VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

VikesCentric: Cassel is the first piece of the offseason puzzle

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: March 7, 2014 - 10:23 PM

A few weeks ago in this space I lobbied the Vikings to bring back Matt Cassel. I did so amidst rumors that the Houston Texans were going to consider signing him once free agency opens next Tuesday. Well, it appears someone over at Winter Park took my eloquent musings to heart. Either that or re-signing Cassel was pretty much the plan all along and I’m trying to take some credit where no credit whatsoever is due. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Anyway, the news broke late Friday that Cassel will be returning to the Vikings on a two-year contract. Jason La Canfora of CBSsports.com – who earlier Friday predicted Cassel would sign with the Texans and the Vikings would sign Josh McCown – was among the first to report Cassel’s new deal with the Vikings, saying it will pay him $10 million over the two years.

There’s no word yet on whether Adrian Peterson thinks the re-signing of Cassel instantly (or intently) makes the Vikings a playoff team. Peterson’s infamous tweet Thursday night in which he pined for Michael Vick while seemingly throwing Christian Ponder under the bus and slamming the door on Cassel, obviously wasn’t enough to derail the negotiations. Funny how quickly that tweet was deleted. I can only imagine how that phone call went with Vikings brass.

As I tweeted, I respectfully agree to disagree with Adrian’s choice in quarterbacks. Vick turns 34 in June, is a turnover machine and an injury waiting to happen. He hasn’t played a full season since 2006 when he was still with the Falcons. Cassel is two years younger than Vick and would have been the best of a middling group of free agent quarterbacks had he been allowed to hit the open market.

Does Cassel instantly make the Vikings a playoff team? Not at all. But he gets them closer than Vick would have. His return is just step one. But it’s an important step one.

Cassel will be penciled in as the Week 1 starter for the Vikings, and in theory he will serve as the bridge to their “quarterback of the future,” whoever that turns out to be. Whether the Cassel-bridge spans half a season or two seasons also remains to be seen. Regardless, having a starting quarterback is a significant piece of the puzzle to have in place. The rest of the roster puzzle will begin to take form next week when free agency opens.

The Vikings have a ton of room under the NFL’s new salary cap – more than enough to make a splashy move or two. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wisely insists on wanting to build through the draft, but he said that last year too and they opened the wallet wide for Greg Jennings.

Remember, the period between the end of the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft is primetime for smokescreens, deception and flat-out lying by NFL front offices.

In a related note maybe I’m misreading the tea leaves, but Cassel’s return probably increases the likelihood of Ponder being let go. Despite the company line (smokescreen?) to this point of the offseason, I truly can’t imagine the Vikings bringing Ponder back after the way things went down last season.

The Vikings still need another quarterback on the roster – two if Ponder is let go. Therefore, I’d still like to see them draft one of the chosen three quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater) with the eighth overall pick if one falls that far. But having Cassel back in the fold might make that less likely. The Vikings will probably still draft a quarterback, but maybe they’ll wait on one now. Perhaps they’ll trade down out of the eighth spot and accumulate another pick or two (as Spielman said he wants to do) and take a quarterback later in the first or earlier in the second round. Or maybe all that stuff about wanting to get 10 picks in this year’s draft (they have eight now) is just another smokescreen.

Cassel was the first necessary move. Now it’s time for a splashier move in free agency – Michael Johnson? Alterraun Verner? I also can’t help but think offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be calling Darren Sproles, who is being released by the Saints and has perfectly fulfilled the duties of the change-of-pace, pass-catching running back in Turner’s offense before.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings need to bring Cassel back

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: February 13, 2014 - 9:23 AM

I’m hearing a lot of pundits lately suggesting the Vikings should just wait to draft a quarterback rather than reaching for one with the eighth overall selection. I would gladly co-sign on that idea assuming Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are all off the board by the time the Vikings are on the clock, which could absolutely happen.

Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles have separated themselves from the pack as the consensus top-three signal callers (in whatever order) in this year’s draft class and if I were the Vikes, I would be happy with any of the three. My fairly well-documented preference remains Johnny Football, though I could see him going No. 1 overall to the Texans. Having said that, I would not consider any of them a “reach” with that eighth pick, as all three have the potential to be good or very good at the next level.

