VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Super Bowl

VikesCentric: Vikings Pro Bowl hits and misses

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 26, 2012 - 8:57 PM

The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.

 
Expunging the Pro Bowl still remains a possibility, but it lives for at least another year -- and with it the annual debate over who made it, didn't make it and who should have made it blazes anew.
 
For a game everyone loathes, it sure stirs up a blizzard of controversy each year. Why? Because as much as the game itself doesn't matter one iota, the honor of being elected to the Pro Bowl still does. It's still supposed to reward those who are among the elite at what they do.
 
Pro Bowl recognition is a convenient and powerful short-hand for gauging a player's career. Adrian Peterson is now a five-time Pro-Bowl player. Those are among the words that will be etched on his plaque when he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday… only it will likely be anywhere from seven-to-nine Pro Bowls by then. The point is: in terms of how history values a player's career for the ages, Pro Bowl honors really do matter.
 
That Peterson was among the four Minnesota Vikings invited to play in this year's Pro Bowl was hardly surprising. He's been a lock for the game for a couple months now and currently would have my vote (if I had one) for NFL Most Valuable Player.
 
The Vikings other three Pro Bowlers this year are defensive end Jared Allen, fullback Jerome Felton, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh.
 
Felton's inclusion was a pleasant and well-deserved surprise. Fullbacks that actually produce some offensive stats generally get the nod, but the NFC doesn't really have any Mike Alstott types that catch a lot of passes or score a half-dozen touchdowns. Felton is being rewarded for blasting open holes for the game's best running back. That's precisely what he has been asked to do this season, and he has done so with aplomb. This will be Felton's first Pro Bowl.
 
Like Peterson, Allen will be going to his fifth Pro Bowl. Unlike Peterson, Allen might not deserve to be going to Honolulu this winter. Let's be honest, he made it on reputation more than merit for once. He's probably earned this mulligan, though. There's no denying Allen's credentials over his career. He has been the most prolific quarterback sack artist in the NFL since he entered the league. He's also very solid against the run and usually finds a way to make a handful of interceptions, defensive touchdowns or safeties each season. He was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award last year when he racked up 22.0 sacks, falling 0.5 sacks shy of the single-season record. I'm guessing Allen himself might admit that he didn't envision falling off to "only" 10.0 sacks this season.
 
Don't get me wrong, Jared has still had a good season -- a better one than you might think considering the injuries he's been playing through. Based purely on statistical merit, however, the Panthers Charles Johnson or Falcons John Abraham would have been more worthy selections this season. That being said, Allen will probably notch 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble on Sunday against the Packers, making his statistical differences with Johnson, Abraham and others look negligible.
 
That brings us to Walsh, who absolutely deserves to be making the trip to Hawaii as a rookie after the season he's had. Earlier today I was all set to rip the process, assuming Walsh would be omitted, but thankfully I get to save the rant for a different Viking who was robbed (more on that in a moment). Walsh is currently tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals. His 91.4 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all kickers (second in the NFC) with at least 20 attempts this season. He set an NFL record last week with his ninth field goal from at least 50 yards out this season (missing none). Oh, and he also ranks fourth in the NFL in touchbacks with 49.
 
Compelling arguments for Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield could be made.
 
Kalil stepped in and played very well as a rookie starter from Week 1, but he plays at a position loaded with blue-chip talent so it may take a year or two for him to get his turn as a Pro Bowler.
 
Greenway currently ranks second in the NFL in tackles (145) and was named as a replacement to the Pro Bowl team last year, but I can't say he deserved the Pro Bowl more than those linebackers who made it ahead of him from the NFC: namely DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Clay Matthews. Heck, Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has more tackles, passes defensed, interceptions and fumble recoveries than Greenway does, and he didn't make it.
 
Over at ProFootballFocus.com, where they do highly-regarded NFL scouting and grading work on every single play from scrimmage, they have Winfield ranked as the NFL's No. 1 cornerback this season. However, much of that ranking is predicated on his 14.6 mark against the run. Only two other corners have more than a 7.0 grade against the run. That's dominance. Winfield is the league's premier tackling cornerback which is nothing new. But without the splash plays like interceptions, touchdowns or suffocating coverage skills, you usually don't make the Pro Bowl as a cornerback.
 
