Halfway through our look at the Vikings schedule, I think we can all pretty much agree that the Vikings should have a better than average record going into their bye week in Week 9. Five of Minnesota's first eight games will be played away from the cozy confines of the Metrodome, so the second half of the schedule sets up nicely for a second-half run, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the third quarter of the 2009 schedule.
The Third Quarter - The Sweetest Thing
The Vikings will come out of the gate from the bye week with three consecutive home games, which is usually a rarity in the National Football League. Couple that with the bye, and the Beloved Purple won't have to leave the Twin Cities for a month. The schedule for this particular portion of the season doesn't look particularly menacing, either.
We start out with our second tilt of the season against the Detroit Lions. Last year was a bit of an anomaly from the way this rivalry has gone over the course of the past decade or so. Last year the Lions played Minnesota close in both of their meetings, and were absolutely closer to beating the Vikings than they were to beating any other team on their schedule. However, the general rule has been that these two teams play a close game in Detroit. . .and then the Lions come to the Metrodome and get their heads stomped in by Minnesota. Hopefully this trend will continue this season, and the Vikings can maintain their dominance in a rivalry that they've pretty much owned for the last decade.
The next game for Minnesota will see them playing host to a team that the Vikings have developed a bit of a history with over the past couple of years, the Seattle Seahawks. Now, despite a member of Seattle's resident troll population visiting us recently and expounding on the greatness of the Seahawks. . .apparently, they might have been the greatest 4-12 team in NFL history. . .I'm not sure how much of a concern the Seahawks can or should be. Yes, they had a lot of injured players on offense last year, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who may or may not still be whining about E.J. Henderson's perfectly legal hit during the 2006 meeting between these two teams. This is reflected by their team's final standings on offense, where they finished 25th in points scored (18.4 ppg) and 28th in total yardage (274.1 ypg).
However, with that being the case, their defense was pretty abysmal in 2008 as well, where they were dead last in the NFL against the pass, 30th in yards allowed, and 25th in scoring defense. They then chose to upgrade their defense by trading one of their true studs in LB Julian Peterson to Detroit. In exchange, they got DT Cory Redding. . .who, since getting a big, fat contract extension in Detroit, has done a whole lot of jack squat. For crying out loud, they're still starting Brian Russell at safety. Yes, THAT Brian Russell.
As I said, yes, the Seahawks had some injury problems last year. . .they've also got a whole lot of holes that need patching. They're no longer the dominant force in the NFC West, or in the NFC in general. Unless they patch a whole lot of those holes at one time, I'm not sure if they can walk into the Metrodome and knock off a Vikings team that should have some momentum going.
We follow that up with a visit from the
Super Bowl XLIV Champion 2008 NFC North runner-up Chicago Bears. I've already detailed that I'm not terribly scared nor impressed by the Bears, with or without Jay Cutler. And, once again, the reason behind that is their defense is completely getting by on reputation to this point rather than how they're producing on the field. Jay Cutler, at last check, doesn't play defense. . .and, for the better part of last season, neither did anybody else in Chicago. Unless Brian Urlacher has somehow managed to take eight years off of his age in the off-season and Charles Tillman has figured out where Bernard Berrian is. . .how is that going to change now that they've gutted their draft?
That said, we generally split our games with our NFC North rivals from Green Bay and Chicago. I have no reason to think that Minnesota won't hold up their end of that bargain on this day. The Vikings bucking the trend and completing the season sweep will be a tall order, as we'll discuss in the next part of our schedule analysis.
We'll conclude this portion of the schedule with the only road game in this quarter of the season, as the Vikings will return to the scene of what might have been their most dominating performance of 2008 with a clash against the defending NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals. We all remember the 2008 game between these two teams, with Tarvaris Jackson throwing for four touchdown passes and the Beloved Purple generally thrashing Arizona from one side of University of Phoenix Stadium to the other. I don't think it's realistic to expect a repeat of this performance, but this is still, certainly, a winnable game.
In 2008, the Cardinals' pass offense was amazing. They had three receivers each go over the 1,000-yard mark, and basically threw the ball all over the field whenever they wanted. Of course, this came at the expense of having a pretty terrible rushing offense, as they finished dead last in the league in that category. Also, their offense might have a bit of a different look in 2009, as running back Edgerrin James is disgruntled, and the Cardinals are openly shopping wide receiver Anquan Boldin (as we've previously discussed). Also, with as great as Kurt Warner was in 2008, he had spent most of his time in Arizona fighting over the starting job with 2006 draft bust Matt Leinart. There's an old saying that says that you can't outrun Father Time. . .is this the year that Kurt Warner gets caught? We'll have to see.
Defensively, despite turning it on in the post-season and getting Jake Delhomme to use them for target practice in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, the Cardinals' defense really isn't all that intimidating. To wit, the only teams that allowed more points in the 2008 regular season than the Cardinals did were Kansas City, Denver, St. Louis, and Detroit. . .not exactly company you want to find yourself amongst while discussing defensive prowess. They added CB Bryant McFadden in what was a pretty good move, but they haven't done a whole lot beyond that. The Boldin situation should allow them to bring in a little more help, however, with the extra draft picks they should glean from any trade.
All in all, going into the final four games of the year, I honestly (at this point) think that the Vikings should be somewhere in the 8-4/9-3 range and have some serious momentum going their way heading into the stretch run. Of course, after a quarter century of being a Vikings' fan, nothing this team does would surprise me, but I'm actually fairly optimistic about what we've got to work with thus far.
We'll be back later on this afternoon with your Sunday Viking Vegur. . .hope to see you all back here then!