Is Minnesota a legitimate NFC contender?

Sam Monson looks at whether the Vikings are truly one of the NFC's best teams.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Is Minnesota a legitimate NFC contender?


With No. 1 seed Carolina the lone undefeated in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings assumed the position of the conference’s second seed and a bye on Sunday afternoon after their win in Oakland. Unfortunately for the Vikings it was short-lived, as just a few hours later Arizona took over their spot with a win in Seattle on Sunday Night Football.

It wasn’t all disappointment for the Vikings, as their win over the Raiders did move them into the lead in the NFC North after the Packers lost to Detroit, which places them third overall in the NFC at 7-2.

The Vikings have the look of one of the NFC’s best teams and are now starting to earn the type of wins that will have them taken seriously as a true Super Bowl contender.

The Rams and Raiders – their last two victims – represented two litmus-test games which they passed with flying colors, and next week they have a chance to lay down another marker by defeating the Packers in Minnesota.

So, how good is this Vikings team?

Minnesota’s strength starts on defense, which is quickly becoming an extremely good unit. DT Linval Joseph, LB Anthony Barr and S Harrison Smith represent three of the best-performing players on defense in the NFL and provide the Vikings with a stud at each level of the defense. That trio is far from alone though, and players like DT Sharrif Floyd and DE Everson Griffen have been major positives up-front, while corners Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman have graded well on the back end, too.

The team has been getting thin at linebacker, though, with injuries sending them deep down the bench, and they have seen curious downturns in the form of players like CB Xavier Rhodes, but they are making up for that with an impressive scheme that has been able to generate a huge amount of pressure with its blitz.

Minnesota blitzes this season almost exactly as often as the NFL average (30.8 percent for the Vikings compared to 30.7 percent league-wide), but they have dialed it up over 40 perccent on more than one occasion and also under 20 percent on others, depending on the opponent. This variance in game plans has meant that when they blitz they generate pressure on 59.3 percent of plays in which they send five rushers. When they send only four, they are still pressuring the quarterback on 34.5 percent of passing plays.

Eight different defenders have double-digit total pressures on the season and LB Eric Kendricks isn’t far from becoming a ninth, with eight total pressures to his name. The Vikings defense is quickly becoming one of the league’s best, and you need look no further than the job they did derailing Raiders QB Derek Carr yesterday, who came into that game playing as well as any quarterback in the league on a run of six straight impressive games.

On offense, the team is more inconsistent, but there are certainly still reasons to be optimistic. QB Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t taken the step forward he appeared he was taking at the end of his rookie season, but he continues to make just enough plays to keep things moving, and RB Adrian Peterson continues to look ageless as he leads the league in rushing at 30 years old. He was the highest-graded running back in the NFL this week. Add in rookie WR Stefon Diggs, and the Vikings finally look to have found their top wideout they’ve been searching for over the past several years.

If there is an Achilles heel to this unit, it’s the offensive line, which can’t nail down a consistent performance from all five starters in a given game. Each of the five starters has been solid at times, but they have never done it all at the same time, and in particular OG Brandon Fusco and OT T.J. Clemmings have seen more bad than good.

No quarterback in the league is pressured on more of his dropbacks than Bridgewater (45.9 percent), and while much of that is Norv Turner’s scheme and his league-high average time-to-throw number (2.83 seconds), it is something likely to catch up with them. Bridgewater’s passer rating when kept clean this season is 103.8 and he is completing 74.7 percent of his passes on those plays. When pressured his rating tumbles to 55.0, while completing just 48.0 percent of those passes.

The Vikings have the talent on both sides of the ball to be contenders come January, but they need to iron out their weaknesses down the stretch if they’re to hang with the best the league has to offer.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • enai D

    Adrian Peterson dragged a crap team with Christian Ponder at QB (yuck) to a 10-6 record and a Wildcard spot. Given that this years Vikings defense is WAY better than that teams’, and Bridgewater is at least a moderate upgrade over Ponder at QB, I don’t see how anyone can write off a deep playoff run for this Vikings team.

