Adrian Peterson is striking a confident tone about the Minnesota Vikings’ title chances heading into the 2016 NFL season, and he has good reason. After suffering a first-round playoff loss, the Vikings' front office made savvy moves in the offseason to bolster their Super Bowl hopes.
Minnesota is coming off their best season since 2009, when Brett Favre led them to the NFC Championship game. The Vikings raised expectations when they took the NFC North title with an 11-5 record, only losing on Wild Card Weekend because of a missed chip-shot field goal in the final seconds. Addressing needs through free agency and the draft, the Vikings should be even better in the upcoming season.
"We are going to have a good chance to win it this year -- win everything," Peterson told TheMMQB.com. "Sit back and watch. Sit back and watch. You can be like, 'I thought you guys were at least a couple of years away.' Nope. You sit back and watch, this year."
Yet, the Vikings are not considered to be among the favorites to win Super Bowl LI. Eight teams have better championship odds at Bovada.lv, and their +2200 betting odds have them tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, neither of whom made the playoffs last year. The Green Bay Packers are favored to win the division with Super Bowl odds that are twice as good as Minnesota’s.
With all the movement in free agency this offseason, the Vikings didn’t make any flashy signings. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be better.
Minnesota was smart with their available salary cap space, spending $26.8 million to sign guard Alex Boone. The Vikings needed to improve their offensive line, and they did just that, giving quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more protection and improving one of the NFL’s best running games.
By drafting wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round, the Vikings addressed their biggest area of need. It’s unknown how successful the Ole Miss product will be, but he has a chance to make an immediate impact. A rookie wide receiver has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, and Treadwell has already garnered comparisons to Houston Texans star DeAndre Hopkins due his size and natural feel for the game.
Most importantly, Minnesota didn’t lose any irreplaceable pieces. They are returning top defensive players like Eric Kendricks, Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith, who helped the Vikings rank second in the NFC in points allowed. Peterson is arguably the best running back in all of football, and Bridgewater is only improving.
Bridgewater remains Minnesota’s biggest question mark heading into the upcoming season. Relying on a top defense and the running game, the Vikings didn’t ask too much of the quarterback. He threw for just 14 touchdowns and 3,231 yards, attempting fewer passes than 20 other signal callers. Bridgewater’s accuracy improved from his rookie year, and he continues to be a threat to scramble.
As Minnesota hopes to enter into the upper echelon of the NFL, they are looking for Bridgewater to raise his game to the next level in year No.3. The 23-year-old even made the Team Irvin roster at the 2016 Pro Bowl.
"There’s not one thing I don’t love about this kid," head coach Mike Zimmer said at his season-ending press conference. "He’s got the right demeanor, the right heart, the right competitiveness and he’s a worker. He makes quick decisions, and so we need to continue to move forward with him and keep going."
If the 2015 NFL season proved anything to Minnesota, it was that the Vikings don’t necessarily need Bridgewater to become an All-Pro in order to win a Super Bowl. The Denver Broncos, whom Minnesota almost beat in Week 4, won Super Bowl 50 with limited production at quarterback. Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combined to throw for 19 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in the regular season, and Manning had a 56.6 passer rating in a 14-point Super Bowl victory.
Denver had the NFL’s top defense, and while Minnesota’s defense might not be as good as the Broncos’ was a year ago, it should be among the best in the league. With the Vikings’ ability to stop opponents and hand the ball off to Peterson, they can win the title even if Bridgewater simply becomes a top-15 quarterback. The ability to hold possession is often crucial to a team's success, and the Vikings might be able to do it better than any team in the league.
Peterson is correct in saying the Vikings aren’t a few years away. In 2013, the Vikings went 5-11. They won seven games in Bridgewater's rookie year. Last season, Minnesota emerged as a playoff team with a virtual "gimme" field goal separating themselves from the Seattle Seahawks, a team seeking their third Super Bowl appearance.
The prevailing optimism, at least on the surface, appears to be justified. Despite an improving NFC and perhaps an over-reliance on young players, the Vikings have every reason to believe they can once again overachieve to become serious Super Bowl contenders next season.