2014 Vikings Preview

Football wadE

Before we look ahead to 2014, let’s take a brief look back at 2013.

2013 was one of the more painful years of being a Vikings fan… well, one that didn’t involve going to a championship game and losing… but I digress.

I had predicted 8-8 for the Vikings, which would have been accurate, had they not lost 3 games in the last minute of the game, or had an inexplicable tie with the Packers.  Although I count that tie as a moral victory.  (5.0)

My predictions started out poorly, through 4 games I had the Vikings at 2-2, losing to Chicago and Pittsburgh, but beating Detroit and Cleveland.  First, I should have known that the Vikings weren’t good enough to win on the road in the division.  Second, really?  Lost to Cleveland?  Cleveland?  In the last minute of the game?  That game really set the stage for the season.

Exiting the bye week the Vikings lost the next 4 against the Panthers, the Giants, Green Bay, and Dallas (another loss in the last minute of the game).  This stretch included the horrible Josh Freeman signing and then throwing him to the dogs in New York.  It would seem that Rick Spielman has an eye for talent at every position except quarterback.  Thankfully this isn’t a QB driven league these days (10.0).

You know, let’s just skip the recap, it’s too painful.  The Vikings did manage to (sort of) split in the conference and then lose a bunch of games they should have won.  The only positive was the final game at the Metrodome where they were able to beat the Lions.

finalmetrodomegame

But this is a new year, and a new (temporary) stadium.  The Vikings are moving back outdoors.  Bringing back memories of Met Stadium, and Bud Grant stalking the sidelines wearing a light jacket in 20 below weather.

Going along with the theme of “out with the old and in with the new”, the Vikings dumped Leslie Frazier.  Calling Frazier a poor man’s Tony Dungy is either far too flattering of Frazier, or far too damning of Dungy.  Let’s go with the latter.

The Vikings brought in proverbial “always a bridesmaid never a bride” coach Mike Zimmer.  Along with Zimmer is offensive coordinator Norv Turner.  Norv is known for being a below average head coach (career record of 114-122-1; 4-4 in the playoffs), but an excellent offensive mind.  However, it’s worth noting that after his time with the Dallas Cowboys during the 90s (yes, *those* Dallas Cowboys) Norv’s track record as an offensive coordinator is average at best.  So temper your enthusiasm.

Also, while he is still on the team, Christian Ponder has finally been relegated to 3rd string quarterback.  Teddy Bridgewater was drafted out of Louisville with the final pick in the first round.  At one point Teddy was expected to the first quarterback drafted, if not the first overall pick, but a poor pro day sank his stock.  Until he is ready for prime time Matt Cassel will keep John Sullivan’s crotch warm.

Big changes on defense as well. A fading Jared Allen departed for the Bears.  Kevin Williams went to Seattle to chase a ring, and the Vikings finally drafted a linebacker who might be worth a damn.  And the Vikings brought in Captain Munnerlyn… not that he’s great, but I just like to say his name… and then giggle.

Adrian Peterson is still the best running back to play the game, and Cordarrelle Patterson is a better version of Percy Harvin.  The offensive line is the best it has been over the past few years.  So the ingredients are there to improve on last year’s record of 5-10-1.  Vegas has set the Vikings O/U on wins at 6.  I’ve already made a bet with my fellow SP-er Wade taking the over… let’s see how they get there!

Week 1: Sun, Sep 7 @ St. Louis

The good news: Sam Bradford broke…again.  The Vikings should get an easy road victory assuming Cassel doesn’t throw 2-3 Pick-6s.  The bad news: it’s possible Cassel could do this.  1-0

Week 2: Sun, Sep 14 vs New England

If the Vikings are able to win this game, I’ll revise my expectations for them to be 12-4 and to win the division.  But a healthy Gronk going up against our linebackers doesn’t bode well.  Even with the Vikings at home I expect a 34-27 loss.  1-1

Week 3: Sun, Sep 21 @ New Orleans

Ugh, this schedule sucks.  Why couldn’t we get New Orleans at home and lose to New England on the road?  The Vikings don’t have a good track record in the Superdome as of late.  I don’t see their fortune changing.  I think they put up a good right, but the defense buckles.  Lose by 10.  1-2

Week 4: Sun, Sep 28 vs Atlanta

I have no idea what to expect from Atlanta.  Last year they were one of the few teams that looked worse than the Vikings.  The only good thing I can say about the team is that they drafted well.  We’ll find out of Matty Ice is back to form, but I’m giving the edge to the Vikings at home. 2-2

Week 5: Thu, Oct 2 @ Green Bay

Stupid Packers… If we had a QB as good as Rodgers we’d go 13-3 and wouldn’t look like crap against Seattle like they did in the opener.  However, the standard as of late is splitting games in the division, and I think this game will hold true to form.  2-3

Week 6: Sun, Oct 12 vs Detroit

Ahhh… glorious Detroit.  The salve the sooths the aches and pains of losing.  If the defense can hold them under 40 points, the Vikings win.  3-3

Week 7: Sun, Oct 19 @ Buffalo

I just saw that C.J. Spiller will be running back kickoffs for the Bills.  I expect him to be out for the season by Week 7.  Vikings roll against a punch-less Bills squad.  4-3