    • nubian47 .

      yup he put the team on his back and walked em into the playoffs an never got credit for it. Matter of fact he got dumped on after his personal issue with his son.

      • enai D

        Well, he did get SOME credit for it at least- he won MVP, after all- but it does seem like people forgot about it awfully quickly after the abuse scandal and his subsequent year away.

  • Jason Williams

    You remember the 13-3 Chiefs? The 13-3 2001 Bears? the Panthers from 2 years ago?

    That’s who this team is.

    • JudoPrince

      So basically your saying this team will end up with a good record but won’t win the Super Bowl. Bold statement, lol.

      • enai D

        Yeah really going out on a limb there lol.. Especially since this wasn’t even supposed to be a playoff team this year

      • Pete

        Yeah, really. That statement qualifies for 31 teams this year.

      • Antileftist

        he’s a master at stating the obvious.

    • The Mysteries of Bob

      What if they are the 1998 Falcons?

      • Jason Williams

        sure- what if. I’m sure the Vikes would love to get shredded in the Super Bowl.

        • Packerfan all week

          and what if the bears are not packers and vikings bitch this year and last 2 year. Fact is they won’t happen bears are pathetic franchise.

    • Finchy74

      lol look at the roster. It’s a team that has a bunch of kids (albeit absurdly talented kids) on both sides of the ball. This was supposed to be a development/progression year for a talented but young team. The fact that they’re playing this well already is just gravy.

      EDIT: I see from your comment history that you’re just a frustrated Bears fan. Why be so salty when your team finally has a decent coaching staff and is headed in the right direction? I realize the Bears are a terrible team in a genuinely terrible town filled with terrible people, but look on the bright side.

      • crosseyedlemon

        The bright side being citizens of Chicago don’t have a troll like you as a neighbor.

        • Finchy74

          lol the guy shows up on here all bitter and takes a crap in everyone’s cornflakes, someone calls him on it and you have the temerity to call me a troll? That’s rich.

          I realize that reading skills are a low priority in Chicago, well beneath dodging gunfire and avoiding being crushed under the weight of falling property values, but make the time.

          • Amir Miles

            Terrible town? Every person I have ever talked to loves Chicago. Minnesota is almost as irrelevant as Green Bay. Talk crap about the Bears (the winningest team in the NFL) when Minnesota makes it to a Super Bowl for once, which honestly may be in the next 5 years or so.

          • Ser Jaime

            Lol whatever. Bears will get swept this season.

          • Amir Miles

            I doubt we do, but even if we do Vikings still won’t make anything of this season. Best case, one and done in the play offs and a shitty draft position.

          • Ser Jaime

            U think bears are going to come to Minnesota and get a win? Ehh

          • Pete

            2,674 shootings in Chicago so far this year. Yeah, I’d love to live there.

          • crosseyedlemon

            Minneapolis has far fewer shootings because no one there has a life worth taking.

          • Pete

            Listen to what you just said.

          • jay mill

            lol sensitive girl.

          • crosseyedlemon

            Minneapolis came within a whisker of letting the Vikings move to Los Angeles so that tells you all you need to know about that town.

          • Justin

            No they didn’t.

          • Antileftist

            a whisker? what a stupid comment. Please give us some specifics on that one chump.

          • GBpackersteve

            OK “the winningest team in the NFL is irrelevant because their are trash now and why don’t the bears win a super bowl in this decade.

        • Pete

          2,674! Shooting in Chicago so far this year. What IS the bright side of Chicago?

          • Antileftist

            hell, that is the bright side of chitown. it’s all downhill after the shootings.

          • Amir Miles

            Really in what aspect Antileftist? Please elaborate, because that statement holds no weight.

