Wednesday, December 12, 2012

MN Vikings - Exceeding expectations?

I'm a fan of the NFL.  Specifically of the Minnesota Vikings.  Having grown up in South Dakota, and now living in Minnesota, it came by proximity if nothing else.  My favorite NFL team for many years was the Detroit Lions due to my fandom of Barry Sanders.  Those years of many disappointing teams prepared me well to become a Vikings fan.  Disappointment is familiar to both organizations.

In August during the NFL training camps, I sat down and looked at the Vikings 2012-13 schedule to project out my own expectations of this team.  Down the list I went, adding up wins and losses.  Considering which teams projected to be good, where we might eek out a road win, and whether any of our divisional foes were vulnerable.  I even tried to factor in that Percy Harvin might have migraine issues again.

When I tallied it all up, gave weight to a still developing quarterback and Adrian Peterson coming off a major ACL/knee injury, considered that the defense was looking vulnerable at the end of last season, I came to the conclusion that the Vikings would finish 6-10.  And I was happy with that record.  I thought it was progress for this team, and it would be a platform from which to build upon.

Then we got into the season this year, and Adrian Peterson proved yet again he is a superior physical specimen.  Ponder's first game of the year he went 20 for 27 and 270 yards to 7 different receivers.  Percy Harvin showed he cold be a change of pace from the backfield and a dangerous threat even on a bubble screen.  Three games into the season we shocked the San Francisco 49'ers which further raised expectations - not a win that I foresaw (though I also expected to beat the Colts in week 2).

It could have been easy at that point to get really excited.  To adjust up my expectations.  But I resisted.  Barely.

From there it has been up and down, especially for Christian Ponder.  Ponder has had 3 games where he failed to reach triple digits in yards passed.  5 games with less than 120 yards passing (3 of which have come since Percy Harvin was injured).

The defense has been frustrating. I went to the Tampa Bay game in the Metrodome, and it was nothing but frustration as Doug Martin was a one man wrecking crew.  Didn't help that punter Chris Kluwe stunk the place up that night as well.  But they have struggled to get pressure on the QB like they have in the past few years.  Jared Allen is dinged up (shoulder) but it is more than that.  To the credit of the DB's though, I think they have improved significantly with Harrison Smith being a very big key to that improvement. 

My other observation from the Bucs game was that Ponder has zero time to throw the ball.  He was is self preservation mode all night, and by the end of the game looked a little shell shocked.  While some of the issues this season have been him being inaccurate, I think an equal part has been spotty protection and receivers (outside of Harvin) who just aren't top shelf material, or at least they haven't shown it yet.

So as of today, the Vikings are in the playoffs hunt sitting at 7-6 on the heels of a HUGE win over the Chicago Bears last Sunday.  The Vikings have been good at home and not so much on the road, and they travel to a beatable St. Louis Rams team this weekend.  The Rams have been playing well of late, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes.  It is an indoor stadium which tends to help the Vikings somewhat, though the advantage is probably neutralized since the Rams are accustomed to it as well.  I'm going to pencil in a narrow win by the Vikings, bringing us to an astonishing 8-6 which will further raise the bar for many people's expectations.

The following week brings the Houston Texans - in Houston.  While I think the Texans may limit the number of snaps for some of their key players, I still think they play hard enough and long enough to defend their home field.  Vikings drop to 8-7.

The final game is the much hated Green Bay Packers in the Dome.  This far out it is difficult to say if Green Bay will have anything to be playing for in this game.  I imagine they'll rest their key players some, and possible quite a bit if the game doesn't matter to their positioning in the playoffs.  The Vikings have a shot at winning this game, probably moreso than the Houston game.  I'd still put it at 50/50 at best, but for the time being I'm putting it down as a win with how well the Vikings played the Packers at Green Bay two weeks ago.

That would put the Vikings at 9-7.  Had you suggested that when I predicted 6-10 at the beginning of the season, I'd probably have laughed at you.  And while it may be 8-8, or even 7-9 when the season closes, I can't help but remark that the Vikings have exceeded my expectations for this season.  Sure I've been frustrated with Ponder, pondering whether he's the QB of the future.  But at the close of the season, I know I'll look back and think that there was little to be disappointed in overall.  Sure I'd like a different coaching style.  Sure there were games I'd rather not have a QB in the game and just direct snap to Adrian Peterson 50 times.  But really, they've done well in my book.  Everything from here on is gravy in my opinion.

No comments: