The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 19 on our rankings are the unpredictable Minnesota Vikings.
2016 in a nutshell: The Vikings started 5-0, thanks to great defense and surprisingly strong play from quarterback Sam Bradford, who replaced the injured Teddy Bridgewater. And they did so without 2015 rushing champion Adrian Peterson. But Peterson’s absence and injuries to the offensive line caught up to Minnesota beyond that. They lost eight of their last 11 games to finish 8-8 despite the fact Bradford posted the highest qualified single-season completion percentage in NFL history (71.6).
What’s different: Minnesota has two new high-priced tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, who take over for Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. Neither Kalil nor Smith were healthy last year and they weren’t effective prior to that anyway, so anything’s probably an upgrade. They also have two new running backs in free-agent pickup Latavius Murray and second-round rookie Dalvin Cook.
Why they could be awesome: The Vikings ranked dead last on the ground and the offensive line was a mess last season, so the fact an 8-8 team took steps to improve both areas is promising. And there’s even a chance Bridgewater could return from that devastating knee injury, but Bradford is entrenched as the starter for now.
Why they could suck: Reiff and Remmers aren’t exactly studs, Murray hasn’t been great since his first full season in 2014 and the jury is obviously still out on Cook.
Major additions: Reiff, Remmers, Murray, Cook and linebacker Datone Jones, who could help out with Chad Greenway retiring and Sharrif Floyd still injured up front.
Major losses: Kalil, Smith, Peterson and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
Breakout watch: The defense is loaded with talent, but one guy who could become something special this season is third-year pass-rusher Danielle Hunter, who has 18.5 career sacks despite starting only one game through two seasons. He’s expected to play a more prominent role this year and it wouldn’t shock me if he was right there among NFL sack leaders in December.
Position to watch: If the Vikings can get more out of the running back position, they can compete. Cook looks like he’ll be the guy after tearing it up at Florida State, especially since Murray has been held back by rehab from offseason ankle surgery. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how Murray reacts to more of a platoon role. The guy does have talent and a track record. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2014, made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and scored 12 touchdowns in 2016.
Prediction: Can Bradford stay healthy and productive for another full season? And even then, will it be enough? He’s not a big-play quarterback and there are still questions about the line and running game. I do love that defense, but it’ll be tough for them to string wins together consistently for the first time since last September.
7-9, 2nd place in the NFC North