But what if all three are gone? The Texans, Jaguars, Browns, Raiders and Buccaneers could all potentially use a quarterback, and all five of those teams pick ahead of the Vikings. If all three quarterbacks get scooped up ahead of the purple they’ll need to wait on drafting a quarterback and pluck a blue-chip defender in Round 1 instead. In fact, the Vikings might want to use at least six of their eight picks to patch holes in their leaky defense. General Manager Rick Spielman is on record as saying he wants even more picks; he wants to deal his way into 10 draft picks. If he does so, I say he should spend at least eight on defense.

But the fact remains, as many needs as their defense has, the Vikings aren’t going anywhere without a solution at quarterback. Nor can they count on finding a Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick – very good to elite quarterbacks that slip through the cracks and out of the first round (a.k.a. outliers). The Vikings just don’t have that kind of luck.

That’s why the Vikings can’t wait until the draft to figure it out. And they can’t close the door on Matt Cassel coming back.

The NFL year starts anew in one month, on March 11, and with it free agency begins. Jay Cutler is no longer an option, leaving the free agency quarterback crop mighty thin. The best fit of the bunch is probably none other than Cassel, who wisely opted out of his deal with the Vikings last Friday. It was the best move for Cassel and should result in a few million more dollars in his pocket. The Vikings have wisely been talking with him about potentially returning. Granted, he’s not the ideal long-term solution, but said solution doesn’t exist on the free agency (or trade) market. Cassel can do an adequate job, which will get the Vikings by for a few years – or until they find a better fix, whichever comes first.

Of the free agents, I’d prefer Cassel in purple to Michael Vick, who is too much of an injury risk and not known for his accuracy or taking care of the football. I’d probably put Josh McCown on about the same level as Cassel, maybe a little lower. His numbers last year with the Bears were unquestionably helped by two Pro Bowl wide receivers. After that, the free agency quarterback list gets murky in a hurry. Josh Freeman, anyone? Shaun Hill? Tarvaris Jackson? I hear Tim Tebow is still looking for work.

Yes, all this assumes that Christian Ponder will not be in Mankato when the Vikings begin training camp in July. Norv Turner had to discuss Ponder last week in meetings with the press because, well, he’s the only quarterback actually on the roster right now. Considering his history with the team, however, you have to believe Ponder won’t be a Viking much longer. I’m guessing Ponder won’t mind.

Read between the lines of what Turner had to say regarding what he looks for in a quarterback last week:

“I think this league has gotten to a point where the mental part of it is really, really critical; guys that can grasp concepts, who can make quick decisions, guys who understand how to play the game,” Turner said. “That is easier said than done, after that the physical skill set it takes to play and to me accuracy is an important as any skill in terms being a passer. You look at all the great passers in there, the starting point is that they have great accuracy.”

Making quick decisions and great accuracy… not exactly hallmarks of the Ponder tool kit.

So it’s come to this: the Vikings kind of need to pursue Cassel. They actually need him back to a certain extent. That gives Cassel some leverage -- unless the Vikings start exploring trades or some other quarterbacks get released to the free agency market.

It sounds like the Texans will save themselves some money by releasing Matt Schaub. Does he do anything for you? More than Cassel? Not me. What about Brandon Weeden? He wants out of Cleveland (who can blame him?) and it sounds like the Browns might oblige him. I’d rather have Cassel than him too.

The more interesting discussion is Kirk Cousins of the Redskins, who reiterated Wednesday that he wants a chance to start elsewhere. If you give me the choice of Cousins or Cassel, I’d opt for rolling the dice on Cousins. The guess here, however, is the Redskins would be looking for a second or third-round draft pick in exchange for sending any team a starting quarterback (which Cousins would likely be regardless of who they trade him to). At that price, give me Cassel. I’m guessing the draft-pick hoarding Spielman would agree.

I’m bracing for the onslaught of Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger apologists in the comments section below, but to me the Vikings absolutely have to have Cassel, Bridgewater, Bortles or Manziel in Mankato this summer. Ideally, they’d have two of the four.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: The "other" All-Metrodome team

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Vikings, Ex-Vikings Updated: December 27, 2013 - 3:37 AM

(Setting: Your living room, Sunday morning. You’ve turned on the big-screen plasma and three men in yellow blazers with ABC patches appear. Their images flicker for a moment, then come to life on the screen. In the background, Vikings and Lions players warm up on the field.)