Winfield, Greenway or even Kalil could eventually be named as replacement Pro Bowl players when others pull out for injuries or Super Bowl obligations.
 
However, the one Vikings player who was completely jobbed is center John Sullivan. Most scouts will tell you he's been one of the two or three best centers in the NFL this season. The aforementioned ProFootballFocus has Sullivan ranked No. 1 among all centers. Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks will start for the NFC at center in the Pro Bowl. He's a deserving Pro Bowler. No argument there. The backup for the NFC, however, is Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday. Not only is he a backup for the NFC, he's a backup for his own team. Yes, you read that right: Sullivan – the center with the best grade in the NFL per PFF.com was beaten out for the Pro Bowl by Saturday, who was benched by head coach Mike McCarthy last week. And it's not like the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on their offensive line. Their line has been severely thinned by injuries all season. Ironically, the Packers' best lineman is guard Josh Sitton, and he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl process as well.
 
There you go, Vikings fans -- just another reason to detest your rivals from the East in advance of Sunday's big showdown at Mall of America Field, right? But to take your venom out on Saturday or the Packers for the Sullivan snub would be misguided. He probably wouldn't have voted for himself either – and you know coach McCarthy wouldn't have.
 
Alas, the Pro Bowl voting process will never be perfect. Congrats to the four Vikings who made it and here's hoping Sullivan – one of the biggest Vikings Pro Bowl snubs in my memory – gets the nod as a replacement between now and Jan. 27 when they suit up for this sham of a game in Hawaii.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Looking for an edge in noisy Seattle

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: November 1, 2012 - 12:27 PM

Before every Vikings home game at Mall of America Field the public address announcer tries to get the purple-clad fans all riled up by yelling about it being the loudest stadium in the NFL as Led Zeppelin blasts in the background and Ragnar's motorcycle roars.

 
The Metrodome gets loud during Vikings games, for sure. But it might not be quite as loud as CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Players, coaches and media members are nearly universal in agreement: the noise inside the Seahawks' stadium when the opposing team has the ball is as deafening as it gets in the NFL.
 
In Seattle they call this phenomenon the "12th man." Of course, uttering the words "12th man" to a Vikings fan immediately conjures up sickening memories of their 12 men in the huddle penalty against the Saints that likely cost them a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2009 season.
 
To Seahawks fans, however, the 12th man is a point of pride.
 
Prior to every kickoff at CenturyLink Field, the fans are asked to turn their attention to the south end zone as a special guest raises the team's trademark 12 flag. The Seahawks' web site claims the decibel level inside CenturyLink reaches 112 dB. For comparison sake, a Boeing 747 cranks out 130 dB, which is right at the threshold of pain.
 
"Those fans are really intelligent fans," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told reporters prior to their infamous loss in Seattle in Week 3 – you know, the Monday night game where Golden Tate pushed off and then was credited for a game-winning touchdown on a pass the Packers intercepted. That replay rings a bell, right? Rodgers went on to say, "They get so stinking loud out there. They do a really good job of giving the defense that advantage when we have to go on some silent counts or when we're trying to hear each other. They should be commended for that."
 
"Stinking loud" is a good way to put it. Silent counts, music and noise blaring from speakers during practice… you can bet the Vikings are doing the usual routine to prepare for Seattle's stinky cacophony of crowd noise.
 
The primary objective: no false starts.
 
Visiting teams have been flagged for false starts 113 times in 59 games at CenturyLink Field since 2005. That's the most in the NFL in that time frame according to the Seahawks media relations department. Mall of America Field, by the way, ranks second on that list at 112 false start penalties called on visiting teams since 2005. Close, Vikings fans; very close.
 
For the most part, the Vikings have done a good job of not being penalized for false starts. According to footballdb.com (The Football Database) 22 teams have been called for more false start penalties than the Vikings – who have been called for seven -- have this season. Last year, the Vikings had 20 false start penalties, which ranked right in the middle of the pack among NFL teams. Ironically, it's the Seahawks who seem to have trouble with false starts. They have been called for 14 false start penalties this season, which is the third-most in the league, and last year they led the league with a whopping 38 false start penalties. And, yes, their fans know to be quieter when they have the ball.
 