          • Antileftist

            well there’s the whole corrupt govt you’ve been living with for decades. The cronyism, political payoffs and mob/teamster control all contribute to an atmosphere which essentially led to the ordinary citizen having virtually no say in their representation. Not to mention that the govt is too stupid to allow law abiding citizens to arm themselves against criminals. The underfunded public pensions are a looming disaster of mega proportions. Not to mention that it already has one of the highest city taxes in the country. Are they up to 10% yet? Costly toll roads on top of high gas taxes. And your gang problem is 2nd to none. The drug abuse and associated nonlethal violence is bad enough without the murders. At least most of the murders are between gang bangers. Their public schools are a disaster, and they have to lie about their graduation rates to make themselves look even below average. And touting 5 year graduation rates of 69% as acceptable? When you have 4 grades? LOL. And CPS waits to announce the phony graduation rates until after Rahm is elected? Even though he pointed to those phony inflated graduation rates while campaigning as an example of his “success”. Yeah nothing like good old democrat transparency.
            Was I being facetious about the murders? Sure, but I’ve known a number of people who lived there and couldn’t wait to get out. As a multiple time visitor, when my home team is playing there, I get in and out as quickly as possible so as to avoid wandering accidently into whole sectors of the city which are unfit for outsiders. My city of 4 million doesn’t have even one city block that I would be afraid to walk down, at least during daylight. And when my buddies Smith and Wesson are with me, I wouldn’t be afraid to walk down them at night either. We don’t have gangs which number in the hundreds or even thousands who come after you in numbers. Hell we still give people tickets for spitting on the sidewalk or loitering. And Chitown’s corrupt political machine gave us arguably the worst president since Warren Harding (R).

          • Amir Miles

            I see now, you are an older gentleman who is clearly very conservative with you “gun control” comments as well as Obama bashing (Didn’t notice your name until now). By the way, the country voted for Obama so blame the country not Chicago what a ridiculous statement. You honestly bring up great points it is clear we value different things in a city. I am a college aged student, so I value exciting events, a large city with a lot of traffic. You mentioned corruption, which is again, an American problem not just a Chicago problem. Actually, it’s a world problem and will be for the rest of the existence of the human species. You are going into a much deeper problem which is totally fine and you informed me on things that I was ignorant about, but to be honest, I’d still much rather live in Chicago. I have never felt unsafe in Chicago because I have no reason to visit the underdeveloped dangerous parts. I love how there is always something to do and anyone I’ve ever meant loved it, but these are people 30 and under. Chicago is definitely meant for people 18-30 and I have a feeling a conservative white male like yourself does not fit into that demographic. I was thinking fun and you were thinking politics. Both, in my opinion, are valid.

          • Amir Miles

            Unless your a very poor individual living in the South Side of Chicago you will not see one bit of violence and you know this. People don’t visit Chicago and fear for their safety, it is poor black gang related Chicagoans killing other poor black gang related Chicagoans in a very small area. Chicago is a beautiful city with amazing events and amazing schools and an amazing entertainment field with museums and festivals. Ask around, anyone would rather live in Chicago than in the crap town of Minneapolis.

          • Pete

            Tourism in Chicago??? Yeah, that’s why we see nothing but Illinois plates in Minnesota all summer long FIB’s

          • Amir Miles

            Wait, are you insinuating that there is more tourism in Minnesota than there is in Chicago? Please tell me you’re joking? If you are you just implying it’s Illinois people that makes sense, since its close and sometimes people like a change of pace. But does Minnesota have an O’hare? Exactly what I thought.

          • Pete

            Truthfully, I don’t live in Mpls either but “up north”. Used to live in the Twin Cities but couldn’t wait to move back home when I retired. I just don’t like big cities.

    • Justin

      You mean the 8-0 Panthers?

      • Jason Williams

        no I mean the team that went 13-3 two years ago and then bowed out to San Fran in the divisional round. good team, just not great.

        this year’s Panthers team I’m a bit more bullish on. Cam Newton’s QB play has really matured this year. Very impressed watching him play. Too bad everything else about him is still a little ridiculous.