Holographic Image of Howard Cosell: THE DATE! Sunday, December the 29th, Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen. THE PLACE! Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the erstwhile Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome, renamed in recent years for a local shopping destination in the most blatant and embarrassing cash grab since the great Muhammad Ali came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes in Miami in 1980. THE EVENT! The final gridiron contest in the 32-year history of the venerable stadium that rose like a Colossus over the skyline of this great Midwestern metropolis in 1982.

This is the holographic image of Howard Cosell. I’m joined as always by my partners in pigskin pundrity, the holographic image of “Dandy” Don Meredith …

Holographic Image of Don Meredith: Howdy, y’all!

Cosell: … and the holographic image of the Giffer himself, Frank Gifford.

Holographic Image of Frank Gifford: Hey, I’m still alive!

Cosell: You’ll have to take that up with your agent, Giff.

Gifford: I’m just saying, I could have flown in for the game. Anything to get away from that loon of a woman I married. Did you know she drinks wine while she aerobicizes in the rec room? I’m starting to think she might have a problem …

Cosell: Nevertheless, Giffer, we come here not to discuss your marital histrionics because we only have a three-hour broadcast. Nay, we are here to memorialize the monumental moments in the history of this esteemed edifice that has been home to the Minnesota Vikings for lo these past 32 years. This National Football League franchise has already honored their greatest gladiators in the Metrodome era. Today, we gather to shine the spotlight on another group of august warriors who deserve a tip of our collective caps before they’re shuffled off to the dustbin of history. Men who made their mark in spectacular or ignominious fashion on these hallowed grounds but for a variety of reasons did not make the cut for the Vikings’ All-Metrodome team. Men who merit recognition for their own unique contributions to the history of this Teflon terrarium.

Ladies and gentlemen, we now present … The All-Metrodome Team of the Damned!

Gifford: We’ll start with Tony Dorsett. Gentlemen, we were here the night that he set an NFL record that will never be broken, when he ran 99 yards …

Meredith: … and a half!

Gifford: … yes, Don, 99 and a half yards for a touchdown against the Vikings. If you look closely you might still see Willie Teal trying to slap him out of bounds on the right sideline like an old woman hitting a pickpocket with her purse.

Cosell: Tony Dorsett – or Anthony, as I called him, because we were very close – once told me he asked to be listed as Tony in the program so his initials would be “TD.” He figured “AD” wouldn’t be a fitting nickname for a running back, reasoning with which I concurred although I understand Adrian Peterson would beg to differ.

Gifford: The Vikings’ quarterback that day was Tommy Kramer. There’s Two-Minute Tommy waving to the fans, who no doubt remember the numerous late-game drives he engineered, which of course is how he got his nickname.

Meredith: I called him “494 Tommy” because he loved the nightlife the way only a good-old boy from Texas could!

Cosell: That was something with which you and Kramer were both quite familiar, my good man. As I recall, he broke your Texas high school record for single-season quarterback rating and your NFL record for single-season blood-alcohol level.

Meredith: Well, you’re a fine one to talk, you whiskey-soaked, rug-wearing, big-mouthed son of a …

Gifford: Hey guys, let’s try to keep it civil here. Besides, you’re holograms so you wouldn’t hit any harder than Willie Teal. Moving on, there’s the old trapper himself, Bud Grant, who was the Vikings’ head coach for three of their first four seasons in the Metrodome.

Cosell: Harry Peter Grant. The man never cared for me. I couldn’t understand the animosity. I merely mentioned his string of four Super Bowl losses multiple times in every game we broadcast, regardless of whether the Vikings were playing at the time. It had the benefit of being true. I stand by my decision.

Gifford: Walking behind Grant is Les Steckel, his hand-picked successor who led the Vikings to a 3-13 record in 1984. Steckel’s team lost its last six games by an average of 27 points.

Meredith: I don’t wanna say his boys quit on him, but I’ve seen a treed coon put up a better fight against a yella hound dog on full moon Friday.

Gifford: I don’t even know what that means.

Cosell: Grant restored order to the franchise by gracing them with his immense talent for one more futile attempt at reaching the Super Bowl. Then he was replaced by that man – RIGHT THERE! Jerome Monahan Burns, affectionately known as “Burnsie” to the purple-clad faithful. We’d best turn off our closed-captioning services and advise lip readers to look away from their consoles as Burns greets the team ball boys and cheerleaders on the sidelines.

Gifford: There’s Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back out of Georgia who spent three years with the Vikings.