This game figures to be rather close and low-scoring so penalty-avoidance will be paramount.
 
Seattle's 31st-ranked passing offense and banged-up receiving corps won't scare anyone (unless Sidney Rice avoids injuring something long enough to make some big plays). Similarly, the Vikings' struggling passing game will have its hands full against the Seahawks secondary, which might be the most physical and aggressive in the NFL. This game could come down to a showdown between the NFL's two leading rushers: Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch.
 
Whichever running back has the best day will give his team a definite advantage. That's not good news if you are a Vikings fan given that the Vikes defense has allowed the first 100-yard rushing games in the careers of LaRod Stephens-Howling and Doug Martin the last two games. Oh and, by the way, Lynch has topped 95 yards rushing in seven of his last eight home games.
 
The Vikings need All Day to hulk up like he did at the team's Halloween party the other night and carry them to a huge day on the ground. Lots of Peterson and minimal false start penalties might be just the recipe to steal a win in Seattle on Sunday afternoon.
 
One final side note, you know those 112 dB levels the Seahawks claim at CenturyLink Field? Minnesota Twins fans proudly recall during the 1987 and 1991 World Series, decibel readings reached a reported 125 dB and 118 dB respectively as Homer Hanky-waving fans screamed their teams to victory.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Thursday game gives Vikings the advantage

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 23, 2012 - 6:00 PM

The schedule-makers did the Vikings a favor by setting them up at home for their lone prime time game of the season. Said favor is even bigger considering the game is on a Thursday night.

 
Of course the alternative was to play this game in Tampa, but the league probably didn't want one of their showcase games of the week to be played in front of stadium with empty seats and to be blacked out in the local market – as many games have been in Tampa the last few years.
 
Nonetheless, the Vikings have to be pleased with the advantage this week's game gives them… and make no mistake, it is an advantage. The numbers speak for themselves.
 
This is the first season in NFL history that the league has scheduled a Thursday night game every week of the season. The decision to go with Cee Lo Green on the NFL Network bumper music is hopefully a one-and-done deal, but it appears the Thursday night games themselves are here to stay.
 
Home teams have benefitted greatly from the Thursday night schedule, winning five of the six games played on Thursday nights this season. The only loss: the woefully-underperforming Panthers (who are 1-5 and just fired GM Marty Hurney on Monday) lost at home to the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in Week 3. Of course, there was probably no way the Panthers were going to win that game regardless of day or location.
 
Note: they moved the Week 1 Thursday night game to Wednesday night so as not to compete with President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Giants lost at home in a surprising win by the Cowboys that first Wednesday. Counting that game, home teams are 5-2 in mid-week games this season.
 
That's still a solid winning percentage for home teams, even considering the Giants/Panthers aberration. Thursday night home-field dominance is nothing new. Going back to last season, home teams are 13-4 on Thursday nights. That's a .760 winning percentage compared to a .615 winning percentage (64-40) enjoyed by home teams overall this season.
 
In a league of parity, a seemingly small thing such as a condensed schedule favors the home team.
 
NFL players and coaches are creatures of habit. When the game is on Sunday, they know what to be ready for – reviewing game film on Mondays, rest and community work on Tuesdays, practices Wednesday-Friday, etc. When the game is on Thursday, it's completely different. And for the road team, having to hop on a plane the day you're usually practicing for the first time all week can screw everything up. There's less time for coaches to game plan and less time for players to heal from injuries.
 
The Vikings now need to take full advantage of the scheduling benefit, get to 6-2, and take a few days off… because the same schedule makers that gave them a Thursday-nighter at home also back-loaded their schedule.
 
For those Vikings fans who haven't peeked ahead, the second half of the season kicks off with a game in Seattle – perhaps the toughest venue in the NFC, maybe even the entire NFL, in which to win as a road team. Then they have a winnable home game against the Lions followed by their bye in Week 11. After that: road games in four of the last six to finish the season -- at Chicago, Green Bay, St. Louis, and Houston with home games against the Bears and Packers to break up the road trip. The combined record of the Vikings' post-bye week opponents: 27-13 (.675). Ouch!
 
In other words, enjoy the comparatively primrose path while it lasts and enjoy the national spotlight Thursday night because the road is about to get rocky.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: How much is too much homerism?

