I have heard it said time and again that I am overly-optimistic. I have been told my optimism needs to be tempered and that my glasses are too rosey. In short, I've been told that I am setting myself up for dissapointment and I should set my sights lower so I am not dissapointed.
To this I ask, in the same tone as my toddler...why??
And so, sit back and put your fett up for a healthy serving of optimism juice aka The Purple Kool Aid...not to be confused with Purple Drank, that is a different column.
I have some thoughts on what the keys to a successful season for the Vikes in 2012 will be.
First let me start by setting up what I define as a “successful season”. As in any year the goal of the team, the guys being paid to play and coach, shouldn’t be mediocrity. They shouldn’t be aiming to do better than last year and give the fans a good show. Their goal, their measure of success should be nothing short of a Super Bowl win. That is right, I think the pros should see it that there are 31 unsuccessful teams every year.
But from a FAN standpoint I can settle for less than that. But not much less. I’m not going to write about how I’ve tempered my enthusiasm and a 5-win season will be enough for me to have hope for the future. I say a successful season is:
• 7+ wins (I’m thinking we get 8 or 9)
• Not getting swept in our division
• Some key stats changing
I think we can honestly beat the Jags, Colts, Rams, Seahawks and Bucs. I think with a little luck/health we can beat the Titans, Redskins, Cardinals and Bears or Lions. I don’t suspect we’ll get all of those but I don think some of them will fall our way. I think we’re in tough against the 49ers, Packers and Texans.
More about NFC-North opponents a little later but for the rest of the wins:
Jags, Colts, Rams and Bucs are all rebuilding and I think we just simply have more talent on our squad than they do. I like that we get Gabbert at home Week 1: Ponder > Gabbert. I like that we get Luck early in his season. RGIII will come with 5 weeks of practice and a ton of athleticism and an improved WR core over last year’s Skins. But I don’t think they out-match us in any/all areas so I don’t think this is out of reach. The Seahawks are still running on the strength of their D and a solid running game but have no #1 WR (Sidney Rice was as great as Favre made him) and no proven QB (By then we’ll see if Flynn was a 1-game wonder or if Tarvaris is back in or their new QB…whatsisname…Frodo Baggins?) and we get a long week to prepare. So I’m seeing some of those games landing in the W column for us.
All in all, with the way the schedule plays out I think we have a solid shot of having 5 wins before the bye-week: after than it is tough sledding but I think if we stay healthy and manufacture a little luck we can pull another 2 or 3 out of that 6.
Not getting swept in our division:
Last year The Lions made a big come back to win by 3 and then in December we almost came back after trailing 31-14 at the half. The Bears beat us up in October and then squeaked by in week 17 as both teams limped to sad ends for hopeful franchises. An upstart QB named Ponder almost beat the Packers in his NFL starting QB debut and then…we played the Packers again later last year but I can’t seem to recall what happened. It is like my brain is saving me from a painful memory.
So why do I have hope for us in this brutal black and blue division in 2012? Simple. We got better.
Yes, all 32 teams presumably get better in the off-season. But I look at what we needed to do versus what the Bears, Lions and Packers needed to do and I think we upgraded more than any of those three teams.
First the Packers – yes, they didn’t need to upgrade as much as we did. So by virtue of being as good as they are they didn’t have the opportunity to get better. With that being said I would say the one thing they needed to do to keep ahead of the rest of the NFL was upgrade their O-Line. They gave up 41 sacks last year. And their offense revolves around Aaron Rodgers. No doubt he is among the Leagues best QBs. But his back-up isn’t. I don’t think anyway. Hard to say when he’s a complete unknown. The Pack are 1-sack away from taking a nose-dive in power rankings everywhere and ruining hundreds of fantasy teams. They wouldn’t be the 2011 Colts but I don’t think they’d be the 2008 Pats either. And the Chiefs and Giants (and nearly the Vikings) showed us that pressuring Rodgers is a good game plan against the Packers. I am thinking a lot of teams will be looking to beat Rodgers will focus more on pressure and less on picks this year. And he’ll likely come out ahead on that deal, putting up huge numbers again and leading the Pack to their fair share of shoot-out wins. But I also think that we can expect to see the Packer’s give up more sacks this year. A questionable LT (Clifton was released so they’re rumoured to be going with Newhouse who took most of the snaps there last year and who ranked second-to-last among starting LTs for pass protection) and an aging, but wily pro-bowl, Center…and not drafting an O-Line player until the seventh round (OT/OG Datko)…I don’t think GB did enough to cover up their biggest weakness. They’re still deadly and will run rough over most NFL teams, including the Vikings most likely. But I don’t think they will go 15-1. With that said I think they have their destiny in hand by Week 17 so I don’t think we’ll see many of their starters in that game, especially Rodgers, for the reason I stated…he’s too valuable to take this kind of abuse without a good reason.
So what about the first game against them? They’re two-weeks off their bye-week and will be coming off games against the Lions and the Giants. I expect that Rodgers will have seen his fair share of pressure in those games. The Pack are too smart to look past us or count it as an easy win. But if weather and/or wear-and-tear on Rodgers play a factor I like our grinding style and pressure on the Double-Check champ to give us Vikes’ fans something to cheer about.