Cosell: Herschel Walker single-handedly turned around the fates of a once-proud franchise, resurrecting them from a decade of mediocrity and thrice sending them to the pinnacle of professional football. Unfortunately for the Vikings, that franchise was the Dallas Cowboys.

Meredith: Yee-haw! I remember the look on Mike Lynn’s face when he realized Jimmy Johnson was gonna take the players AND the draft picks. Ol’ Mike looked like had just chewed through a mouthful of roadkill possum on a hot August day.

Cosell: Mike Ditka is here today. He of course coined the term “RollerDome” as a derisive affront to the Metrodome’s troublesome acoustical idiosyncrasies. It’s a little-known fact that the seats in the Metrodome once were green, but they turned blue due to the wave of profanity that one Michael Keller Ditka spewed at quarterback Jim Harbaugh following an ill-fated audible in 1992.

Gifford: Next up is another Chicago great, Jim McMahon. The Punky QB had his share of big games in the Metrodome as a member of the Bears, but he also led the Vikings to the playoffs in 1993.

Meredith: And over on the other sideline, standing all alone at the 5-yard line waving like a maniac, is Eric Guliford.

Cosell: And speaking of malodorous memories for the Vikings’ neighbors to the east, Packers fans, we urge you to avert your eyes upon the arrival of Theron Joseph Rubley.

Gifford: T.J. Rubley, obviously overwhelmed by the standing ovation he’s receiving … and that’s former Vikings linebacker Jeff Brady cutting in front of him to wave to the fans!

Cosell: A hush has fallen over the crowd as Gary Anderson enters the stadium. One can even hear a smattering of catcalls from the peanut gallery. The man flirted with perfection and this is the thanks he gets? It appears he will only be forgiven if he takes a knee at the 28-yard-line and commits ritual seppuku to satisfy the rabid throng’s thirst for blood.

Meredith: Too soon, Howard. Too soon. You just can’t say “take a knee” around these parts.

Gifford: Well, there’s more of them lined up in the tunnel but we’re getting close to kickoff here. Mike Tice, Onterrio Smith, Fred Smoot, Wasswa Serwanga, Brad Childress, Greg Lewis, Naufahu Tahi, Visanthe Shiancoe, Dwayne Rudd … they all had their moment in the sun – so to speak – here at the Metrodome. It’s nice to see them get one more chance to hear the roar of the crowd and the blast of the Gjallarhorn.

Cosell: Thirty-two years worth of memories for this star-crossed franchise, my friends. There’s just one thing left to say. Dandy?

Meredith: Turn out the lights … the party’s over … They say that all … good things must end …

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Could the Vikings pursue Cutler?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 10, 2013 - 2:42 PM

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jay Cutler. How's that one sound, Vikings fans?

Many assume that the Vikings will part ways with Christian Ponder at the end of the season, setting him free to latch on with another team. In addition, Josh Freeman will become a free agent in March and I don't see them bringing him back. Nor do I think Freeman would want to return without at least seriously testing the market to see if anyone is interested in his Knoblauch-esque passing skills. As for Matt Cassel, he showed again on Sunday what even an adequate quarterback can do for a team in today's NFL. He truly gives the Vikings their best chance to win right now, but he's not a viable long-term solution.

So who plays quarterback for the Vikings in 2014 and beyond? To this point all of the discussion surrounding who the Vikings' next quarterback might be has centered on the NFL Draft.

The 2014 NFL Draft is going to have plenty of intriguing quarterback talents available even without Marcus Mariota, who decided recently to return to Oregon. Teddy Bridgewater remains the favorite to be the first quarterback off the board, but from where the Vikings currently sit at fourth in the draft order they won't have a shot to take him. Johnny Manziel will very likely be available anywhere in the top-10 of the first round and I would love to see him in purple. However, I dare say that's not a sentiment shared by too many Vikings fans and I have no idea where he resides on the Vikings' war room draft board.

The first few rounds of the draft will also include guys like Brett Hundley from UCLA, Blake Bortles out of Central Florida and A.J. McCarron from Alabama. All are candidates to be drafted by the Vikings.

Drafting a franchise quarterback early remains the preferred method of obtaining one. However, it's obviously not the only way.

