Yes, it's the first Sunday in June, we're nearly two months out from Training Camp. Naturally, this means that it's just about time for the first NFL preview magazines of the year to hit the newsstands, and when I was out earlier this morning, I saw the first one of the year. There might be other ones out already, but this one was the first to catch my eye.
The winner of the race this year is Lindy's Sports 2012 Pro Football Preview. The version I got for here on the West Coast features Philip Rivers, Patrick Willis, and Carson Palmer on the cover. . .I'm sure those closer to the Upper Midwest will get a more Vikings-appropriate cover. There are a couple of surprises regarding some of their predictions, and we'll detail those after the jump.Naturally, the Minnesota Vikings are picked to finish in fourth place in the NFC North Division, as I would expect them to be in all of these preview magazines this pre-season. Lindy's goes through and ranks every unit on every team on a scale of 1-10. Here's how they rated the units of the NFC North teams, in order of how they predict them to finish in 2012.
A few things on this. . .
-The offensive lines in the NFC North are terrible. . .hopefully with the addition of Matt Kalil (who might already be the best left tackle in the division), the Vikings can field an O-line that is not terrible. That would be helpful.
-The secondaries aren't great, either. Not sure why Lindy's thinks that Detroit's secondary is better than ours, but then I suppose they don't show it being much better.
-With a healthy Adrian Peterson, I'm guessing the Vikings would jump ahead of the Bears in the RB rankings. That's just my guess, though.
-Yes, every NFC North team got a +1 for intangibles, with the Vikings' write-up noting that no matter how bad things got last year, this team never quit on Coach Leslie Frazier.
-Even though the magazine says that the ratings are done on a scale of 1-10, I only see one unit anywhere ranked below a 6 (the St. Louis Rams' special teams got a mark of 5.5), and only one unit that got a perfect 10 (the San Francisco 49ers special teams).
-The Vikings' overall score of 64 doesn't look great or anything, but there are 8 teams that are ranked the same or lower than they are. And some of the other divisions aren't all that spectacular. . .the rankings for all four teams in the AFC West are, in order, 66 (Denver Broncos), 65 (San Diego Chargers), 64.5 (Oakland Raiders), and 64 (Kansas City Chiefs).
-In fact, just eight of the 32 NFL teams merit a ranking of 70 or above, according to Lindy's, so there's not a lot of separation between a lot of teams. Two divisions, the AFC West and the NFC South, don't have any teams rated above 70. That's part of what makes the NFL fun to watch.
They also have three things to look for in the Vikings' write-up. Let's look at them one at a time.
How quickly Matt Kalil adjusts. The offense will be able to put more receiving weapons in play if Kalil can come right in and shut down the league's elite pass rushers. His adjustment will be aided by going against Jared Allen in training camp.
I don't think Kalil's adjustment is going to be much of an issue for precisely the reason they give. Yes, we're probably going to hear a lot during Training Camp about how Kalil is getting whipped by Jared Allen. The thing is that Jared Allen does that to a LOT of left tackles. Going against Jared Allen every day in practice is going to make Kalil better faster than he would improve with just about any other team in football.
Has Ponder learned anything? With 10 starts and a full off-season to polish his knowledge of the offense, Ponder should be a better decision-maker. If he's still throwing late, or across his body into the middle of the field or into small windows that he knows will close too quickly, then there could be a problem.
A lot of Ponder's problems are coachable. Considering that he will get the benefit of a full off-season this year, not to mention that the weapons around him will be significantly upgraded, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility for Ponder to have a pretty damn good 2012 season. I certainly don't expect him to regress.
Will the secondary improve? Last year's secondary was simply awful. The selection of safety Harrison Smith in the first round and the return of corners Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook give the team three different starters from the foursome that ended last season.
They're right. . .the secondary can't be any worse than they were last season. Just from looking at the Game Book of last year's season finale against Chicago, the Vikings' top five corners were as follows:
Asher Allen (starter)
Cedric Griffin (starter)
For Week One this year, they will probably look like this:
Antoine Winfield (starter)
Chris Cook (starter)
Not exactly sure what order they'll fall in after the two starters, but damn. . .that's already way better than the way they ended last season. The safety spots should be upgraded, too, with Harrison Smith moving into the starting lineup for sure. I think that Mistral Raymond is going to begin the season at the other safety spot, but he'll get a significant challenge from Robert Blanton.
So there you go. . .according to Lindy's, the Vikings are still a little ways away from the top of the division, based on what they're seeing right now, but the gap may not be the gigantic chasm that many people would like you to believe. The NFL is just too closely bunched and has too much parity from year-to-year to say for certain that a team is going to be awful.
Oh, and their playoff predictions (if you're reading this far)? Two NFC North teams making the playoffs (you can guess which two from the rankings above), zero NFC North teams making the NFC Championship game (again), and the Houston Texans adding themselves to the list of "teams that win a Super Bowl before the Minnesota Vikings" by defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.