Let's get this out of the way up front about the 2016 Minnesota Vikings: They probably weren't going to be any better than their 8-8 record even if starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hadn't severely injured his knee last August ahead of the club's final preseason game.
In the wake of that devastating news, Vikings GM Rick Spielman sent 2017 first- and fourth-round picks to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford. He really had no other choice. The Vikings looked like they might be contenders with solid QB play because they had a terrific young defense and a Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson.
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Bradford played well overall, completing an NFL-record 71.6 percent of his passes (previous mark was 71.2 percent in 2011 by Drew Brees) with a franchise-record 395 completions for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions despite missing Week 1 as he learned Minnesota's offense. That equates to a rating of 99.3 that was sixth in the NFL. Bridgewater wasn't going to do better than that. In his breakout 2015 season, Bridgewater's rating of 88.7 was 22nd.
What Bridgewater had in winning the NFC North the year before was a potent running game with Peterson winning the rushing title (thus Bridgewater didn't have to throw nearly as much as Bradford did). However, AP looked his age last season as he was limited to only three games due to injury and was ineffective when on the field. Minnesota was never going to exercise Peterson's $18 million option for 2017 even if he had run for 2,000 yards. He's now with New Orleans.
This remains Bradford's team entering 2017 as Bridgewater has a long road back. The Vikings don't know whether he will play this year and have declined his fifth-year option for 2018. Case Keenum is currently listed as Bradford's backup.
Minnesota was 3-5 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Vikings travel to four playoff teams in 2017: Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta and Green Bay. The pre-bye portion of the schedule is home-heavy so that's where the Vikes better capitalize. The away schedule is harder than at home. I project a 2-6 record. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 17 at Steelers (-6): Only road game of September. Vikings on a short week after hosting Peterson's Vikings on Monday night in Week 1. Better to play in Pittsburgh now than November or December. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has plenty of experience facing Ben Roethlisberger from his days in Cincinnati. Won't help. Key trend: Vikes 5-1 ATS in past six as September road dog of at least 6 points.
Oct. 9 at Bears (+2): Monday night, with Minnesota off a Week 4 home game vs. Detroit. The Vikings' 2016 season started going downhill fast following a Week 8 Monday night 20-10 loss in Chicago. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner stepped down afterward. His team was held to 258 yards by a below-par defense.Key trend: Vikes 3-7 ATS in past 10 as favorite in series.
Oct. 29 at Browns (+7): London game at 9:30 a.m. and ahead of the Vikings' bye. They are off a home game vs. Baltimore. Minnesota beat Pittsburgh in 2013 across the pond. That was at Wembley. This is at Twickenham Stadium. Minnesota has never lost in five international games. Key trend:Vikes 5-5 ATS in past 10 as road favorite of at least 7 points.
Nov. 12 at Redskins (-1.5): Minnesota out of its bye.The marks the seventh meeting between the teams in eight years, with the Vikings holding a 4-2 edge (2-2 in road games). However, the Skins won 26-20 at home in Week 10 last year. Bradford threw for 307 yards and two scores but got nothing from the running game. Key trend:Vikes 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 after bye week (any location).
Nov. 23 at Lions (-2.5): Second straight Turkey Day game in Detroit for the Vikings, their first back-to-back Thanksgiving Day games since the 1987-88 seasons. They should enter off a Week 11 home win over the Rams. Minnesota lost 16-13 on the holiday last year in Motown on a terrible late Bradford interception that led to the game-winning field goal. Key trend:Vikes 6-3-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Dec. 3 at Falcons (-5.5): Not a bad thing to give Zimmer's defense extra time to prepare for the defending NFC champions. The Vikings have won five of their last seven road games against the Falcons but those were all in the Georgia Dome. Key trend:Vikes 5-5 ATS in past 10 at NFC South teams.
Dec. 10 at Panthers (-3): Minnesota has won its last two games played at Bank of America Stadium, including last season's 22-10 victory in Week 3. The Vikings picked off Cam Newton three times and sacked him eight times, one for a safety. Minnesota had only 211 yards of offense. Key trend:Vikes 2-2 ATS all-time at Panthers.
Dec. 23 at Packers (-6.5): Saturday night. Minnesota hosts Cincinnati the previous Sunday. This looks to be the only guaranteed cold-weather game on the schedule. It's the fourth meeting between these two ever on a Saturday. The Vikings visited Lambeau on Christmas Eve Saturday in 2016 and lost 38-25 to be officially eliminated from the playoffs. Bradford was great, throwing for 382 yards and three scores, but the defense was shredded. Key trend: Vikes 0-4 SU & ATS in past four as road dog of at least 6.5 points in series.
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