Trades are sometimes an option, but rarely will a team deal a quarterback who has shown any inkling of being a franchise-level talent. Forget about the short-lived "Ben Roethlisberger wants to be traded" rumors. That's not happening. The only other way to solve a quarterback vacancy is via free agency, and that at least has to be considered by the Vikings' front office if they don't like Manziel or fail to fall in love with any of the other draft-eligible quarterbacks.

Peering ahead to the quarterbacks that could be available in free agency come March, one name stands alone above the rest: Jay Cutler.

Six weeks ago I would have told you that there's no way the Bears would let Cutler walk. They'll franchise him or sign him to a new, lucrative deal I figured. Now I'm not so sure. Since Cutler has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain, his backup Josh McCown has caught fire in Marc Trestman's system. Having receivers like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery helps, as does playing against defenses like the Cowboys and Vikings. However, McCown has obliterated expectations, completing 67 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against just one interception. He's thrown for 1,055 yards in his last three games alone. He's one of the hottest quarterbacks this side of Peyton Manning and the Bears can't help but wonder whether it would be more prudent to sign McCown at a fraction of the cost it would take to retain Cutler.

Yes, Trestman has re-iterated that Cutler will be the Bears' starter again once he's healthy… whenever that might be. What happens after the season, though? I have to think there's at least a chance now the Bears will allow Cutler to enter free agency. If that happens there will be a long line of suitors, and the Vikings should at least consider kicking the proverbial tires.

Admittedly, I'm not the biggest Cutler fan in the world. Putting aside whatever reservations one might have about his questionable body language, attitude, ego and durability, the guy's got a heckuva arm and knows how to play the game. He would provide the Vikings with at least a better than average solution at the quarterback position for the next three or four seasons. He'd also get a lot more out of Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph -- which might be enough to get this team back to the playoffs. It would also free up a first-round pick for some badly needed help on defense.

I'm still firmly on the Manziel bandwagon, but the thought of Cutler in purple is, at the very least, intriguing. And it's looking more and more like at least a possible scenario with each new gem McCown turns in.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Ponder paranoia reaches all-time high

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Vikings coaches, Leslie Frazier, Vikings fans, Vikings management, Vikings offense, Vikings players, Leslie Frazier, Vikings quarterbacks Updated: November 20, 2013 - 8:51 PM

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If that’s true, then the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this season is that the Vikings’ brain trust are insane.

Leslie Frazier’s announcement on Wednesday that Christian Ponder will be the Vikings’ starting quarterback this Sunday in Green Bay set of a storm of outrage in talk radio and social media circles. And rightly so. After Ponder threw away last week’s game in Seattle – turning a 24-13 game into a 38-13 blowout in the span of four passes – many fans and media members chose to look at the bright side.

“At least we’ve finally seen the last of Ponder,” they said. “No way they can throw him back out there after that performance.”

But certain cynical observers suspected otherwise.

It’s not that we had any inside information. It’s just that we’ve been following the Vikings all our lives and have learned to expect the worst – or most bizarre – outcome in any situation. And Ponder continuing to start at quarterback certainly qualifies as a bad and bizarre outcome.

The Vikings’ season began with one critical goal: find out if Ponder is your franchise quarterback. The answer has been clear for a few weeks now – a resounding no. Ponder is what he is – a guy who can do a few things and look OK in stretches, but with too many shortcomings for an NFL quarterback. He doesn’t see the field well, can’t sense pressure in the pocket, doesn’t use his quickness to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage, and he throws way too many interceptions.

Oh, and he doesn’t have a very strong or accurate arm. Otherwise, he’s a gem.

The problem is, the Vikings are compounding their error by the way they’re handling this situation. Not that we expect Frazier to verbally decapitate Ponder on the podium. But you get the sense that he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

After all, Christian gives them the best chance to win. And his errors are all easily correctible.

Right?

Frazier and Co. act like Vikings fans can’t see this, like the people buying tickets are blind, like the people they hope will line up to buy PSLs at the new downtown football palace are complete, blithering idiots.

But anybody with two eyes – heck, probably even just one – can see that Ponder is not an NFL quarterback. They’ve got two other guys on their roster who have been full-season starters on other NFL teams, and yet they keep running Ponder out there. No wonder the natives are getting restless.

The fact that the Vikings consider Ponder preferable to Josh Freeman or even Matt Cassel could say something terrifying about those two. Or perhaps they don’t value Ponder over those two, they just value a higher draft pick next year and think Ponder will help get them there with fourth quarters like the one he played Sunday.

