So, here we are, the beginning of the 2013-14 NFL season. Vikings have made a lot of changes since this time last year- AP is healthy, Antoine Winfield is out, Xavier Rhodes is in. Percy Harvin is out, and Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are in. We added Sharrif Floyd. Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Jerome Simpson are healthy. And a host of young players have proven themselves and/or are poised to have a good season. Players like Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, Harrison Smith, Everson Griffin, Matt Kalil and Blair Walsh among them.
And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to media love.
Last year, after coming off a 3-13 season, Football Outsiders, using their DVOA metric, figured 'mean wins' of 6.3, and a slim % chance (6.8%) of making the playoffs. No national media outlet that I'm aware of predicted the Vikings to make the playoffs. Some predicted the Vikings to land the first pick in the draft. Nearly everyone picked the Vikings, 0-6 in the division in 2011, to finish last in the NFC North. And, despite having by nearly all accounts a good draft, 6 wins was about the highest prediction out there.
OK, well at this time last year we had our best player still very much a question mark as to whether he'd play and how well he would be able to come back from knee surgery. Ponder, having been thrown out there w/o any prep mid-way through the previous year, looked like a project at best. The Vikings passing game outside of Harvin was a joke. Defensively, outside Jared Allen, the Vikings had a whole lot of not much. The NFC North was viewed as perhaps the toughest in the league (outside the Vikings) so really what chance did the Vikings have?
Fast forward to now.
The Vikings are coming off a 10-6 season. Adrian Peterson came back stronger than ever, helped by an ascending offensive line bolstered by Matt Kalil and featuring one of the best centers in the league in John Sullivan, and a very capable right tackle in Phil Loadholt, not to mention a pro-bowl blocking FB in Jerome Felton.
Christian Ponder, while still inconsistent, improved last year despite a receiving corps that, due to injury, was actually worse overall. Defensively the Vikings were average overall, but much better against the run than the pass, in large part because of injuries to starting CBs and a LB group that was relatively poor in coverage.
And then there were the off-season changes. Harvin out, Jennings and Patterson in. Winfield out, Rhodes in. Jasper Brinkley out, Desmond Bishop in. And Sharrif Floyd in rotation with Kevin Williams. AP healthy. Jared Allen healthy. Brian Robison healthy. Once again just about everyone thought the Vikings had a very good draft.
So, with all the changes, I was curious to get a sense of the national view of the Vikings prospects this year. Football Outsiders, despite all of the above, forecast a 'mean wins' of 5.7 - lower than their 2012 prediction and worst in the league! Yes, even the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets are forecast higher. And once again the Vikings chances of making the playoffs are dim- 5% give or take.
And once again I have yet to see any national media outlet predict the Vikings make the playoffs. The only question seems to be whether the Vikings will finish 3rd or 4th in the NFC North.
The Viking's glass is always half-empty for the national media:
Vikings fan: 10-6 last year. Made the playoffs.
Media: The Vikings got lucky. Everything went right for them. They'll never win that many close games again this year.
Vikings fan: Vikings have an improved receiver corps this year.
Media: Harvin was a big loss. Jennings, on the other hand, probably won't be able to stay healthy (with not even a hint of irony). Patterson, they concede slightly now after labeling him a bust early on, may work out, but it will be a while before he picks everything up. In any case, they are quick to follow, it's really about Christian Ponder with these receivers anyway and can he get them the ball. Ponder can't do it, so the passing game will not improve.
Vikings fan: well, we still have the league MVP.
Media: Adrian Peterson is a great running back. But he's not gonna come close to that mark again this year. History shows it just isn't done.
Vikings fan: what about Xavier Rhodes? Some are saying Harrison Smith and Everson Griffin could have break-out years.
Media: The loss of Antoine Winfield was a big one. Not sure how they overcome that loss. Not sure how these guys will perform.
And so it goes. Expectations are low nationally for the media. Just as low as after 3-13.
Maybe it's just as well.
PS: I'm guessing 13-3. But don't tell anyone.