Well, this loses a little something in light of the Greg Childs news from last night, but it looks like we could use something different to talk about.
If you've been a reader of the site for a while, you've heard me sing the praises of the folks from Football Outsiders numerous times. The latest installment of their 2012 Almanac came out a couple of weeks ago, and is available in either digital form or hard copy from their website (linked above there). Andy Benoit, who wrote the Vikings' preview for this year's almanac, was kind enough to answer some questions from me about the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. My questions will be in bold, while Andy's responses will be in italics. Enjoy!
1) The major question on everyone's mind is whether or not Christian Ponder can be "the guy" at quarterback for the Vikings. What do the folks from Football Outsiders see Ponder developing into for this season and beyond?
This season, a ball-control quarterback who is asked to rollout and make either/or type reads off of strict design pass plays (like play-action, for example). Over the long haul, he'll have to develop into a wider field-reading pocket passer. He has just enough arm strength to be consistently effective from the pocket.2) The Football Outsiders Almanac for 2012 is projecting a fairly monstrous season for tight end Kyle Rudolph, with over 60 catches and over 800 yards. Do you feel he will start making his way into the class of elite tight ends this season?
Perhaps. His productivity will be inflated by the nature of the Vikings' offense. Rudolph has very soft hands and good size. It will be interesting to see how diverse of a route runner he can be.
3) With the drafting of Matt Kalil and moving Charlie Johnson inside to guard, do you feel the Vikings' offensive line will be better in 2012?
Yes. Kalil is an upgrade over Johnson at LT and Johnson will give Vikings same level of performance that Hutchinson gave them last year.
4) We all know that the Minnesota Vikings' secondary was atrocious in 2011 and, really, can't get a whole lot worse. Will the changes they've made this off-season make them significantly better, or only slightly?
They won't be significantly better, but they'll be better, and that's a start. The good news is, in Leslie Frazier's Tampa 2 style defense, you don't need amazing individual secondary play, you just need to play to the scheme.
5) The Vikings lost 13 games in 2011. Ten of those losses came by a touchdown or less. Is there a correlation between close losses one season and improvement the next (possibly because of the team, to borrow a cliche, "learning how to win")?
There is a correlation between close losses one season and improvement the next, but it has nothing to do with "learning how to win." It has to do with the fact that points scored/allowed do a better job of projecting a team's record in the future than wins/losses. We have something that Bill James called the "Pythagorean projection" in baseball -- it projects wins and losses based on points scored and allowed. Normally, a team that underperforms this projection will improve the next year. The Vikings went 3-13 but had 5.3 Pythagorean wins last year. That's a pretty big gap, the second-biggest in the NFL last year (Miami was at 6-10 with a projection of 8.5 wins). That's the good news. The bad news is that the projection shows that if Minnesota had average luck in close games, they would have gone... about 5-11.
6) What do you think is the best-case and worst-case scenario for the 2012 Minnesota Vikings, and approximately where do you think they'll fall in 2012?
Best case, they overachieve just enough to not finish last in the NFC North. It's doubtful that they can do that considering how much better the rest of the division is this year. 6-10 would be a good year for Vikings, realistically.
Again, big thanks to Andy Benoit and the folks from Football Outsiders for taking the time to do this for us. And get the 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac. . .it's a great resource for any football fan.