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Vikings Bye, Adrian Peterson, And Week 10 Picks: Mediocre Is A-OK

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The Minnesota Vikings entered their bye week on a high note, but they're still a middle-of-the-road team at best. Could that change with the return of a key player (or two)?

Matt Asiata is a perfect representation of the Vikings season thus far.
Matt Asiata is a perfect representation of the Vikings season thus far.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

It's pretty obvious that Charles Dickens dedicated the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities to the 2014 Minnesota Vikings. I mean, haven't the Vikings embodied these famous opening lines perfectly through the first nine weeks of the season? Belief/incredulity? Light/Dark? Hope/despair? Check, check, and check. "We had everything before us" and "we were all going direct to Heaven" after the St. Louis game. "We had nothing before us" and "we were all going direct the other way" after the Green Bay game. And some of our noisiest authorities DEFINITELY insisted on being received, for good or for evil thanks to the various controversies that have whipped through Winter Park.

The nice thing about the bye week is that the Vikings are currently whipping through it on a two-game winning streak. Granted, the two wins weren't exactly against the NFL's elite, but wins over the Buccaneers and Redskins count just as much as if they came against anyone else. And thank goodness they do--the Vikings' 4-5 record can be broken down as losses to the "haves" and wins over the "have nots":

So they're beating the bad teams and losing to the good ones. Makes sense. The Vikings have looked incredibly promising in most of their wins and incredibly hopeless in most of their losses. The stats back up the dichotomy as well--mostly along the lines of offense and defense. They're consistently in the top of half of the league in most defensive metrics and mired near the bottom in most offensive categories. The Vikings are 29th in yards gained per game but 9th in yards allowed. They're 25th in 3rd down efficiency but in the top 10 in stopping teams on 3rd down. Pro Football Focus has Minnesota ranked 25th in overall offense and 11th in overall defense. The team has both 12 giveaways and 12 takeaways. Perhaps the stat that best symbolizes the ongoing battle the Vikings have between impressive and ugly: the offense has given up 30 sacks (second-worst) and the defense has 30 sacks (best in the NFL).

It's the very definition of average. Middle-of-the-road. Mediocre. And you know what? That should be just fine with Vikings fans at this juncture.

If you would have told me before all the craziness started this year that the Vikings would be 4-5 heading into their bye week, I would have thought that sounds about right. The tough early schedule combined with a new coach and lots of new players learning on the job meant nobody was picking the Vikes to be at the top of the standings at this point of the year. "Good but not great" seemed to be this team's ceiling heading into the season.

Speaking of lower ceilings, Matt Asiata has sort of become the perfect symbol for this Vikings season. It usually isn't pretty, the numbers aren't gaudy, but the end result is somehow pretty great from time to time. Like the team he plays for, Asiata isn't going to be considered the best in the league by anyone, but you know you're going to get his best effort week in and week out. Sometimes the effort is only good for 26 yards, but other times the effort yields 26 yards and three touchdowns. I'm not saying the Vikings are a team consisting of 53 Matt Asiatas; there is a lot of excellent young talent on this team. But their razor-thin margin for error is emphasized by the fact that they haven't turned the ball over in any of their four wins. (They've had at least two in four of the five losses.) They're not talented or experienced enough to overcome big mistakes.

IT'S THE VERY DEFINITION OF AVERAGE. MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD. MEDIOCRE. AND YOU KNOW WHAT? THAT SHOULD BE JUST FINE WITH VIKINGS FANS AT THIS JUNCTURE.

Of course that talent and experience level might tick up a notch in the near future. The Vikings could make waves following their bye week with the return of a certain Pro Bowl MVP on offense that hasn't played for the past several weeks.

Yes, Kyle Rudolph appears to be on track to return to the team in Week 11!

(And oh yeah, there's a chance that Adrian Peterson could return too.)

I'm not going to get incredibly in depth about the latest turn in the Adrian Peterson saga. There will be plenty of time to do that when the NFL and the Vikings actually make their decision regarding his possible reinstatement (hopefully sooner rather than later regardless of the outcome). Chris has been covering the hell out of the details of the case. Ted has offered his two cents on where we go from here. Di took a couple questions about him in her mailbag. CCNorseman chimed in with his take on the AP waiting game. Trust me, we have you covered even if I don't spend 2,000 words talking about it.

I don't envy Roger Goodell, the Wilfs, and Rick Spielman for the decision they have to make in the coming days. They're going to catch hell no matter what they do. Personally I'm of the opinion that "time served" is probably a pretty fair punishment. However, I also understand the possible decision to make Peterson sit out the rest of the season. Peterson's charges were downgraded to a misdemeanor instead of a felony (Rusty Hardin is very good at his job) and he has already missed half the season. I think a hefty fine could and should be in order since AP got a whole lotta cash to not do what he gets paid to do over the past two months. If AP comes back to the team this season I'm still going to be a Vikings fan and cheer him on. I might be a little hesitant about breaking out my #28 jerseys again though; I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

But that's just me. You're certainly entitled to your outrage and wringing of hands over what Peterson did to his child. You can also claim that he has served his time and deserves another shot right away. I believe the fact that the child's mother still wants Adrian involved in his son's life and doesn't want the NFL to levy additional punishment is telling, even if you take the cynical approach of "yeah because AP pays the bills".

