2009 Vikings Preview

After the most interesting off-season in Vikings history, training camp in Mankato, the O.J.-esque coverage of Favre driving to Winter Park (with Chili acting as Al Cowlings no less), and 4 preseason games… the regular season for the 2009 Minnesota Vikings starts this Sunday.

Expectations in Minnesota are as high as they’ve been in 10 years. I’m already waiting for Will Smith’s “Miami” to start playing on KFAN. However our optimism isn’t shared by the “geniuses” over at ESPN. Their Power Rankings have the Vikings at number 9. Which is surely higher than they would have been without Favre, but only number 9?

Number 1 – Pittsburgh: well, there is no arguing that one. They are essentially the same team and coaching staff and front office as last year. Barring injury they would be the odds on favorite to repeat.
Number 2 – New England: yes, Tom Brady is back and the offense should be tough, but their defense continues to decline. But at this point you can’t argue with the ranking
Number 3 – New York Football Giants: played well last year, should be tough again this year.
Number 4 – Philadelphia: wait… what? This is the team that tied Cincinnati last year and backed into the playoffs. They got worse on defense and only picked up a couple of average receivers (Maclin has promise) in the off-season and they get the number 4 spot? I don’t see Vick being a difference-maker for this team. East Coast media bias anyone?
Number 5 – San Diego: The Chargers should be a better team this year, but they are still the Chargers. They play in a terrible division and still had a .500 record last year. Tomlinson is aging rapidly and they need to hope for another record breaking year from Sproles.
Number 6 – Indianapolis: Any team with Peyton Manning as the QB is top 10. If the O-line can hold together they’ll find a way to win 10+ games.
Number 7 – Tennessee: Can Kerry Collins play the caretaker QB one more season? This team is all about rushing and defense. This is the team the Vikings need to be like. I certainly like the Vikings defense as much, and I like the Vikings offense better. Hard to put the Titans above the Vikings in my book.
Number 8 – Atlanta: Wow, Matt Ryan and company has one good year facing an easy schedule (Chiefs, Raiders, Lions, Rams) and people are falling all over themselves. This is a number 10-12 team, not number 8.

In my mind the Vikings should be number 6, ahead of the Eagles, Chargers, and Falcons, but rankings change from week to week. So let’s revisit how the Vikings schedule shapes up.

Week 1: Sep 13 – at Cleveland
Favre vs. Mangini. Hell, even T-Jack would be able to win this game. The Browns won 4 games last year and I wouldn’t expect much improvement on that. Their new coach is another failed Belichick assistant whose best move is to not reveal his starting QB for week 1 until hours before Sunday’s game. Expect the Vikings to rush the ball a lot against one of 2008’s worst rushing defenses. However, if there is a game on the schedule that has the potential for Favre to throw 3+ interceptions it is this game. The Browns were second in picks last year and Favre is still a little unsure of the offense. Regardless, if Favre keeps it to 2 INTs or less, I would expect a Vikings victory.

Week 2: Sep 20 – at Detroit
The Vikings beat the Lions twice last year by a combined 6 points. This is explained mostly by a -5 turnover deficit by the Vikings in those two games. I expect the Lions to be better this year, but I expect the Vikings to improve even more. 2-0 after week 2.

Week 3: Sep 27 – vs. San Francisco
Not even the intense stare of Coach Mike Singeltary will help the 49ers this year. Don’t let Singeltary’s 5-4 career record fool you. Those wins were against the Rams, the Bills, the Jets (injured Favre), Rams again, and the Redskins. Also, when Shaun Hill battles with Alex Smith for the QB job… and wins; well that doesn’t bode well. Basically a poor man’s version of Sage Rosenfels battling T-Jack. 3-0

Week 4: Oct 5 – vs. Green Bay
First real test of the season. We’ll know a lot more about each team by the time we get to this game. Will the Vikings offense be humming with Favre? Will the Packers 3-4 defense be effective? Looking to past performance, most years these teams split the season match-up. So we’ll call this 4-0 since the Vikings are at home.

Week 5: Oct 11 – at St. Louis
Everyone’s favorite former Vikings Offensive Coordinator (ok, at least Daunte Culpepper’s favorite) Scott Linehan got a shot at coaching the Rams in 2006. Going 8-8 and 3-13 in his first two seasons he was shown the door after starting off 0-4 last year; with the Rams finishing at 2-14. Certainly was a rough football year down in Missouri last year wasn’t it? New coach Steve Spagnuolo isn’t going to have much better starting with 3 of his first 4 games on the road (ouch). The Vikings should be 5-0 after this game. No worse than 4-1.

Week 6: Oct 18 – vs. Baltimore
Now here is where the schedule gets ugly. The only good news with playing Baltimore is that the game is at home. I think the Vikings at home have an excellent chance of winning this game, but due to my optimism above, I’m going to count this as a loss to put their record at 5-1.

Week 7: Oct 25 – at Pittsburgh
It could be worse. This came could have been scheduled for later in the year. The Vikings should play the Steelers tough, but even in a loss they should gain some good experience when they face the Steelers in Miami in February. (Wouldn’t that be great? A rematch of Super Bowl IX with the Vikings winning 16-6!) Record after 7 games: 5-2.

