In 2015, the Minnesota Vikings were a better team than a lot of people expected them to be. They were supposed to be the proverbial "year away," with their real ascension coinciding with the move into U.S. Bank Stadium. But, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North in Mike Zimmer's second season as head coach.
According to at least one fairly knowledgeable source, the best is still on the horizon for this team.
Over at NFL.com, Gil Brandt has put together a list of six teams that he feels have the best chance to compete for a Super Bowl title in the next three to five years. . .and wouldn't you know it, the Minnesota Vikings show up at #5 on his list.
Minnesota had some bad losses, including the opener (to the 49ers) and, of course, the wild-card heartbreaker to the Seahawks. But the Vikings are an ascendant team. The defense, which ranked fifth in points allowed, is powered by several good, young players, like Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter. Hunter is a gem who picked up six sacks and really came on at the end of the year. Teddy Bridgewater improved quite a bit in his second pro season; I think the hard-working quarterback can keep getting better under coordinator Norv Turner. And, of course, there's running back Adrian Peterson, who showed he's still got it at 30. Peterson led the NFL in rushing despite working behind a so-so line, and I think he's got a great chance to do it again next year.
The Vikings are by no means perfect -- they need to add some speed at receiver, and Bridgewater has room to grow. But it looks like the Packers are a bit of a descending team, making the NFC North more of an open division than it's been in some time. Plus, playing in a brand-new stadium should provide a boost. Minnesota is simply trending in the right direction for long-term success.
While most of us are big fans of Bridgewater, Brandt is right when he says that the defense is probably the biggest reason to get excited about this team. They were one of the best defenses in the NFL last season, and they're incredibly young and talented. Here's a quick projection of what the Vikings' defense will look like next season, for the most part.
|LB||Chad Greenway (?)||33|
|S||Anthony Harris (?)||24|
* - Age at start of 2016 NFL season
To clarify a couple of the positions I've listed:
-I don't know who the Vikings are going to start at the safety spot next to Harrison Smith, but I don't expect it to be Andrew Sendejo (28).
-I also don't really think that Greenway is going to be a big player at linebacker next year, but if the season were to start today, he'd probably be the guy.
-I also fully expect that Danielle Hunter will take over for Brian Robison (33) at the other defensive end spot with Robison playing more of a reduced role.
But honestly, this defense is already one of the best in the NFL, and given the age of most of the players that comprise it, they're likely going to be among the best for quite a few years.
Brandt has two NFC teams ranked ahead of the Vikings on his list, and they're the top two teams on his list. . .the Carolina Panthers at #1 and the Seattle Seahawks at #2. But, with the path that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman appear to have this team on, there's no reason to think that the Vikings can't climb up this list in relatively short order.