        • Justin

          Who are now 8-0 and one of the best teams in the league…

          • Jason Williams

            let’s not get carried away – win some playoff games and then we’ll talk.

          • Justin

            How did I get carried away by pointing out a flaw in your logic? You are expressing that somehow the Vikings success is an aberration, that will not be repeated and you used the CAR panthers as your example who after a bad season are now one of two undefeated teams in the NFL. And possibly the best team in the league right now. I have made no comparisons to anyone. Am I missing something….

          • Jason Williams

            my comment referenced the 2013 Panthers – I don’t know why you can’t figure that out.

          • Justin

            Yea and those same panthers are NOW 8 and 0. SO apparently there success was not as short lived as your logic seems to insist upon…” I don’t know why you can’t figure that out.”

          • Jason Williams

            oh go take your self righteous garbage someplace else.

          • Justin

            Dude are you drunk right now?

          • Justin

            You really seem to have a tenuous grasp on whats happening. I just want to make sure you are not having a stroke or something…

          • Justin

            You made a comment implying, that either the 2013 CAR panthers team was bad or their success short lived, in an effort to compare them to the current Vikings team, neither of which is accurate. At 13-3 CAR was obviously a good team, only losing to a perennial superbowl contender in the divisional round. And they are now 8-0 and one of the best teams in the league. I do not even care about how the Vikings stack up, because it is all speculation at this point, but the logic upon which you based your assertion was clearly lacking an forethought. I pointed that out, and now I am “self righteous” and prone to spewing garbage? You might want to learn to detect flaws in you own logic or at worst take criticism or differing opinion before resorting to decidedly less than civilized discourse that has nothing to do with the facts. FACT: CAR was 12-4 in 2013, FACT Car is 8-0 in 2015 and have beaten some very good teams. So I am not sure how your comparison makes any sense.

          • Antileftist

            you are fine. JWILL is just an idiot who can’t comprehend that fact about himself.

          • Antileftist

            you’re the one with the self righteous garbage chump.

          • Carolina pete

            STFU bear fan bitch go 9-0 then talk.

          • Justin

            And if you are implying that somehow CAR was a bad team (or not great or whatever diminishing logic you are trying to apply), because they lost to SFO in the divisional round then I suggest you look at SFO record during Jim Harbaugh’s time there. SFO was really, really good.

  • TichoB

    The Vikings have yet to play a complete game. There is so much room for improvement. A big part of their offense hasn’t even been unleashed yet. Look at the way Norv saved that Diggs play for the right critical time. The Vikings are sitting on some aspects of the offense and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them this coming weekend.

    • Steven Macks

      This team left ten points on the field yesterday — the final score could have just as easily been 40-14. And you’re right: they haven’t played a complete game yet. Now I think the Raiders were a little overhyped coming into the game, but it was still a solid performance …and a reminder that they can be even better.

      • 3kolu

        I definitely agree that the Raiders were overrated. They were 4-4 with 2 losses at home. However, I hope the critics keep on underestimating this Vikings team who hasn’t even peaked yet.

        • Pete

          According to their rubes they were superbowl bound.

        • Pete

          PS, when is Exum going to get a chance because Sendejo almost single-handedly gave the game away Sunday

    • nubian47 .

      I agree. They’re 7-2 minus a legitimate all pro center (John Sullivan) and starting tackle Loadholt. If Rudolph and Patterson suddenly break out forget it.

  • Pete

    Just glad it’s fun to watch them again.

  • JudoPrince

    “QB Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t taken the step forward he appeared he was taking at the end of his rookie season…”

    What step are you really looking for? With a strong defense and running game, Teddy is managing the game as he is being asked to do. The few times he’s had to assume a more pivotol role in the passing attack,, Bridge has shined. Let’s not forget the @ Denver game earlier this year when was forced to deliver late. He was in the midst of putting together an impressive 4th quarter comeback drive before the offensive line completely collapsed. They lost the game but it showed that Teddy can lead a potent passing attack when needed. He also pulled together impressive late game showings against both Det and Chicago. The only thing missing from Teddy are the eye-popping TD passes, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken steps forward in his progression.

