The 2016 Minnesota Vikings are primed for a big season. The opening of a new stadium. The defending of the North Division for the first time in a long while. The top rusher in the NFL. A rapidly improving defense. Strong additions to the offensive line. A flashy new wide receiver from the NFL Draft. Teddy Bridgewater with some added wisdom from the 2015 return to the playoffs.
A Super Bowl visit is in our near future.
Of all the factors that determine a Super Bowl run, certainly defense plays a large role. Minnesota finished the season with the 13th best defense in terms of yards allowed. While that is improvement, the top three teams in the NFC (Seattle, Arizona, and Carolina) finished 2nd, 5th, and 6th respectively. Minnesota actually finished the season better against the pass (12th) than the run (17th).
In order to make it to the Super Bowl, the defense will have to improve on those numbers. An area that does not need much improvement is in points allowed. Minnesota finished 5th in points allowed per game at 18.9. That was a mere 1.6 points away from the number one scoring defense of the Seahawks. The Vikings finished ahead of the Panthers and Cardinals in this crucial category.
Offense is a different story.
Minnesota finished 29th in overall yards. They finished 31st in passing yards per game (183.0). 16th in points per game (22.8). The running attack, led by NFL rushing leader Peterson, finished 4th at 138.2 yards per game. Still, that number was third in the NFC behind Carolina and Seattle.
There must be improvement in the offense in 2016.
Arguement on whether Norv Turner bottled up Bridewater, or Minnesota adapted to a skills limited quarterback carried on throughout the 2015 season. Many times during the year it was difficult to see Bridgewater look any different than Christian Ponder. Other times Teddy's abiity to avoid the rush and find a receiver brought hope anew. His completion percentage is his strength. Fans are hoping that the addition of Laquon Treadwell ignites the offense similar to the introduction of Randy Moss in 1998. Or at least more than Cordarrelle Patterson.
One thing looked eerily similar, and that was a faltering offensive line. Injuries took their toll in 2015, and Minnesota survived with a patchwork approach to the front line of our offense.
No Sullivan. No Fusco. No Loadholt.
The 2016 line will be much better. Off-season acquisitions Alex Boone and Andre Smith will revitalize the team this year. Already Boone is turning heads in training camp. Smith will solidify right tackle in the absence of the retired Phil Loadholt. Brandon Fusco will return to guard, Matt Kalil will be given one more year to find the stellar play that marked the beginning of his career. The biggest question appears to be either Joe Berger or John Sullivan at center.
Armed with a better offensive line, including a bone-crushing guard in Boone, it is likely that Adrian Peterson will look more like the AP that ran behind Steve Hutchinson. From 2007 to 2011, AP started 66 games behind Hutchinson, totaling 6,752 yards, and 64 rushing touchdowns. Only an injury in 2011 kept Peterson from having 5 consecutive 1,000 yard plus rushing seasons to begin his career.
Of course, in his best season, Adrian ran for 2,097 yards in 2012 without Hutchinson. He was replaced by Charlie Johnson that year, and Johnson teamed up with a then rookie Matt Kalil to represent the left-side of the line. Sullivan, Loadholt, and Fusco were also starters on that team.
Which brings us back to our soothsayer, Adrian Peterson. He turned 31 in March this year. he is entering his 10th season. Due to his legal troubles in 2014, he played only one game that year, so in actuality, Peterson has played eight full seasons with injuries popping up here and there. Most NFL fans know that running backs tend to slow down as they enter their thirties.
The all-time NFL rushing leaders played on average about 12 seasons. Emmitt Smith, the NFL all-time rushing leader (18,355) played 15 years. Second place Walter Payton (16,726) played 13 seasons. Thrid place Barry Sanders (15,269) played only 10 seasons. Only Jim Brown (9th with 12,312) played less than 10 seasons. Marcus Allen (12th, 12,243) played the most at 16, though many of those ending years were as a goal line specialist.
Adrian Peterson presently is 17th all-time in rushing with 11,675 yards in 113 games started. If he runs for 1,000 yards this year he will leapfrog the following NFL greats: Fred Taylor, Frank Gore, Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, and Jim Brown. That would move him to 9th overall. If he repeats last year's total, he will also pass Tony Dorsett for 8th overall.
Adrian Peterson was quoted his rookie year by the Tribune as saying he wanted to be the greatest player to ever play the game. Suspensions and injuries have hamepred his progress. Of the possible 144 games he could have started in his nine year career, he missed 31 starts. 24 games as well.
Still, he is poised to finish as one of the elite backs of all-time. If he were to play as long as Emmitt Smith, and average 1,000 yards each season, he would end up 2nd overall and within reach of the all-time rushing leader. Even if he were to play only four more years, but averge his usual 1,300 to 1,400 yards, he would still end up 2nd overall.
Adrian Peterson is trying to make good on a promise to himself and we fans that he would be the greatest player ever. While he has a long way to go, and injuries could appear at any time, he has for the most part followed up his talk with his play. So when Adrian says in 2016 this team can win the Super Bowl... who are we to say no?