The Bears – They’ve upgraded their receiving core. We’ve upgraded our defensive backs. Marshall would be an upgrade for most teams but the Bears WRs are average at best. So he was a huge addition there as was their drafting of Alshon Jeffrey..assuming his work-ethic stays high and his weight stays low. Yes, Hester burned us on an actual receiving play last year. But burning our secondary last year is hardly the measuring stick you want to use. By the same token, their secondary is hardly striking fear in anyone and our receivers are mostly unknown. Their QB has shown success and Ponder is still unproven. So let’s give an edge to the Bears
Their strength on D is pass-rushing, same as ours. And while I will take Jared Allen over Julius Peppers every day of the week I can call this one a tie. But where we pull even again is that we’ve made some moves to improve our O-Line. I don’t know that the Bears have any such claim. So Cutler and Marshall may carry the potential for a great duo, but if Cutler gets paired with the turf early and often then it could be a long year for the Bear’s QB and an early retirement for his confidence. The Bears face the Texans and 49ers the two weeks prior to hosting us, then Seattle and then us again with Green Bay coming the next week and the bye-week a distant memory to all of those games. I'm seeing that as a stretch for you to start someone else if you have Cutler as your fantasy QB.
Combine that with the complete lack of imagination on the part of Mike Tice and I think the Bear’s, despite their talent, take a step back this year. Cutler isn’t known for his ability to assimilate complicated playbooks which may be good because Tice isn’t known for his ability to think up complex schemes. Potential Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator candidates may want to make sure the Bear’s FO has a copy of their resume because their may be some vacancies. This year’s schedule and the lack of fixing holes on the team does not bode well for success in Chi town. I think we can grab both wins and would be disappointed to see us not at least split the series.
The Lions – The Week 4 match-up may be my second-most anticipated game of this upcoming season. I expect Wins for the Vikes in Weeks 1 & 2, think we’re in tough against Randy Moss in Week 3 but can’t wait to see Cook line up against him. The headline writes itself: Cook avenges catering staff: Moss gets stuffed
But Week 4 will tell us how far we’ve come in our division. We know these players. We know this team. We’ll see if Reiff is as good at his new job as Kalil is at his and if Broyles is back from injury to line-up with Megatron then our DBs may have a long day. But I want to see what Cook can do this year against Calvin. Steel sharpens steel and all that. And hopefully everybody is healthy and happy and two teams go out there (some questions about Fairley and a few others re: possible suspensions) and play some great football. In my opinion, this game will be the measuring stick for the Vikings to say how long the rebuild will be – how far did we come in the off-season and were we truly a terrible team in 2011 or just the victims of some bad breaks.
I think the Lions did a good job of filling holes and upgrading where they needed to. When asked “Who will win the NFC North?” the Viking fan in me ALWAYS answers the Vikes…but the gambler in me says “but I’d hedge my bet with the Lions though, just to be safe.”
Coincidentally my most-anticipated game is November 4 against the Seahawks…because I’m going to this game. I don’t live in Minnesota. I don’t even live in the USA. So this will be my first Vikings game and I plan to sit loud and proud and purple in CenturyLink Field. They can bring their Skittles; I’ll be packing my own lunch because I plan on being there All Day.
There are always the stats that we all say we’d like to see improve. Whether that is go up or down depending on the stats. There are the usual suspects like wanting a QB rating to go up, passing yards against to go down, overall offensive and defensive rankings going up and any motion anywhere at any level of government against a new stadium going down in flames. Beyond those though, there are some very telling #s that I’d like to see decrease if not disappear altogether.
The first is that I’d like to see Chris Kluwe’s tackles and rushing attempts go to 0. Solid Special teams play and no muffed kick-offs, extra points, or punts…that would be great.
I’d like to see Sage Rosenfels’ QB rating be 0 at season’s end. I’m pro-Ponder so I’d like to see him put up big numbers. But I don’t think he’ll take every snap. I’d like to see Webb get clean-up duty in some late-season games when we’re in control. But I don’t want to see Sage in a game. I like sage. I think he got a raw deal when he signed with us thinking he’d compete with TJack for the starting position and then we got that guy from Mississippi. Then Sage got a raw deal from the Giants due to illness. I feel for the guy and wish that things could have been better because he seems like a class-act. But life is a lot of things and fair isn’t one of them. His time has come and gone and now I’d like to see him tutor these young guys to be better without taking a single snap under centre.
Last an most unlikely for the unusual I’d love to see the # of 1st downs given up to opponents by penalty get as close to 0 as possible. Last year we gave up 20 first downs by penalty. That is over 1 a game. How about we stop that…ok?
So those are a lot of the things that I’m excited for. I think Ponder takes a step forward. I think some of the new WRs and DBs step up and elevate the play of our team. I think the leaders we’ve had continue to excel and I think we’ve done more to climb the ladder than others in our division have. I’m excited for us to start this season and make some noise.
I will still watch every game this season with a thought that we have every chance and right to win it. I believe in the team and our talent and refuse to be a fan of any other mentality. Sundays when I slip on my jersey and take my place on the couch I adopt the mentality of a kid again and believe in my team; my wife says I hardly lose the mentality of a little boy most days but she’s just a poopy head with cooties so there. Anyway…fans of the Purple are always welcome in my man-cave on game days: just bring your optimism and check your “I hope we can win 5 games this year” at the door. And bring whatever snacks you like best but the drinks are on me…I have enough Purple Kool Aid for everybody!