Week 8: Nov 1 – at Green Bay
Assuming a victory over the Packers at home, I am going to assume this as a loss. Or vice-versa. Regardless, after 8 games the Vikings should have a record of 5-3.

Week 9: Bye Week
Good timing as any let down over losing 3 games in a row should be worked out over the bye week and remedied with the next game.

Week 10: Nov 15 – vs. Detroit
I don’t believe the Lions have won in the Metrodome this millennium. That shouldn’t change. 6-3

Week 11: Nov 22 – vs. Seattle
The Seahawks should be a much better team this year with a healthy Hasselbeck and Houshmandzadeh catching the ball. But will Jim Mora Jr. be able to step into Holmgren’s giant fish-gut stained shoes? (Insert your own walrus joke here). Regardless, this is a home game for the Vikings and should be a very winnable game. 7-3

Week 12: Nov 29 – vs. Chicago
Wow, we are already at Week 12 and the Vikings haven’t played the Bears yet? Last year the Vikings split the season series with the Bears (losing at Soldier Field by a score of 48-41 despite Frerotte throwing 4 interceptions). However, the Bears are a different team this year with Jay Cutler under center and a healthier defense. But who will Cutler throw the ball to? Last year Matt Forte was the team’s leading receiver. Followed by TE Greg Olsen, and *then* Devin Hester. Expect Desmond Clark to be the leading receiver this year. If there is one part of the Vikings defense that concerns me the most it would be pass coverage by our outside linebackers. How the Vikings linebackers play against the Bears should dictate who wins the division. With that being said, I’m falling back to the safe bet of a season split. 8-3

Week 13: Dec 6 – at Arizona
On December 14th 2008 the Vikings flew down to AZ and beat the hell out of the Cardinals. I expect the same this year. The Cardinals are one year older, minus Edgerrin James (who was their leading rusher and most effective runner), and still have a cranky Anquan Boldin on their team. The Cardinals will be a sub-.500 team when the Vikings play them; although they’ll probably still be in the hunt to win their division. I’m still expecting a win. 9-3

Week 14: Dec 13 – vs. Cincinnati
The Bengals will go as far as Palmer’s arm and Ochocinco’s legs will carry them. I expect this to be one of those games where the QB goes 33-55 for 345 yards, and the running backs combine for 18 rushing yards. Key victory here puts the Vikings at 10 wins and should be enough for a playoff spot. 10-3

Week 15: Dec 20 – at Carolina
What to expect from the Panthers this year? They played brilliantly last year only to get hammered by the Cardinals. Well they really didn’t hammered by the Cardinals as much as they got hammered by their own quarterback throwing 5 interceptions. The Panthers will be good again this year, but their division also got better. Expect 9 or 10 wins, including one against the Vikings. 10-4

Week 16: Dec 28 – at Chicago
You put an old Favre in Soldier Field at the end of December and you get this: 17-32 153 yards 0 TD 2 INT. Or at least that’s how he played on December 23rd 2007 during that magical 13-3 season for the Packers. You can’t count on a win at this point in the year playing outdoors

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in Chicago. Record going into the last week: 10-5.

Week 17: Jan 3 – vs. NY Giants
For the second year in a row the Vikings end the season with the Giants at home. With any luck the Giants will pack it in during the second half again and allow the Vikings to come away with another victory (that kick by Longwell last year was sweet). I don’t know if the Vikings will be that lucky two years in a row, although the Giants will probably win 10+ games again. Last year I predicted this about the 2009 season:
Best case scenario: Childress stays, defense plays even better (even with possible suspensions to the Williams Wall), Vikings bring in Jeff Garcia. Garcia starts team wins the division at 10-6 and wins their first playoff game in a decade.
I have to think that Brett Favre is an upgrade over Jeff Garcia. So I’m going to say the Vikings win this game to finish up 11-5, win the division, and even have a chance of getting a first round bye. If the Vikings lose this game there’s a good chance they tie Chicago and lose the tie-breaker but end up with the Wild Card. If the Vikings play their first playoff game at home, I predict they win and go to the NFC Championship. If they end up as the Wild Card I predict they lose on the road (probably against the Falcons).

Final thoughts: It’s too early to book your plane tickets to Miami. There are too many question marks about the Vikings at this point. Will Favre play well? Will Favre even make it through 16 games? Will the Offensive Line step up in pass protection and run blocking with a new Center, suspect Right Guard, and rookie Right Tackle? Will the Williams Wall get suspended for 4 games during the season? Will Childress and Bevell actually open up the playbook a little bit for Favre and Harvin? Will Berrian actually get through a season without getting injured? Will Childress consummate his love with Naufahu Tahi?

The Vikings aren’t the only team with a lot of question marks, but I’d take these questions more than all but a couple teams in the league (you have to like Pittsburgh to repeat against the Giants in the Super Bowl). So in the immortal words of Mike Tice, “Enjoyyyy The Season!!!”

Skol Vikings!







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