Week 8: Sun, Oct 26 @ Tampa Bay

I can’t take a team seriously that has Josh McCown at QB.  Yes, I know what he did with the Bears last year, but the two games they actually won with him at QB was his two worst games of that stretch.  The team didn’t win because of him; they won in spite of him.  Tampa Bay made some good moves, and this is a game I can see the Vikings losing.  4-4

Week 9: Sun, Nov 2 vs Washington

I’m picking the Vikings to win only because I picked them to lose against TB.  They’ll win one and lose one of these two games, but I have no idea which.  5-4

Week 10 BYE WEEK

Week 11: Sun, Nov 16 @ Chicago

I really like not playing Chicago until this late in the year.  The last several years they have come out strong and faded towards the end.  However, I expect a late December collapse this year, not mid-November.  5-5

Week 12: Sun, Nov 23 vs Green Bay

Green Bay gets treated to the frozen tundra of Minnesota for the first time since November 29th, 1981; where they won 35-23… but this time will be different!  AP runs wild, over 200 yards in cold and snowy weather.  6-5

Week 13: Sun, Nov 30 vs Carolina

I have zero idea what to expect from Carolina this year.  Was last year a mirage, or did Cam Newton put it all together?  I’m thinking he put it together.  6-6

Week 14: Sun, Dec 7 vs New York Jets

Third game in a row at home, we won’t lose 2 of the 3.  The Jets also suck.  7-6

Week 15: Sun, Dec 14 @ Detroit

Due to my mandate of splitting the season matchups, I have the Vikings losing this game.  However, if they really are 7-6 at this point, and Detroit will likely have 5 wins, they have a chance, but I’m sticking to my guns.  7-7

Week 16: Sun, Dec 21 @ Miami

This is a tough one.  Miami isn’t particularly good, but it’s a home game for them.  I tried to do a bunch of research and get some stats to back up a pick on this game.  I even checked out FOX’s game prediction page (Powered by Whatif sports!).  They have the Vikings losing.  Of course, they have the Vikings losing 15 games.  Only winning against Tampa Bay.  I’m pretty sure I’d bed more than 10K that the Vikings will do better than 1-15.  With that being said, I’m going with a loss.  7-8

Week 17: Sun, Dec 28 vs Chicago

That means we end up at the final game, in the cold confines of TCF Bank Stadium, against a fading fast Chicago team that will likely need this game to make the playoffs.  Vikings win on a late field goal, miss the playoffs, but knock Chicago out of the wild card as well.  8-8

So for the second year in a row I’m predicting 8-8.  And as usual, I’ll add a number of caveats.

1) Matt Cassel: He isn’t going to take this team to a super bowl, hell, probably not even the playoffs.  But he’s capable.  With great performances from the other areas of the team this is a squad that could surprise teams.  But this is a QB driven league, and when you have a below average QB, you are mostly going to get below average results.  My prediction is based on Cassel playing the whole year (which I think he will do), but if he gets injured or plays like Ponder, all bets are off.  Bridgewater won’t come in and win all his games.  He’ll look bad at points and brilliant in others.  If the Vikings are below .500 late in the season they should be Bridgewater in so he gets experience in preparation for next year.

2) Defense: After having one of the worst secondaries in Vikings history last year, the team can’t go anywhere but up.  A healthy Harrison Smith, new talent at both cornerback positions should be a huge step forward.  A slight upgrade at LB doesn’t excite me, but doesn’t worry me like it has in the past.  The challenge will be getting pressure from the front 4 on the quarterback.  The Vikings gave a boat load of money to Everson Griffen, which seems very foolish, and have Robison who is still a pass rushing specialist and no more.  In the middle they have Sharrif Floyd (who after “falling” to the Vikings in the 2013 draft), but hasn’t shown much.  Then there is Linval Joseph… at best he is Pat Williams Jr… at worst… well,  he’s Fred Evens or Letroy Guion.  He’s probably closer to the former than the latter, but how much?  These 4 will decided the Vikings season prospects as much (if not more) than the QB.

3) Coaching: It remains to be seen if Zimmer can handle head coaching duties.  He’s proven to be a solid defensive coach, but being a Head Coach is very different.  He’s earned the right to find out, and since he works for my favorite team, I hope he’s the coach for the next 20 years.  We need a coach who is a little more Uncle Burnsie and Denny Green than Frazier or Tice (I won’t even comment on Childress, what a freakin’ disaster he was).

4) TCFBS: TCF Bank Stadium.  I didn’t make either of the pre-season games, so I don’t know how much of a cluster getting to and from the stadium will be.  But for the player on the field, the two December home games may pose a challenge, but not much more than Green Bay or Chicago in December.  If/when the Vikings make the playoffs (ha!) and have a home game (double ha!) in the next two years, that might be more of a factor.  However, the field is now heated…although who knows if that would have saved Favre back in 2010.

I feel like 8-8 is a bit of a cop out, but I do think that’ll be the record, but how the Vikings get there will not resemble anything like the above picks.  However, this team is much improved over 2013, and will surprise some teams.  Somewhere between 7 and 9 wins seems very reasonable.  Vegas setting the O/U at 6 just feels like an overcorrection from last year’s 7.5.  7.5 feels much more accurate for this year.  Looking forward to enjoying football season whether it is from the comfort of my couch or from the great outdoors at TCF!

Skol Vikings!