One aspect of the story Andy Carlson of the Purple FTW podcast and I were discussing on Twitter was how the Vikings' 4-5 record is almost perfect for AP coming back. If the team was something like 7-2 and kicking ass without him, why bring him back? You could create more distractions and risk screwing up team chemistry. On the other hand, if the team was something like 1-8 and already out of it, why make such a risky PR move when the team isn't going anywhere? This "hanging around" that the Vikings are doing, perhaps one superstar-sized hole away from making the offense respectable enough for a playoff push, is an optimal position for the team to welcome their disgraced superstar back.

It's still way too early to tell how this is all going to play out. But if I had to guess, I don't think Peterson will be back on the team when they visit Soldier Field in ten days. The NFL didn't allow immediate reinstatement, which means they are understandably going to take their time in order to make their decision. This is about as hot as a hot button issue can get. That still won't stop the NFLPA from making a huge push to get AP back on the field now that his legal case has been resolved. They'll argue that sitting him out more than half a season over a misdemeanor is excessive. So while I don't think we'll see Peterson right away, ruling him out for the remainder of the season is a bit hasty as well.

Or maybe the Vikings and the NFL get gun shy because of how poorly the first reinstatement went and he never plays another down in purple. Perhaps the team is fine with building around players without an image problem like Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Barr, and Everson Griffen. It could be that the Vikings would rather take the $2.5 million cap hit for cutting Peterson instead of paying him over $12 million in salary next year.

Either way, the last seven weeks of the season are shaping up to be much more exciting than they appeared to be a month ago. For that reason alone, this "just OK" team should be "A-OK" with us for now.

Prediction

Vikings 110 (82 + 28 possibly coming back)
Bye Week 2 (because bringing AP back would give up some "safety")

And now for my Week 10 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

BENGALS over Browns

Because "first place Cleveland Browns" should not be included in the American lexicon yet.

Falcons over BUCCANEERS

Atlanta beat Tampa Bay by 42 points in their first meeting (and it wasn't even that close). The Bucs have exactly ONE win on the season. And yet this game is nearly a pick'em in Vegas. I can't disagree with the bookmakers. Congratulations Atlanta and Tampa Bay, you have created the saddest NFL betting line of the year!

Chiefs over BILLS

I'm not sure if either team will remember how to play football against a real opponent--the last game each played was against the Jets. Just make sure that Travis Kelce gets in the end zone a time or two, OK Chiefs?

Cowboys over JAGUARS (in London)

It's either Brandon Weeden or a hobbled Tony Romo against one of the league's dregs. The NFL is certainly making sure that they remain the second most popular football across the pond.

LIONS over Dolphins

Based on cumulative records, this is the best game of the Week 10 NFL slate. Between two of the best defenses in the league. Just like we all saw coming.

RAVENS over Titans

Going from playing against Ben Roethlisberger to Zach Mettenberger will be like dropping the difficulty from All-Madden to Rookie for Baltimore's defense. And since a former Ravens cheerleader is in the news this week, how about we use their current squad for the Gratuitous Picture of the Week?

Ravens cheerleaders

"We love our fans, they're the best we've seen / Just make sure they're older than 15!" (image via fatmanwriting.com)

SAINTS over 49ers

[Scene: Colin Kaepernick is waiting for an elevator. The door opens; Drew Brees is inside.]

Brees: "Hey Colin, going up?"

Kaepernick: [Sadly puts on Dre Beats headphones, lowers brim of sideways hat] "Nah, I'm good."

Brees: "OK then. Maybe see you in January?"

Kaepernick: "Probably not."

[End scene]

Steelers over JETS

If Atlanta vs. Tampa was the saddest line of the season, this one is the strangest. How did this line open at Pittsburgh -2.5? It's now 6, but that still seems low. Maybe Vegas knows that former North Dakota State University star Marcus Williams is the NFL's next shutdown corner? OK probably not but I bet New York might be able to hold Big Ben to less than six touchdowns this week.

Broncos over RAIDERS

Oakland should just let Denver walk all over them this week. That gives the Broncos a better chance of clinching a bye and resting starters in Week 17 when the Raiders are trying to avoid the 0-16 season.

CARDINALS over Rams

Alright Arizona, I keep picking against you but you keep refusing to lose. So this week I'm picking you AND making you the Survivor Pool pick of the week! (Now 7-2 on the season after Cincy took care of Jacksonville last week.) I defy you to make it past that kind of jinx!

SEAHAWKS over Giants

Hey NFL analysts: just because Seattle throttles the G-Men this week doesn't mean that "the champs are back". They still have a pretty mean Super Bowl hangover.

PACKERS over Bears

I know a Chicago victory would be better for the Vikings in the standings, but I want the Bears completely demoralized when we come to town next week.

EAGLES over Panthers

It's Mark Sanchez on Monday Night Football. What could possibly go wrong?

Last week: 9-4
Season so far: 85-48-1