There have been three times in my adult life where I thought the Minnesota Vikings were going to be a legitimately good football team after all the off-season stuff was over, and training camp was getting set to begin. Let's face it, when I was a kid, they were the Purple People Eaters--it was just a given that they were going to contend for the Super Bowl.
It's hard to describe the feeling, but I just knew it. As you all know, I'm usually terrible at the prediction business, but once in a great while I get this gut feeling, either about the Vikings, a life event, whatever, and it's like I can see the end result before it happens. It's weird and it doesn't happen very often. But when I've got this feeling, it turned out I was right.
Anyways, three times. The first one was 1998. In 1997, the Vikings finally got over the Denny 'One and Done' Green early playoff exit and beat the Giants on the road. They had a pretty good off season, and Randy Moss dropped into their lap in the draft. My thought, when that happened, was 'Wow. If Robert Smith can stay healthy, and Moss lives up to his hype and stays out of trouble, that offense will be unstoppable. The defense isn't great, but it's good enough.'
The second time was 2009. The Vikings had slowly been building a contender, and there was only one piece of the puzzle remaining. In 2008, they managed to go 10-6 with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, and all they needed was a legitimate quarterback. They had a good offensive line, the best running back in football, yet another rookie wide receiver with a ton of talent but a lot of off the field questions, and a pretty good but not great defense. Almost everyone laughed at Brett Favre coming to the Vikings, but I knew if he was healthy, and his shoulder was sound, the Vikings were going to go a long way.
The third time is this year. I look at last season, and where most people see a smoking hole of rubble, I see a foundation that Mike Zimmer can build on. The defense is going to be better for three reasons. For one, and it may seem I'm joking here, but it can't get any worse. Last season the Vikings defense was historically bad, so I'd like to think that thud we heard was the unit hitting rock bottom. Secondly, they did a tremendous job upgrading the unit via free agency and the draft. The defensive line went from one of the oldest to one of the youngest in the NFL, the secondary is better with Captain Munnerlyn, and the linebackers got an upgrade with Anthony Barr. Finally, and we'll speak a little more on him later, but Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, and he is going to make the Vikings defense a very good unit in 2014.
And even as bad as that defense was, had they just not sucked ass in the last 2:00 of games, Minnesota is a .500 team, and maybe a borderline wildcard contender. Because even with some serious issues, the offense wasn't that bad.
Speaking of offense, I firmly believe the Vikings have an answer at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater is going to be good, kids. Real good. CCNorseman and Arif have run a lot of unconventional metrics predicting his NFL career, and although they both took different paths the conclusion was the same. And if he doesn't start from week one, Matt Cassel will be an upgrade over Christian Ponder, to the point the offense will find balance and consistency. That balance will maybe, finally, hopefully, give Adrian Peterson some running room, and teams dropping eight guys down into the box will start to pay dearly for it.
Finally, Mike Zimmer really seems to be the type of guy that knows what the Hell he's doing, what he wants, and is getting everyone on the same page and pointed in the right direction. He's 57, been passed over for more than one NFL coaching job, and after years of waiting, has his one and maybe only shot.
This is a playoff team. Laugh all you want, tell me I'm an idiot in the comments, whatever. Heck, bookmark this article and email me in December if I'm wrong. The 2014 Minnesota Vikings, with one of the most brutal schedules in the NFL, is going to be a playoff team.
You know, life is funny sometimes. When this team returns to prominence, it's going to be with a coach nobody wanted to hire, and lead by a quarterback nobody wanted to draft.
And that's going to make it all the sweeter.