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Over the course of the past few months, it's been quite fashionable to predict gloom and doom for the Minnesota Vikings. From the Brett Favre saga to the injury to Sidney Rice to Percy Harvin's problems with migraine headaches to Adrian Peterson's alleged contract problems, many of the "experts" out there are convinced that the Minnesota Vikings simply aren't the team that they were last year.
Now, I may be slightly biased on the matter, but the Minnesota Vikings are still a darn good football team, independent of the events that I've listed above. Good enough, in fact, where they should probably be considered one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, if not the favorite. "Why," you might ask? Well, allow me to explain.
1) We Heard All This Same Junk About Brett Favre Last Year
Don't you remember all that? "Blah blah blah Brett Favre has caused a schism in the locker room."
"Blah blah blah not being in training camp is going to hurt Brett Favre."
"Blah blah blah the Vikings' quarterback doesn't get along with the Vikings' head coach."
"Blah blah blah Favre is old and washed-up and can't get the job done any more."
You know how foolish those pre-2009 declarations look now? A 12-4 record, Favre putting up what might have been the best season of his career, the Vikings basically being the best team in the National Football League in 2009. . .yeah, huge schism there.
At the end of 2010, I have a feeling we'll be looking back at this off-season, which has been filled with a lot of the same stuff, and think of how foolish it was as well.
2) The Minnesota Defense Is Still Really, Really Good
If you've noticed, most of the issues with the Vikings this off-season have happened on the offensive side of the football. Conversely, things have been quiet for the Vikings on the defensive side of the football, which is a pretty good thing. The Vikings are returning everybody from a defense that led the NFL in sacks in 2009 with 48, was tenth in the NFL in points allowed, and was sixth in the NFL in total yards allowed.
Jared Allen is still the best pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. The Irresistible Force and the Immovable Object. . .who you might know as Kevin and Pat Williams, respectively. . .are still the most formidable defensive tackle duo in the NFL. The Vikings are welcoming E.J. Henderson back at the middle linebacker spot after getting second-year man Jasper Brinkley invaluable experience during last year's playoff run. Antoine Winfield is back from his foot injury at the cornerback spot, and rookie Chris Cook has shown a great deal of promise this pre-season, giving the Vikings an upgrade at what might have been their weakest link.
Regardless of the troubles. . .real or perceived. . .on the offensive side of the ball, Leslie Frazier's group will ensure that the Minnesota Vikings are one of the National Football League's best teams.
3) The "Minnesota Has A More Difficult Schedule" Argument Doesn't Hold Much Water
Last year, the Vikings were said to have an easy schedule. Granted, they were fortunate enough to match up with the NFC West (which was one of the two worst divisions in football last year), but they also had to play the AFC North, which qualified two teams for the AFC playoffs in the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens. . .both of whom Minnesota beat. . .as well as the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. This in addition to playing the other three NFC North teams twice each and the winners of the other NFC divisions from the previous year.
This season, the Vikings will match up with what are considered to be possibly the two best divisions in the NFC. . .the two Eastern divisions. So, yes, Minnesota's schedule has gotten tougher. This much is true. There's one other truth connected to that as well. . .and that's the fact that the schedules of the other NFC North teams have gotten tougher as well. Quite frankly, this probably bodes well for the Vikings.
In 2009, the Vikings played eight teams with winning records. . .two regular season games against the Green Bay Packers (11-5), regular season match-ups against Baltimore (9-7), Pittsburgh (9-7), Arizona (10-6), and Cincinnati (10-6), and playoff match-ups against Dallas (11-5) and New Orleans (13-3). Minnesota was 5-3 in those games.
The Packers are considered Minnesota's primary competition in the NFC North in 2010, and they also played eight games against winning teams in 2009. . .two games against Minnesota (12-4), two games against Arizona (10-6), and games against Cincinnati (10-6), Dallas (11-5), Baltimore (9-7), and Pittsburgh (9-7). Their record in those eight games? 3-5. . .and, keep in mind, one of those games against Arizona had the Cardinals completely mailing it in so as not to show the Packers anything before their playoff match-up the next week.
Tougher schedule? More reason to take the Vikings, in my opinion. After all. . .
4) When In Doubt, Go With Talent
The Minnesota Vikings are the most talented team in the NFC North, possibly the most talented team in the NFC, and one could make the argument that they're the most talented team in the National Football League. Other teams will sign players that the Minnesota Vikings will cut, and those players will improve those teams. . .particularly the defensive linemen that the Vikings are going to have to let go of. The Vikings had the best defense in the division in 2009, they had the best defense in the division in 2009. . .and nothing has happened, in my opinion, to prevent me from expecting any differently in 2010. The Vikings are returning all 22 of their starters from the 2009 team (eventually, when Cedric Griffin comes back from his injury), and they've already proven their worth on the field of play.
In the National Football League, talent wins more often than not. Of course, as we've seen first-hand, there are always exceptions to this rule. Which leads me to the final reason that we shouldn't be worrying about the Vikings.
5) This Team Is On A Mission
Let's face it. . .the Minnesota Vikings were the best team in the National Football League in 2009. I know it, you know it, anybody that watched the NFL last year knows it, and deep down the rest of the NFL probably knows it, too. They proved, beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt, that the only team in the NFL capable of stopping the Minnesota Vikings is the Minnesota Vikings. And don't think for one second that it isn't going to infuriate every person on that sideline on 9 September when they stand there and watch the New Orleans Saints raise a championship banner that everyone on that team knows damn well should be going up in their house instead.
This team is going to be focused and on a mission, the likes of which we've never seen from a Minnesota Vikings team in the past. There are a lot of guys on the roster that aren't getting any younger, and they know the window is closing. They want to get it done this year. . .and I, for one, am not going to doubt them.