    • Brian_pdx

      The Vikings have one of the lowest rated passing offenses in the NFL. That isn’t what Bridgewater is being asked to do. If he solves that problem, not entirely all his problem, he will be taking that step forward the Vikings need. TDs are part of it but so is yardage, moving the ball and moving the chains through the air.

      • JudoPrince

        If you watch Vikings games you would clearly see that Bridge is very good at ‘moving the chains through the air’. A simple 8 yard completion on 3rd and 5 to the 3rd option receiver while rolling right gets it done. No, it doesn’t fluff the statistics you seek in terms of ‘rated passing offenses’, but its effective and has contributed to the 7-2 record.

    • Robert Meizo

      I live in Denver and the whole week following that game the sports radio talk hosts kept saying, Teddy is the real deal | this guy was awesome | He single handedly kept MN in that game. He had the highest of praises following that game from ALL of the radio sports casters out here. So yeah, the only thing he is really missing is all those TDs he should be throwing however, how many times have his guys dropped the ball in the endzone this year?

  • Kevin Ednie

    I think Norv is aware that the beating Troy Aikman took early in his career probably took 2-3 years off the back of it. He’s not going to subject Teddy to the pounding he would take if he was on a bunch of 7 step drops. The offensive line is not there yet.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m not sure how the Rams or Raiders constitute a litmus test for anyone but the coming game between the Vikings and Packers should answer some questions regarding both teams.

  • DoubtingTom

    I realize the play action is esp useful with a back like AP, but Turner needs to use more quick-slant timing type routes. Over the middle. He’s the got the fastest 4 WRs in the league (as a group). Get the ball in their hands. Obviously the OL isn’t going to allow enough time for many long routes and TB just doesn’t have the timing down yet for fly routes.

  • RDF

    Re the reference to Adrian Peterson as “ageless” – this, of course, refers to the fact that he’s 30. There’s a little bit of a suggestion in that word “ageless” that 30 is very old for a running back – is this true? Is 29 the end of the road, historically, for most great backs? Is 30 really old for running backs given the advances in the last 10 years in sports medicine, nutrition, training techniques? I really don’t know, I ask the question seeking info. Eric Dickerson had his last great year at age 29. So too with OJ Simpson. Barry Sanders was done and gone at 30. Larry Csonka came storming back at age 33 for a decent season after a couple of off-years. Marshall Faulk held on pretty nicely to age 31. Tony Dorsett’s last really good year was at 31. Has any running back ever gained 1200-plus yards at age 32-plus?

    • Pete

      Olympic sprinters are hitting their peak at 30

      • TichoB

        They don’t get hit all the time though. I’ve always wanted to see guys run 40 times again after say 5 years in the league and see what has happened to their times. I’ve never seen a guy maintain that elite top end speed for more than a few years. The only notable exception being Darrel Green, but he was a DB and didn’t take the hits a running back takes. Peterson is a different beast though. Top speed and bulk, most the speed guys aren’t as big as Peterson.

  • Mitch Abramson

    I think Teddy looked more mature and stayed under control, throwing the ball away rather than throwing interceptions or getting sacked. Idk why he CONSISTENTLY misses or overthrows Wallace. Perhaps he’s being rushed, but if those two can get on the same page, we are in business. Got a ticket for the GB game, can’t wait!

    • Thinkaboutit

      They’re definitely slightly off but there’s been about 5-6 deep balls that Wallace dropped or he was interfered with. Teddy just needs to add a little more arc and we’re in business, he always just barely over throws his receivers.

  • derek lundeen

    The Vikings might have the worst Offense in the NFC north (besides Detroit of course) but they sure as hell have the best defense…. imagine what they would be without AP

    • Montanavike

      And, I can imagine that if the chicken didn’t cross the road he wouldn’t be on the other side.