It’s a bit early for schedule predictions with two preseason games to go. Several purple newcomers are still making their mark and most Vikings fans are focusing on how the team can improve before Week 1. Beyond the day-to-day of preseason news pieces, I’m personally calm.
Mike Zimmer’s squads prepare well. Only an Adrian Peterson suspension derailed our coach’s early season success. The offense lost its best player and still went 2-2 to start 2014. 2015 started with a flat performance in San Francisco, but the Vikings recovered with back-to-back victories before losing a close one to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver. The team passed 2016’s early grit test with flying colors.
Fascinatingly, it’s not just Mike Zimmer. The Vikings frequently start strong. In the 13 most recent playoff appearances, only one occurred after starting 1-3. Such reveals a great deal about our fandomd and psyche. We know if the Vikings don’t spark early, they may not flash at all. When putting together my schedule predictions I’m not just providing my outlook for 16 games. I’d like to discuss how our Vikes fared over the last 25 years as well.
The Hot Start: vs NO (Monday Night), at PIT, vs TB, vs DET
We extremely underrate the now familiar early sprint. The Vikings surprise early. They almost always start better than expected. Over 25 years, our Vikes average a 5-1 record in their first 6 contests. Our unanticipated joy offsets later on, but for now let’s focus on games 1-4.
There’s many examples of speedy season dominance, with 2016 most recent. Game 4 vs. New York makes a great case all by itself. Minnesota performed in all phases of that encounter, taking advantage of Giant mistakes for the entire match. New York committed three penalties and one turnover in seven minutes.
The Vikings took immediate advantage marching 99 yards for a touchdown. Sam Bradford clicked early and often completing 72% of his passes while garnering 7.27 Y/A, one touchdown and no interceptions. Jerick McKinnon performed masterfully racking up 85 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own. The defense sunk its teeth in and almost pitched a first half shutout. The game ended with Eli Manning throwing up a prayer to Odell Beckham Jr., who’d been shut down for the entire game, that was fittingly intercepted by Xavier Rhodes.
Team Purple didn’t commit turnovers. They recovered muffed punts. Just good clean football led them over a playoff contender. That same formula will be needed in 2017, as Minnesota faces multiple contenders without delay. The first four games present tough challenges, but I’m predicting wins because it’s what they do! The Vikings will start hot.
2017 Prediction – W / L / W / W
The Must-Haves: at CHI (Monday Night), vs GB, vs. BAL, at CLE (London)
The Vikings routinely start showing signs of weakness after 5 matches. Amazingly, they’ve won 19 Game #5’s, but only eight Game #7’s in their last 25 seasons. Here, the squad uses early momentum to identify key contests and win them. 2016 deviated from this pattern. Losing rivalry games to Chicago and Detroit sunk them. Can’t do that again!
The reverse happened in 2015, when our boys won back-to-back road battles against the struggling Lions and Bears. Rather than letting them back in the race, the Vikings figuratively deepened their wounds, making the division a two-team race.
Minnesota struggled early in Game 6 at Ford Field. Matt Stafford came out slinging, first to Calvin Johnson and soon after to Eric Ebron. Defensively they had no answers and the offensively they couldn’t even finish hand-offs. Somehow the Vikings managed two field goal drives to put some points on the board.
Then, midway through the 2nd half, Mike Zimmer’s defense solved Detroit. The Lions gained one combined yard on their next six drives. Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, and Anthony Barr brought the heat, sacking Stafford and swinging momentum. Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and Stefon Diggs seized the opportunity by cashing in on big plays which ultimately gave Minnesota its 4th win.
That’s what it takes. They need to develop a never-say-die attitude, and count on their best players to show up for big-time games. 2017 brings similar tests: Monday Night Football in Chicago followed by a titular contest against the Packers.
2017 Prediction – W / W / L / W
The Fall Apart: at WAS, vs LA, at DET (Thanksgiving), at ATL
I try to stay optimistic, but even I can’t spruce up this one. The Vikings habitually crumble past the halfway point. During November fans continually mutter phrases like “We just need a win to get back on track,” and/or “It was all a mirage.” In 5 years the team went 8-11-1 in these games. Just give us a victory!
2015 was not a stellar season by any means, but a key success against Washington in Game 9 stopped the bleeding. Here’s the thing though, I honestly don’t know how the Vikings triumphed. The Redskins out gained them by 133 yards, led time of possession by 13 minutes, and won the turnover battle. Sacks and penalties helped Minnesota’s cause, but John Carlson was the only Viking that had a great day on offense. John Carlson? Christian Ponder played well until he suffered a shoulder injury, forcing Matt Cassel into service. Josh Freeman looked on as a healthy scratch, meaning Jarius Wright was elected emergency QB. Woof!
Luckily, the 2013 defensive line remained fierce. Kevin Williams and Jared Allen battered Robert Griffin III, giving the Vikings just enough for victory. Washington was driving to tie late, and Leslie Frazier kept on calling timeouts (for a reasons still unknown), but Marcus Sherels blanketed Santana Moss on an incomplete end zone toss to finish it. Their first W on American soil.
So the lesson here…uh, just hope man. Football will be a dark and gloomy place for us during this segment of the year. The team will most likely drop some games which they shouldn’t. We won’t be confident in our beloved purple, but at least we’ll have our DL, and Marcus Sherels. Any victory here would set up nicely for a final stretch.
2017 Prediction: L / W / L / L
The Playoff Push: at CAR, vs CIN, at GB (Sunday Night), vs CHI
The Vikings win at least two of their last four games in 85% of their successful (playoff worthy) seasons. We don’t cheer for a squad who rests their stars in week 17, because they can’t afford to. The stakes are sky-high here. The first twelve games portray a necessity to end the year with a flurry of late-season triumphs. Luckily, our team prospers here, winning their last five regular season finales.
Victories at year end hopefully provides momentum for the playoffs, a division championship, home-field, and/or a playoff bye (if we’re getting greedy). 2015’s Vikings lapsed before a 21- and 32- point wins against and New York set them up for Game 16 at Lambeau field. Contrary to that dumb commercial, the Vikings went into their house and clinched the NFC North crown.
It wasn’t an easy victory. It’s never easy beating Green Bay in their house on a cold winter night. A season of perseverance, recent confidence-building blowouts, and saavy, experienced veterans are what made winning possible. They say young players grow up during the season.
You saw growth in Adam Thielen’s running plays, and Captain Munnerlyn’s smart fumble recovery. It was present in sacks by Barr and Sharrif Floyd. Rhodes and Eric Kendricks proved themselves grown with a key interception and their game-ending tackle. Fantastic plays by great players proved that the team’s strengths were greater than their weaknesses. 2017 needs to be a repeat story.
2017 Prediction: W / W / L / W
That’s my take on how the season will go. For this team to reach the playoffs, our Vikes need to do it the only way we’re familiar with. If they do it all, they’ll do it the Vikings Way.
Overall 2017 Prediction: 10-6