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 28, 2012 - 1:39 AM

A recent Wall Street Journal article examined all 30 MLB broadcast teams to see which TV crew is the cream of the homer crop. To the surprise of exactly zero baseball fans, Chicago White Sox announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was the "winner," the guy who most frequently shunned the norms of objective journalism to nakedly root, root, root for the home team.

Which got me thinking about the differences between baseball and football announcers. Of course, all NFL games are aired on national networks and cable channels, so the better point of comparison would be the local NFL radio broadcasters.

Around these parts, that would be Paul Allen, the voice of the Minnesota Vikings for the past decade. Over the years, PA has earned a reputation as a different kind of cat, both on his KFAN morning radio show and his call of Vikings games. From the sound of it, he lives and dies with the fates of the Purple. His enthusiasm for a Vikings touchdown is rivaled only by the depths of his despair when, say, a Vikings quarterback throws an interception when the team is a field goal attempt away from the Super Bowl.

And yeah, PA takes his shots from those who believe his over-the-top antics are beyond the pale, even by NFL standards. One local wag even chronicled via Twitter the number of times Allen referred to the Vikings as "we" or "us" during last Sunday's broadcast. It was good theater, as PA inched near the randomly determined over/under line of 34 homer calls, and for the record, he finished at 32 so I hope you banged the under until they ran out of paper.

But isn't that what we've come to expect, not just from PA but from all home-team NFL announcers? I lived in Las Vegas for a few years and the local sports radio station aired the San Diego Chargers radio feed on game days. And let me tell you, their color man – former Chargers running back Hank Bauer – makes PA look like Vin Scully by comparison. I've heard similar approaches from the radio broadcasts of the Cardinals, Raiders and Broncos, so I'm guessing this is pretty much a national trend.

It's not surprising, especially when you consider that most local announcers in all sports are actually team employees. Yes, it's a dirty little secret that in most markets, the teams have final say on who sits behind the microphone on their local broadcasts, and that's true for NFL radio as well as MLB, NBA and NHL TV and radio. So if you're fed up with what you perceive to be a parade of bootlickers and cronies on the airwaves, your best bet is to take up your frustration with your favorite team, because they're likely calling the shots.

What do you think, Vikings fans? Do you want a local radio announcer who plays it straight down the middle, giving equal time to both teams and calling out the home team when, say, they go 3-13 or post back-to-back 90-loss seasons? Or do you enjoy the homer approach, where the man on the mic is riding the same roller coaster of emotion as you and your buddies in the rec room? As always, please post your comments below – we'll hang up and listen.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

VikesCentric: Is the dreaded 'moral victory' the Vikings' only hope?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 20, 2012 - 4:28 PM

Unfortunately, Minnesota sports fans suffering from a lack of enough actual victories have become all too accustomed to moral victories the last couple years. I loathe moral victories as much as the next guy. Legitimate contenders for anything played with a ball or puck should never be satisfied with moral victories and you will never get any Vikings player or coach to admit that some kind of moral victory is ever good enough.

 
On paper, however, a victory of the moral variety looks like the Vikings' best chance at anything associated with the word "victory" when they clash with the 2-0 San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.
 
Jim Harbaugh's troops are going for three straight against the NFC North after beating up the Packers in Week 1 and toying with the Lions in Week 2. The 49ers have won 15 of 18 regular season games since Harbaugh took over and are the favorite of many to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February.
 
The Vikings have matchup problems all over the place.
 
Let's start with the most obvious one: the Vikings' offense is predicated to a large extent on the exploits of Adrian Peterson, but there is no better team in the NFL against the run than the 49ers. Amazingly, Peterson is feeling good after his first two games post-knee surgery and he always feels good at home, where he has rushed for 13 touchdowns in his last nine games. However, the Niners have ceded just one 100-yard effort to a running back in their last 39 games and have allowed just two rushing touchdowns to running backs in their last 19 games. That's defensive dominance teetering on the absurd.
 
Assuming Peterson has nowhere to run this Sunday, Christian Ponder's early-season accuracy (he currently leads the NFL with a 75.8 completion percentage) will be put to the test in many third-and-long situations. Of course, Ponder's lowest completion percentage and quarterback rating, by down, is on (you guessed it) third down.
 
