2007, and all signs point to them as a 10-6 team (or better) in 2008.