2012 Record: 10-6
A triceps injury forced Christian Ponder to miss what would have been his first ever playoff start.
Third-year wingman Joe Webb, who hadn't thrown a pass all season, and hadn't started a game in over two years, got the call to start against the Packers.
It certainly showed that Webb was rusty. The youngster completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards, one late touchdown, and a pick (54.9 rating) as Green Bay knocked out their division rival, 24-10. Webb also lost a second-half fumble when his team could have used a jolt.
After engineering a ten-play drive for a field goal to start the game, Minnesota stalled on their next four drives, punting each time. Prior to the final two urgent Vikings drives, Webb was 7 for 24 for a paltry 59 yards and the interception to Sam Shields.
Defense Got Piled On Early
The Packers did all of their damage in the early stages, scoring their 24th point with a shade under ten minutes to go in the third quarter. All four scores for Green Bay occurred on their first six drives of the game, and no drive was particularly lengthy.
Aaron Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the first team scoring drive, netting 54 yards and a touchdown run, capping an 82-yard drive. Over the four scoring drives (including the three and out), Rodgers went 18 for 23 for 244 yards and a touchdown, a 126.9 rating in that time frame.
For all Minnesota could do defensively during the onslaught, they garnered two sacks (one on the three and out by Jared Allen), got said three and out, and held Green Bay to a field goal once. The Vikings, with just 10 INTs all year, couldn't force a single turnover.
2013 Projected Wins: 7.5
Top 3 Rookies
-Sharrif Floyd, DT (1/23): With a new generation of pass-rushers supplementing Jared Allen, this aggressive lineman is like a larger DeMarcus Ware: can be used in many spots.
-Xavier Rhodes, CB (1/25): Tasked with replacing ageless Antoine Winfield, Rhodes is capable of aiding an already capable run-stopping unit with tremendous block-shedding.
-Cordarrelle Patterson, WR (1/29): Dinner-jacket-wearing receiver possesses make-em-miss footwork, but could stand to fine-tune his route-running.
Injuries prevented Old Spice pitchman Greg Jennings from playing at his usual level last season, but Minnesota was more than happy to poach him from Green Bay. At $45M over five years, he'll be counted on to return to his healthier form, in which he posted five straight seasons of at least 900 yards receiving.
Other incoming talents include up-and-down quarterback Matt Cassel, coming off two straight rough seasons in Kansas City. Jennings wasn't the only line-crosser in the NFC North, as the Vikings took in former Detroit DE Lawrence Jackson and CB Jacob Lacey
Meanwhile, the Vikings took care of some in-house business. Versatile linerbacker Erin Henderson was re-signed at an amazingly-low $4M tag. Phil Loadholt remains the right tackle for upwards of four years, and Jerome Simpson compliments a deepening receiver group.
Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Christian Ponder
RB - Adrian Peterson
FB - Jerome Felton
WR - Greg Jennings
WR - Cordarrelle Patterson
TE - Kyle Rudolph
LT - Matt Kalil
LG - Charlie Johnson
C - John Sullivan
RG - Brandon Fusco
RT - Phil Loadholt
LE - Brian Robison
NT - Letroy Guion
DT - Kevin Williams
RE - Jared Allen
OLB - Chad Greenway
MLB - Erin Henderson
OLB - Gerald Hodges
CB - Chris Cook
CB - Xavier Rhodes
FS - Harrison Smith
SS - Mistral Raymond
K - Blair Walsh
P - Jeff Locke
LS - Cullen Loeffler
2013 at a Glance
By procuring three first round picks (the first team to do so since St. Louis in 2001), the Vikings are showing that they want to win now, while also building a young nucleus that'll hopefully last for years to come.
The Vikings were able to make the 2012 playoffs via a late push that included four wins to end the regular season.
Among their wins, they defeated the fading Bears, bringing Minnesota within one game of tying them within the North.
In the end, Minnesota prevented Green Bay from claiming a first round bye with a heart-stopping 37-34 win, giving the Vikings the sixth seed. Of course, that meant they had to play the enraged Packers a week later and, well, we know how that turned out.
Peterson's bold comeback from a torn ACL netted him not Comeback Player of the Year, but the MVP award for his 2,097 rushing yards, nine shy of wresting Eric Dickerson's three-decade-old record.
Peterson's off-season claim, that his leg is healthier now than it was all of last season, could just be good-natured boasting. Or perhaps it's a harbinger of another pantheon-level season from the game's best running back.
The best running game from a year ago was offset to a degree by an offense ranked 19th in third down percentage.
Of Minnesota's 306 first downs, 113 came on the ground (eighth highest), while 163 came via pass (tied for sixth lowest). 30 were via penalty. It's an indicator that, in short-yardage situations, Peterson remains a reliable force, while passing for down renewal is a struggle for Ponder.
With Peterson, Ponder generally doesn't overdo it. He played it safe last season, throwing only 30+ passes in a game eight times. As good as Jennings and Rudolph can be, and as protective as the line has become (a huge leap from 2011 to 2012), if AP gets hurt again, Ponder will be forced out of his comfort zone, where many questions remain.
The defense of Leslie Frazier and Alan Williams proved it could be thrown on, as opponents held a 92.3 passer rating. A great offensive line can stifle the hellish pass rush of Allen and company, and then the Vikings are their most vulnerable.
While there is a solid youth infusion via the draft (with Smith last season, too), Allen's contract expires after this season, and there have reportedly been no talks. Still dangerous at 31, Allen's had 74 sacks in five seasons with the team, and would be a considerable loss.
You'd think a playoff team that made three first round selections would be seen as likely to build on the good season, but it's not an easy road. Peterson had four 100-yard games (and a 210 yard day) in four losses that weren't exactly nail-biters.
Ponder's stats are decent, but he hasn't proven to be dominant. A good offense is built around him, and he's got a mighty test this year. Road games in Green Bay, Chicago, Baltimore, New York Giants, and Seattle will show if 2012 was a fluke season.