Ponder has yet to throw an interception this season, which is great. But beating the Niners in the turnover department has proven tough to do during the Harbaugh Era. The 49ers' plus-28 turnover differential in 2011 was the second-best in NFL history, behind only the 1983 Washington Redskins (plus-43). Their quarterback Alex Smith has thrown 216 straight passes without getting intercepted. Of course, the Vikings have an NFL-low eight interceptions since the start of 2011. Thus, don't look for turnovers to turn the tide in favor of the Purple on Sunday.
 
The Vikings' issues against the pass are well-chronicled, and while the announcers and fans in attendance preoccupy themselves with the return of Randy Moss to the Metrodome to play against the Vikings for the first time in a regular season game, the Vikings' biggest problem will be in containing Vernon Davis, the Niners' Pro Bowl tight end. The Vikings have allowed six tight end touchdowns in their last eight games Meanwhile, Davis has caught an NFL-leading three touchdown passes this season and, going back to last year's playoffs, has seven touchdowns in his last three games. Matchup nightmare.
 
Are the 49ers unbeatable? No, obviously not. If the Cardinals – who had lost 13 of their last 15 road games -- can go to New England and beat the Patriots – who had won 24 of their last 25 home games – as they did last Sunday, anything can happen.
 
The last time the 49ers lost a game that mattered was the NFC Championship game last winter, in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Giants. That game was lost on a fumbled punt return, so maybe Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin, Jamarca Sanford or Marcus Sherels can pull something out of their sleeves on special teams and upset the Niners.
 
Or maybe the Vikings' only real chance of victory is the dreaded moral victory. Maybe Peterson can score a touchdown or somehow run for 100 yards. Perhaps they can end Smith's string of passes without an interception or figure out a way to keep Davis from scoring. Maybe they can stay within a touchdown of the Niners, unlike the Packers or Lions who both lost to them by eight. Maybe the media will be able to get the condescending Harbaugh to answer a question in the post-game press conference.
 
VikesCentric followers, let's hear from you. The Vikings have what appear to be some winnable games in the weeks ahead, but do they have a chance against the 49ers? What would constitute a moral victory for the Vikings against the 49ers? Better yet, what is the Vikings' blueprint for actually pulling off the upset this Sunday? 
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Ten Players Who Will Make or Break the 2012 Vikings (Part 1)

Posted by: Updated: July 25, 2012 - 8:52 AM

First, allow myself to explain… myself. This list is not intended to be a list of the 10 best players on the Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knows that Jared Allen is really good, and that he’s going to sack the opposing quarterback roughly once per game. We all understand how good Adrian Peterson is, and that the Vikings offense is infinitely more effective and dynamic when he’s on the field. We know that Antoine Winfield is still one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the NFL when he’s healthy. Obviously, the season will head South in a hurry if Allen stinks, AP isn’t 100%, Winfield gets injured, Matt Kalil goes bust, and Percy Harvin misses time with migraines. So, you won’t see those names on this list. Instead, what you’ll see are the names of the ten players I believe will make or break the Vikings in 2012.

By “make,” let’s assume that the best-case scenario is a playoff berth this year. Barring the unlikely event that every player on this list instantly turns into a Hall of Fame caliber player, the Vikings are a long shot to even make the playoffs, let alone do something crazy like advance to the Super Bowl. So, the playoffs are the upside. “Break” would essentially be the worst-case scenario (i.e. last season). If the Vikings are to make the playoffs, they’ll need their stars to be healthy and productive, and they’ll need huge contributions from the majority of these players. We’ll start with five today in Part I, with the rest to come in Part II.

CB Chris Cook – Cook has more to prove in 2011 than any other Viking, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that his ability to stay on the field and out of trouble might be the single most important determinant of the team’s success in 2012. It’s obviously too soon to anoint him as anything other than a talented player with potential, but he was undeniably the team’s best cover corner early last year (this highly recommended article by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert shows how dramatically the team’s pass defense collapsed after Cook left the lineup after Week 6). There were other factors (and other injured players) that contributed to the catastrophic 2011 pass defense, but Cook had already stacked up favorably in man-to-man coverage with Calvin Johnson against the Lions in Week 3 and was starting to develop into the shutdown force the Vikings envisioned when they grabbed him with the second pick of the second round of the 2010 draft. If Cook proves capable of covering the Johnsons, Nelsons, and Marshalls of the NFC North, it will allow the Vikings to more easily compensate for other weaknesses in the secondary.

