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Middle of the Road

The 2014 and 2015 Minnesota Vikings are climbing out of the NFL basement, but the team's fans are used to struggle.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

I had good intentions of writing something about the current identity of Mike Zimmer's Minnesota Vikings. But, I have discovered that, while it is easy to write about both terrible teams and really good teams, writing about a team like the Vikings that is improved but still a long way off from being a lights-out football power house is not nearly as inspiring.

Sure, the defense has made great strides in stopping the run, the defensive line is effective at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without resorting to blitz packages all the time, the linebackers are more athletic and dominant with Anthony Barr showing great ball hawking and Eric Kendricks leading the team in tackles against Kansas City, the defensive backs have become more of a threat, and so on. But there still isn't a tandem for Harrison Smith at safety and the unit's collective youth can, occasionally, lead to undisciplined play that results in costly penalties. On offense, the list of pros is somewhat smaller, but fans can rejoice in the quality depth the team is displaying at wide receiver, particularly the electric play of rookie Stefon Diggs. But that depth isn't utilized as much as it might be because Teddy Bridgewater is still mostly a game manager playing behind a line that has suffered significant losses (Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan) and changes this season. The changes/losses on the offensive line may also have played into Bridgewater's performance and the uneven production from running back Adrian Peterson.

Upcoming games against the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears could go a long way toward illuminating how much of a chance the 2015 Vikings have of playing in the post season. Both divisional rivals have struggled this season with Detroit recording it's first win last week and Chicago winning just twice. The Vikings will be playing on the road and divisional games are always more challenging, however, Minnesota needs to show it can win on the road at least some of the time and that it can win in the NFC North in order to make a playoff run.

The Vikings also need to prove they can beat a floundering team and not let opponents linger so they can mount comebacks. In their loss to the Denver Broncos, the Vikings looked more like winners than they did actually winning at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. Playing to the level of an opponent has it's benefits when one's team is the underdog, but is a concern when the team is favored to win. Heavily.

There it is, some good, some bad, a lot of unknowns. The Vikings are climbing, a bit unevenly, up the NFL power rankings but are still in the middle of the pack. Not the kind of inspiring stuff that makes a writer want to write.

So, as I so often do in situations that require fortitude and discipline, I'm going with distraction. And, with luck, you'll join me.

See, back in September I shared the story of Ken Johnson, the Vikings fan in Nebraska who turned his backyard into a Vikings field. That story struck a chord with many readers because being a Vikings fan isn't only about watching games and analyzing player performance, it is also about being part of a community of people who understand why you wear horns on your head or paint your face purple or go more cheese-free on Sundays during the NFL season than a lactose intolerant vegan.

I'd like to write a story series featuring fan stories. If you or someone you know is a Vikings fan whose particular breed of purple madness needs to be shared, drop me a line. If you or someone you know has a funny/interesting story about the Vikings, drop me a line. It would be nice to share at least three fan stories, but we'll see what kind of a response this generates.

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