Farewell to the Frazier era and hello to the Zimmer era. A new look defense and a rookie quarterback looks to challenge Matt Cassel in August. A solid receiving core and a maturing runningback lead the way in 2014. A 5-10-1 season does not leave much optimism, but this league revolves faster than any other. And to be frank, if you do not think there is a possibility the Vikings could reach the Super Bowl next year, what would be the point of watching? But you do watch because you don't know what will happen no matter what the roster looks like, each year turns a new leaf. Here are three ways the Vikings get to Super Bowl XLIX under Mike Zimmer.
1. Hitting the draft out of the park. The obvious one. There are Rick Spielman lovers and Rick Spielman haters. The truth however, lies in the middle. It seems for every Adrian Peterson there is a Christian Ponder, for each Harrison Smith there is a Chris Cook. Recent selections such as Patterson and Rudolph have unlimited potential, but who is left from the 2010 draft? There are plenty of guys in the middle such as Sharif Floyd or Jarius Wright, but Spielman needs to be consistent starting this year if he is going to stick around and certainly if the Vikings want a crack at a deep run in January. So how exactly can the Vikings have a great draft? I mentioned the KFAN stat a few days ago, which essentially proved that a 1st round QB is more than eight times as likely to lead a team to the playoffs than a QB selected in the later rounds. Bridgewater seems like a great selection to me, but it all depends on what fits with Norv. Beyond QB, Spielman absolutely has to hit on at guard and at least two high quality defensive starters in May. As sexy as a elite linebacker sounds, the Seattle theory of having an excellent front four and secondary, coupled with middle of the road linebackers does not seem like a bad strategy either. I could see Spielman attacking cornerbacks first while hoping Zimmer can coach up our young and unproven linebacking core.
2. The Zimmer and Norv Show.
You cant flim flam the Zim Zam. But seriously. Jim Harbaugh. Pete Carrol. Bill Belichick. These coaches are consistently getting the job done. We don't how well Zimmer will strategize while managing a whole team instead of just a defense, but the future looks bright. Focusing on Harbaugh and Carrol for a moment, they have a burning passion for the game, and the players around them respond. But they are not just the Mike Singletary "ra ra" type either. They know which plays to call based on the rosters they have, maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. Zimmer has evidence of this on the defensive side of the ball, if you want proof just watch Hard Knocks. Revitalizing careers of guys such as Terence Newman and Pacman Jones, and making late round picks such a Geno Atkins into superstars. But can he make magic on the offensive side of the ball? No one knows, but a better question is will it matter? Giving Norv weapons such as Patterson, Rudolph, Jennings and Peterson gives him plenty of options to attack. Quarterback is the big missing piece but there should be some good options at 8. If Zimmer stays within himself and lets Norv run freely then we could be looking at two football geniuses joining forces in 2014.
3. The snow advantage.
Much less obvious than the previous two, but an intriguing theory nonetheless. With a revitalized front four and speedsters such as Patterson and Peterson on the offense, TCF Bank stadium becomes a secret weapon for the Vikings next year while making a playoff push. The Vikings haven't played well outdoors for as long as I can remember, but maybe the new coaching staff is smart enough to adapt their strategy to the icy environment. Remember the Patterson screen in Baltimore? Norv has already said he wants to get Peterson the ball in space more, which already seems like a good idea. It could be even more effective in December when one guy slips and Peterson goes for 80, and it is also less pressure for Matt Cassel or a rookie QB. Having what will seem like a strong run defense will be fantastic because opponents will want to pound the rock in bad weather conditions. Its a different advantage than having Randy Moss in the dome, but I think Zimmer and Norv are smart enough to mold this team to play well outdoors. If the Vikings win the division, a snowy playoff environment for our beloved purple would be electric.
So there is a short and general list of what I believe it would take to get to Phoenix next year. How likely do I think it is? Not very. But it's nice to dream, isn't it?