S Harrison Smith – You don’t need me to tell you how awful the Vikings secondary was last year. The focus fell mainly on a rag-tag bunch of cornerbacks that failed miserably to plug the gaping holes left by an injured Antoine Winfield and a suspended Chris Cook, but the team’s safeties were atrocious. Hussain Abdullah was at least somewhere near average, which is extremely high praise in comparison to Mistral Raymond, Tyrell Johnson, and Jamarca Sanford (the latter of which graded out as literally the worst safety in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus). Smith was brought in to start on Day 1, and his ability to provide some sort of presence in the middle of the field – both as a ball-hawk in the secondary and as a run-stuffer in the box – will help dictate how the Vikings stack up against the high-powered passing attacks of the NFC North.

LB Erin Henderson – If Henderson plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year, it won’t be hard to determine why. Coming off a breakout season in 2011 that saw him become an NFL starter for the first time and one of the best outside linebackers in the league (according to Pro Football Focus, Henderson graded out as the fourth-best OLB, third-best against the run), Henderson found himself in the awkward position of not being wanted. He made headlines with a public rant about his belief that the Vikings weren’t offering him what he felt he deserved prior to free agency, but when the Vikes called his bluff and then no other teams stepped up to the plate, he signed a team-friendly one-year deal worth “only” $2 million. It’s a prove-it contract for a young player the league obviously doesn’t quite believe in just yet, and you can bet Henderson is out to prove his 2011 wasn’t a fluke. With his brother E.J. no longer part of the equation, Henderson will be asked to continue his improvement in 2012. With the unproven Jasper Brinkley expected to take over at middle linebacker, it’ll be on Henderson and Chad Greenway to lead this linebacking corps. The team undoubtedly wants Henderson to prove he’s deserving of a more lucrative long-term contract; if he does, the middle of the field will be in good hands.

K Blair Walsh – Let’s be honest; you want Blair Walsh to fail. Yes, you. You hated that the Vikes “wasted” a 6th-round draft pick on a kicker, and you couldn’t believe it when they kicked fan and locker room favorite Ryan Longwell to the curb in favor of a stupid kicker who couldn’t even kick field goals very well during his senior year of college. You’re just waiting for him to miss his first game-losing three-ball as time expires, at which point you’ll take to the message boards to vilify General Manager Rick Spielman for his inability to build an NFL franchise and sing to the heavens that the Vikings would have won that game if Longwell was still their kicker. But what if Walsh doesn’t fail? What if he makes the kicks he’s supposed to? What if he nails a few from 50-plus yards? What if he actually can kick the ball into the end zone and pin the opponents back at their own 20-yard line? What if a defense that can use all the help it can get benefits greatly from an opponent having to drive 80 yards every time instead of 70? What if Spielman was right about Walsh? What if lopping Longwell’s millions off the books allows the Vikings to pursue a higher profile free agent next offseason? What if Spielman’s youth movement starts to pay immediate dividends? Simply because the situation is so intriguing – both on the field and in the front office – Walsh is a key player for the 2012 Vikings.

WR Jerome Simpson – The offseason reports on Simpson have been equal parts meaningless and glowing. Vikings coaches would have us believe they found the steal of the century in Simpson, another young player who seemingly fits perfectly into the offense as a deep threat the team so sorely lacked last season. And, frankly, he does. His career arc would suggest that the 2008 second-round draft pick is ready to turn into a serious threat for 70 catches, 1,000 yards, and six-to-eight touchdowns. But that’s what Bernard Berrian’s pre-Vikings career arc might have suggested too, and Berrian didn’t come shackled with a three-game suspension for having violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. If Simpson can stay on the field and effectively stretch the defense, everyone from Christian Ponder to Percy Harvin to Kyle Rudolph to Adrian Peterson will have more room to operate. If not, the team will need a huge contribution from a batch of mediocre veterans (Devin Aromashodu) and mid-round draft picks (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright) to step up in a big way.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and the Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post, a new fantasy football content site. He has written for Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on 100.3 FM KFAN. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

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