NFL Handicapping: Look at the Vikings for Second Half
by Trevor Whenham - 11/7/2009
Vikings' fans will tell you that they knew that this was what was going to happen all along - a 7-1 record, a stranglehold on the NFC North, and two offensive stars in the MVP picture. For those of us who don't wear purple glasses, though, you'd have to say that the results the Vikings have enjoyed are beyond what could reasonably have been expected.
They did, after all, hire a 40-year-old quarterback after training camp had started, and this caused real tension in their locker room. I was very skeptical about the Favre experiment, but so far I have to admit that I am surprised and was wrong. So far. Now that the team is halfway through their season and currently enjoying a bye week, it's a good time to assess what this team has done so far, and what can be expected down the road from this squad. Here's a collection of thoughts on that subject:
Favre - It goes without saying that a big part of any discussion of this team is going to center around their quarterback. He wouldn't have it any other way. Statistically, Favre has had a great year. He's fourth in the league in QB rating, tied for the league lead in touchdowns, fourth in terms of fewest interceptions by starting quarterbacks, and Top 10 in many important categories - passing yards, YPA, completion percentage, and so on.
More striking than the numbers, though, is a shift in his style of play. Favre has always been controlled by his ego, and he has never met a pass that he didn't think he could hit. That usually worked for him, but it also caused him to take big risks and make stupid decisions. So far this year he has almost entirely eliminated that aspect from his game.
The ultimate gunslinger has turned into the ultimate game manager, and I don't mean that in a negative way. Favre is more content than he seems to have been in a long time with making a short play over a spectacular one. Favre has become a total team player this year, and the difference that it has made between this year and last year with the Jets is palpable. One stat tells a big part of the story. Last year in 16 games he had 22 TDs and 22 interceptions. This year through eight games he has 16 and three. For a guy that hasn't had fewer than 15 interceptions since 1996 that's remarkable.
I'm not one to believe that a guy can change dramatically overnight, so we need to look at why Favre seems to be a better version of himself this year. There are all sorts of explanations you could embrace, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that the guy finally realizes that he's almost at the end, and that this is his last chance to go out on the ultimate high. If that's the case, then I really wonder if he can keep this pace up. Playing and beating Green Bay was unquestionably a driving force. He's done that twice now, and he won't have another chance, so it's possible that his killer instinct will be dimmed. If that was the fuel that was firing his furnace then he needs to find something else to keep him going.
You also have to wonder about his health. There are reports that his groin was in such bad shape before the last game that he wasn't sure that he was going to be able to play, and that he aggravated it again during the game. The bye week will help, but groin injuries get worse during the season not better, so this could have a real negative impact on the team. The guy is 40 after all, and you don't heal as fast at 40 as you did when you were younger.
Schedule - Their schedule could be worse. They are very likely to make it to 9-1 with Detroit and Seattle coming to Minnesota for the next two games. That leaves six games. They could conceivably lose any one, but they also would win any of them if the played their best. They play two against the Bears. Offense versus offense, that one's not a fair fight right now. A trip to Arizona could be tough, or it could be easy if the Cards play like they did last week. The same in reverse goes for a trip to Carolina. That leaves two home games. I still don't believe in Cincinnati, so who knows what shape they will be in by Week 14. Same goes for the Giants - can they have their act together by week 17, or will they still be the mess they currently are. If things stay as they are then it seems like a worst-case scenario would be 3-3 over that stretch, and 12-4 on the season. Much more than that would be possible as well. This team certainly won't be tripped up by the schedule.
A couple other quick thoughts:
Receiver depth - I'm very impressed by how the receivers have emerged for this team this year, and Favre gets credit for that. Berrian is the real deal. Rice has been reborn. Shiancoe is a strong middle threat. Harvin has wheels and is well ahead of expectations at this point. The more good receivers a team has that the QB trusts the harder it is to derail that offense.
Adrian Peterson - Peterson hasn't had the eye-popping season that we perhaps were expecting from him, but he still is tied for second in the league for rushing yards, and he's just 40 yards off of the lead that you have to believe he'll hold by the end of the year. He's also second in touchdowns. Peterson may have suffered slightly statistically by the added depth of the Minnesota defense, but his play has been a major part of the success of the team. The combination of a running back like Peterson and a QB who is confident and can exploit you a hundred different ways is the ultimate nightmare for a defense. The second half could go very well for him as well - five of the eight remaining games are against run defenses ranked 16th or lower.
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