30. Minnesota Vikings
Let’s face it, the Minnesota Vikings are in for some dark days for the very near future. The NFC North is as brutal a conference as there is. With two games versus the Packers, Lions, and Bears it will be tough sledding for the Vikings. 2011 brought 3 wins and the third pick in the draft, which was used on USC tackle Matt Kalil (drafted 4th after trade w/CLE). Kalil’s selection is good news for second-year quarterback, Christian Ponder who struggled at times in 2011 due to a lack of protection. That said, the 2012 Minnesota Vikings have more questions than answers in a division of contenders which could spell doom for Leslie Frazier’s squad.
The offense rests in the hands of second-year signal caller, Christian Ponder. Ponder struggled in 2011 with decision-making and a lack of protection. Ponder won’t be helped on the outside as the Vikes sport a receiving corps consisting of Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, and Michael Jenkins. Harvin is best suited for the slot but will be played all over the field due to the fact that he’s the best of this bunch. Simpson will miss the first three games of the 2012 season due to a league suspension but should slide right into the No. 2 role upon his return. Simpson is a freak athlete that could emerge in Minnesota after taking a backseat in Cincinnati. Jenkins is a possession receiver that struggles to gain separation and gives little in the vertical passing attack. The bright spot for this receiving corps is the tight ends. Second-year player Kyle Rudolph looks prime for a breakout season as he’ll be joined by John Carlson. Either one of these guys can be major red zone options and could for the second best TE duo in the league (next to Gronk and Hernandez in NE).
The major question mark for this offense is the health of all-world running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson has been rehabbing an ACL and the time frame of his return is unknown. Peterson’s health will be paramount for the Vikes and their 2012 season. If Peterson can’t go in week one or week six, Toby Gerhart will tote the rock for this offense. Gerhart is a power runner that lacks the dynamic break away ability of Peterson.
The offensive line for the Vikings was atrocious in 2011. The Vikings were more than pleased in the 2012 NFL Draft when they selected Matt Kalil fourth overall. This pick killed two birds with one stone as it allowed Charlie Johnson to slide to LG where he will be better suited. This offensive line has the makings of a good one and should showed marked improvement over last season.
The defensive line remains the strength of this defensive unit. Jared Allen is one of the top pass rushers in the league. The Vikings tied for the league lead with 50 sacks in 2011 and return a solid starting bunch. Allen will be joined by Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, and Brian Robison in what should be a very formidable group.
As good as the defensive line was in 2011, the secondary was equally as bad. Opponents shredded the Vikings through the air. This unit will rely heavily on two early 2012 draft selections. Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson will be called on a lot throughout the course of this season to help a secondary in shambles. Chris Cook is solid at corner but isn’t reliable as he found himself twice in legal trouble in 2011. Antoine Winfield is 35 and beginning to show his age. He is best suited playing over the slot and in run support at this point in his career.
The linebacking corps is led by Chad Greenway. Greenway is a solid all around linebacker that excels in coverage. He will be called upon as a leader and playmaker for this defense. Jasper Brinkley takes over for E.J. Henderson on the inside and brings the downhill thumper needed for Alan Williams scheme. Brinkley is a major liability in coverage and teams will have a heyday if Brinkley is asked to cover tight ends. Good luck matching up with Jermichael Finley or Brandon Pettigrew.
The schedule for the Vikings should help them garner a few wins in 2012 as they draw matchups with Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Washington, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Seattle, and St. Louis outside their division. It will be tough matching up with division foes and garnering any wins.
Sept. 9 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Sept. 16 – at Indianapolis Colts
Sept. 23 – San Francisco 49ers
Oct. 7 – Tennessee Titans
Oct. 14 – at Washington Redskins
Oct. 21 – Arizona Cardinals
Oct. 25 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Nov. 4 – at Seattle Seahawks
Nov. 11 – Detroit Lions
Nov. 18 – BYE
Nov. 25 – at Chicago Bears
Dec. 2 – at Green Bay Packers
Dec. 9 – Chicago Bears
Dec. 16 – at St. Louis Rams
Dec. 23 – at Houston Texans
Dec. 30 – Green Bay Packers
The Vikings favorable non-conference schedule probably won’t be enough to see six wins. They were one of eight teams in 2011 to not have a 1,00 yard rusher or receiver and with Adrian Peterson on the shelf all off-season that may not change in 2012. The defense ranked 28th against the pass in 2011 and with two rookies looking at significant game action, they may struggle to do much better in 2012.