The thing is, whichever way you slice it, Frazier is flat-out lying every time he opens his mouth to talk about his quarterbacks. If Ponder truly does give them the best chance to win, then it’s a bald-faced lie to say that Freeman has “exceeded expectations” in his time here. There’s no way they paid him $2 million to come here and sit on the bench into December. If that’s exceeding expectations, the Vikings need to set the bar a little higher.

As for Cassel, the fairest read is now that their playoff hopes are officially toast, there’s no reason to start Cassel, who at this point in his career is a backup with no hopes of being anybody’s quarterback of the future. A more cynical (and perhaps accurate) read is that they realize Cassel is the quarterback most likely to give them a professional effort and thus put their 2014 draft position in peril.

So for the time being, Ponder will continue to play the role of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger and other great horror movie villains. Just when Vikings fans thought he was gone for good …

They’d just better hope there’s no talk of another sequel.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: It's never as bad as it looks

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly under Vikings, Vikings coaches, Vikings defense, Vikings management, Vikings offense, Vikings players, Vikings quarterbacks Updated: November 8, 2013 - 12:52 AM

Of course, the converse of that headline also is true – it's never as good as it looks.

The 2012-13 Vikings are a case study of this theorem.

As I'm sure you all remember, last year the Vikings went 10-6 and reached the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. It was an out-of-nowhere season after they went 3-13 in Leslie Frazier's first year as head coach.

But lost in the giddiness of the surprise postseason berth and Adrian Peterson's super-human comeback season was the fact that the 2012 Vikings massively overachieved. In 16 games, they scored just 31 more points than they allowed. They gave up 215 more yards than they gained. Based on statistics, they probably should have been – at best – a .500 team.

So how did they become a playoff team? Well, football is a game of emotions and momentum – within each game, and from game-to-game. If you win a few that maybe you shouldn’t, suddenly you’ve got confidence, whether you earned those wins or they were based on blind luck. If you win a few games early, you start to believe you’re good, and that confidence can carry over to the next time you’re up against it with the game on the line.

It’s also the nature of the hyper-intense schedule inherent in football. In baseball, if you blow one play that costs you a game, that’s 1/162 of the season. In basketball or hockey, it’s about 1/80 of the season. But if you blow one play that costs you a game in the NFL, that’s 1/16 of the season. Everything is magnified – for better or for worse.

Let’s travel back to 2012. The Vikings started the season by winning a game they probably had no business winning. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert hit Cecil Shorts with a 39-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left and the Purple trailed 23-20. But Christian Ponder hit Devin Aromashodu (remember him?) with a 26-yard bullet and flipped a 6-yard pass to Kyle Rudolph to set up Blair Walsh for a 55-yard game-tying field goal as time ran out. The Vikings won in overtime, and suddenly they had confidence they could win tight games – which they did with regularity the rest of the year. In fact, they went 5-1 in games decided by one score last year.

Push ahead 12 months. The Vikings opened the season in Detroit, entered the fourth quarter down by a field goal and lost by 10. They followed that with a loss at Chicago, giving up the winning touchdown on the Bears’ final drive. A week later they repeated that pattern against Cleveland, and before you knew it, they were 0-3 and the season was circling the bowl. Even with Thursday night’s win over Washington, the Vikings are 2-3 in games decided by one score. When the game hits crunch time, this year they haven’t gotten (or made their own) breaks.

That’s not to say there aren’t personnel problems on the 2013 Vikings. Or coaching problems. There certainly are. But the personnel and coaches aren’t much different from last year. I’d argue that if they’d found a way to win two or three of those first three games, it would have snowballed into a positive trend as the players gained confidence. Maybe that midseason lull doesn’t happen. Maybe they don’t feel the need to grab Josh Freeman and throw the whole quarterback situation into flux. Maybe Frazier still has a modicum of job security.

Yeah, that’s a lot of maybes. And yeah, it’s always annoying when a fan of a 2-7 team says, “We’re just four our five plays away from maybe being 7-2!”

But last year, the Vikings were four or five plays away from going 5-11. Instead, they finished 10-6. The ball bounced their way last year, masking their flaws. This year, their flaws have been exposed.

But next year? With a new coach, a new quarterback (sorry, even Thursday night’s mostly stellar performance doesn’t have me buying stock in Ponder) and a fresh slate, don’t be shocked if this roller coaster ride resumes in a positive direction.

Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT