After getting off to a fast start in 2012 with an impressive 5-2 record the Minnesota Vikings seemed to run out of steam midway mainly due to a less than stellar passing attack. With their star Wide Out sidelined due to a nagging high ankle sprain the offense struggled to find any kind of a rhythm. The Vikings entered the final quarter of the season where they had to win their four remaining games just to have a shot at a playoff berth. In that final stretch they played two road games against the Rams and Texans as well as home games against two divisional rivals both trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. But with their season on the line the guys in purple did not disappoint. After running through those first three games against St. Louis, Chicago and Houston the Vikings found themselves facing their biggest nemesis of late in a week 17 showdown with the Green Bay Packers. By then the Packers had already clinched the North but a win against the Vikes not only would frustrate their playoff hopes but also could give the Pack a highly coveted 1st round bye. Most of the game was an offensive highlight reel competition between Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers/Greg Jennings with the Packers going ahead right around the 2-minute warning. With a loaded box the Packers defense forced the Vikings into a 3rd and 17 with 1:47 remaining. During that extra, long commercial break I did much pacing and even a bit of praying in desperation. Ponder’s erratic play against Green Bay earlier in the season not only cost them the game but also forced OC Bill Musgrave to shorten his leach considerably, placing an extra heavy burden on the shoulders of their All Pro man in the backfield. Peterson had racked up nearly 200 yards on the ground at that point but now facing a 3rd down and what seemed like forever the only chance at football in January other than watching from home would be from their struggling signal caller. With the pressure mounting and their season on the line it was all eyes on Ponder. After only rushing three for the majority of the game Green Bay’s DC Don Capers called an all-out blitz flushing Ponder from the pocket. As Ponder rolled left he kept his eyes down field and threaded the needle to an open Mike Jenkins for the 1st down. The Vikings drove the ball down the field finally setting up a 51 yard game winning field goal from their rookie record setting kicker.
After helping his team get in the door Ponder never was able to take a single snap during wild card weekend. The 12th pick of the 2011 draft was sidelined due to a severely bruised triceps. With Joe Webb under center the Vikings never had a chance and were dominated from start to finish.You may ask yourselves why I brought up the 2012 season in an article predicting the outcome of 2013. Earlier this offseason GM Rick Spielman had many scratching their heads when he credited his franchise QB equally with MVP workhorse Adrian Peterson as the secret to their success in 2012. After arguably the best performance ever by a running back in a pass happy league most would simply conclude that Spielman must be out of his mind but when you look closer at that final 4 game stretch you can begin to see just what Mr. Spielman was talking about. Ponder stepped up right when he had to, executing the offense just as he was asked to do, and made several “clutch” throws including a 65 yard bomb to Jarius Wright in the week 17 finale. With Harvin on IR, Ponder wasn’t left with much to work with from the receiver position but still did an excellent job spreading the ball around while limiting the turnovers which had plagued him in his mid-season slump giving many fans good reason for optimism going into 2013.
After a disappointing 2011 campaign finishing just 3-13 the Vikings found themselves in what is known around the league as the dreaded “rebuilding mode”. Before the start of the 2012 season the vast majority of “so called” NFL experts had predicted Minnesota would finish the year among the NFL’s worst battling it out for the #1 pick in 2013. But after an excellent draft and a full offseason of work which included full participation at voluntary workouts and minicamps Frazier and co. had reason to be optimistic and the team finished the season 10-6 earning themselves their 1st playoff berth since 2009 under the Brad Childress regime.
Now as we eagerly await the coming 2013 season those very same critics which we all thought would be silenced are once again predicting the Vikings will finish somewhere around 9-7 and be at home come playoff time mainly pointing the finger at a tough schedule and doubting Peterson can once again put up those type of numbers for a 2nd time. As usual the vast majority are already crowning the Packers before the start of the season but on behalf of the Vikings and their fan base I’d like to take this moment to say “NOT SO FAST YA CHEESEHEADS!”
With a “build through the draft” mentality GM Rick Spielman once again showed why he was worthy of his promotion just two seasons ago, when he landed three picks in the bottom of the 1st round to close out day one of the 2013 NFL draft. After already picking Shariff Floyd at #23 and Xavier Rhodes at #25, the Vikings shocked all in attendance by moving back up into the 1st round to grab their guy Cordarrelle Patterson at #29. The Vikings also handed out contracts to a few of their own (Phil Loadholt, Erin Henderson, Jerome Felton and Jerome Simpson) but their most pivotal move came when they signed free agent WR Greg Jennings, who had long been a thorn in their side, away from a division rival to help fill the void left by the extremely talented but rarely happy/often injured Percy Harvin.
In today’s NFL one thing is for certain, there are no gimmies. Just because a team made the playoffs in 2012 doesn’t necessarily mean they will again in the upcoming season. Even with a healthy Adrian Peterson in the backfield coming off an MVP performance the Vikings will have their work cut out for them. After winning the battle against physics Peterson will find himself running against history in 2013. Throughout time there has only been a select few to ever break the 2000 yard barrier from the running back position and none have ever repeated. It is highly likely opposing defenses will load the box in order to slow down Peterson until Christian Ponder can consistently prove he can get the ball to the open man. With a vast improved receiving corp. and another year under his belt I think he will do just that and bring some much needed balance to a highly potent yet predictable run heavy offense.
So now we get to the fun part, my prediction for the 2013 NFL season for our favorite team the Minnesota Vikings. I predict that we will finish the year with an 11-5 record atop the NFC North and in the very least will win a home playoff game in the final year at the Metrodome and in doing so Coach Frazier will earn that extension and the Minnesota will be in good hands for years to come.