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You're Damn Right There's Reason For Optimism

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple of days, particularly on the Twitter, it seems that it's been a favorite pastime to attempt to downplay the progress made by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2014 season. I'm pretty sure the kids today refer to this as "throwing shade," but not being all that cool or hip, I'm not entirely sure.

I mean, perhaps it's just my bias showing through, but I really don't see any way that anyone can't be just incredibly optimistic about where this team is at right now, given the events of the 2014 Vikings' season. Over at Kick Ass Blog, Pacifist Viking. . .who has long been one of my favorite writers on the topic of the Vikings. . .pretty accurately summed it up.

During a Week 17 game that is even more boring than it is pointless, it is easy to reflect on what a long season it has been. When your fingers are cracking because of the cold, it's worth remembering the sunny Week 1 Sunday you spent inside watching football. In that game, Matt Cassel was the Vikes' starting QB, Adrian Peterson was the starting RB, and the player who made the most exciting play of the game was Cordarrelle Patterson. And it's been nearly that long since any of those three really mattered to the Vikings' on-field performance. Basically, the Viking offense of Week 17 had nothing to do with the Viking offense of Week 1.

Think about that for a moment. If someone had come up to you before the season and told you that all of the following things would happen. . .

-Adrian Peterson would finish sixth on the team in rushing yardage for the season behind Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Teddy Bridgewater, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Joe Banyard (and just four yards ahead of Jarius Wright)
-The team would lose Matt Cassel and Brandon Fusco for the season in Week 3
-Kyle Rudolph would play in only seven of the team's 16 games
-The offensive line would also, eventually, lose Phil Loadholt for the season
-Matt Kalil would spend most of the season looking more like a turnstile than a cornerstone of the offensive line
-Cordarrelle Patterson wouldn't have a kick return touchdown all season, and would finish fourth on the team in receiving yards behind Greg Jennings, Wright, and a guy the team signed off of Cleveland's practice squad in Week 3 (Charles Johnson), not to mention having the same number of receiving touchdowns as Asiata, Chase Ford, Adam Thielen, and Rhett Ellison

. . .would you have put this team on a 7-9 finish?

I damn sure wouldn't have put this team on a 7-9 record after all that. Before the season started, I did a radio interview with a station in Fargo, and they asked me what my prediction for their final record was. I told them that if everything bounced right, I thought this team could finish .500. And even then they thought I was crazy. And now, in a season where nothing bounced right, this team had a realistic shot at .500 and, with a couple of bounces, could have been in the neighborhood of 10-6.

We've even got a FanPost full of "experts" that were predicting the 2014 Minnesota Vikings. . .with a full season of Adrian Peterson and with Cordarrelle Patterson making the expected "leap". . .to be a three or four-win team.

A lot of the optimism has to do with the play of Teddy Bridgewater, but there's a separate post coming with all the gushing we should (rightfully) be doing over him. (That's called a "tease," ladies and gentlemen.) For now, I'll say that Bridgewater doing what he did this season without having Adrian Peterson in the backfield was pretty phenomenal, and leave it at that for now.

A lot of this team's turnaround has a lot to do with the defense as well. The 2013 Vikings' defense was a joke at every level. They were the 8th defense since the AFL/NFL merger to allow 30 points a game or more, and allowed the second-highest point total given up by a Vikings' defense in franchise history. They were second-to-last in total yards allowed, and they allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL, as well as the most passing touchdowns.

This season? Not even remotely the same results. They gave up 21.4 points/game, and their 8.6 points/game drop was the largest of any NFL team from 2013 to 2014. They rose to seventh in the NFL against the pass, and 11th in the league in points allowed overall. And the best part about the defense is that it's incredibly young. Right now, assuming that Chad Greenway isn't a starter again in 2015. . .and, seriously, as great a Viking as Greenway has been, we should really hope that he's not. . .the team only projects to have one defensive starter next season over the age of 30. Guys like Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith are just entering their primes. This defense is poised to be one of the NFL's best in 2015, and it could stay that way for a significant length of time.

If I didn't know any better, I'd think that some of the "dead tree" media and the folks on the radio in the Twin Cities were simply looking to stir the pot and get reactions based on some of their recent takes regarding the Minnesota Vikings.  I'm not sure what there is to be gained from that, since it doesn't take a genius to see that the Minnesota Vikings are well ahead of where anyone dared to think they would be at this time twelve months ago. In 2015, with the quarterback position no longer in flux and even more talent on both sides of the football. . .not to mention the potential return of an all-world running back. . .the arrow is definitely pointing upward for this football team.

It's just a shame that not everybody can see it.