Most of Minnesota is locked in on the winter sports teams and their respective postseason pushes or the Twins and what 2014 might bring.
But for some reason, we've been thinking a lot about the Vikings lately -- specifically, how 2014 has the potential to be a lot like 2012. We were in ridiculously early on that 2012 bandwagon, writing on Jan. 6 of that year that the Vikings could win 10 games and sneak into the playoffs. It was one of the only things we've ever ended up being right about, so pay attention to this:
The Vikings are a legitimate threat to return to the postseason in 2014, and this is why:
1) They have building blocks in place. Offensively, they have weapons -- Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings, etc. And their offensive line was top-10 in the NFL in both run blocking and pass blocking even during a rough 2013 season. QB play was obviously a disaster in both production and handling for much of 2013, but when they settled in and got competent play, they were basically a .500 team last season. The QB situation will not be as bad as it was last year. The Vikings will settle on a draft pick and a veteran. Between the two, QB play will be adequate and properly sorted out -- and that's a major upgrade from what it was in many games last year. Adrian Peterson won't replicate 2012. An NFL RB might never have that good of a season ever again. But QB play will make up for it.
2) Again, they weren't terrible last season. Their defense was terrible, QB play was largely terrible, and that led directly to 2 or 3 losses. They were actually above .500 (4-3-1) over the last half of the season. The season was a major disappointment because of the regression from 2012 to 2013, but it wasn't a bottoming out.
3) Why won't the D be terrible again? Two reasons. First, a new coach (and staff) with a defensive background will bring a schematic upgrade. Second, they have more than $30 million in cap space to play with, and we dare say 75-80 percent of what they spend should be on defense. Get a full year of Harrison Smith. Find one good to very good starter at each level of the defense (secondary, linebacker and D-line), supplement with depth through other free agents and the draft, and suddenly the D could go from the bottom to the middle, much as it did in 2012 before regressing last year.
4) The schedule. The 2012 Vikings got to play a soft schedule because of their 3-13 season in 2011. The 2014 schedule isn't quite as soft, but it's only the 21st-toughest in the NFL in terms of opponent winning percentage and only three NFC teams (none in the NFC North) have easier roads.
5) Special teams. Buried in a lost season during 2013 was another solid special teams effort. We can discuss the ramifications of allegations against special teams coach Mike Priefer in another forum. It is certainly nothing to be taken lightly. But if we're focused squarely on football here, Priefer's special teams units get results. It's why he still has a job, and it can help elevate an improving team.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.