The Minnesota Vikings started the 2016 season as a legitimate contender for the Vince Lombardi trophy, but after a bright start their term fell away drastically.
The club were dealt a huge blow in pre-season when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a serious knee injury, ruling him out for the entire campaign.
Minnesota refused to be denied for the upcoming season and traded away their first-round draft pick and a fourth-rounder to acquire Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles.
After starting the term 5-0, the Vikings’ problems quickly mounted, resulting in winning just three of their remaining 11 matches and missing the playoffs in the process.
The team have already made the decision to allow five-time All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson to leave, while the future of Bridgewater is uncertain due to the severity of his injury.
As a result, head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have plenty of work ahead of them to rebuild the roster.
We’ll now take a look back at the last campaign to see what went wrong for the Vikings and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the post-season.
Bradford was not in place for the Vikings’ opener against the Tennessee Titans, forcing Shaun Hill to start at signal-caller.
Zimmer’s men fell behind in the second quarter by a two-score deficit before two field goals from Blair Walsh and a 77-yard interception return from Eric Kendricks kickstarted their comeback.
Another Titans turnover handed the Vikings the victory as Danielle Hunter ran in from 24 yards after sacking Marcus Mariota.
The club’s defense was the driving force of their win over the Green Bay Packers as Bradford started for the first time in the opening game at U.S Bank Stadium.
Bradford put two touchdowns on the board, connecting with Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph before a Trae Waynes interception of Aaron Rodgers iced the game.
Minnesota continued to play complementary football, with Hunter notching another signature play by earning a safety for his team to begin another rally to defeat the Carolina Panthers, scoring 22 points on the bounce at Bank of America Stadium.
The Vikings controlled their contest with the New York Giants from start to finish, despite the absence of Peterson, who had been sidelined with an injury which would rule him out for the majority of the campaign.
Bradford and back-up running back Jerick McKinnon guided the Vikings to victory with a flawless offensive performance moving their side to 4-0.
Zimmer’s side signed off before the bye week with their most impressive outing, hammering the Houston Texans on home soil, with Bradford enjoying another efficient performance.
For all of their success the Vikings’ offense enjoyed in their win over the Texans, they came crashing down to earth following the bye, beginning with a poor performance against the Eagles.
Doug Pederson’s men stifled their former quarterback as Minnesota mustered just 10 points, while in this occasion their defense was not able to hold up against rookie Carson Wentz, suffering their first defeat of the season.
Matters did not improve against the struggling Chicago Bears, with Zimmer’s men putting arguably their worst performance of the season, succumbing to a 20-10 defeat on the road.
Another damaging defeat was on the horizon as their divisional rivals the Detroit Lions piled on the misery. Minnesota were denied victory as Lions kicker Matt Prater hit one of the longest field goals to send the game into overtime before Matthew Stafford picked out Golden Tate in the endzone.
Their fourth loss on the spin came at the hands of the Washington Redskins, whose powerful offense proved to be too much for Bradford and company to compete with at FedEx Field.
Respite came in the form of the Arizona Cardinals, with two big plays from Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson firing them to their sixth win of the term.
Although they maintained a decent level of play in their next two matches, the quality of the Lions and the Dallas Cowboys proved to be too much for Zimmer’s men to deal with.
Once again they got back on track with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but their push for the playoffs ended with a surprising thrashing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts and a loss to the Green Bay Packers on the road.
Peterson has been the pillar of the franchise since being drafted in 2007, but injuries and a decline in play brought about the decision for the club to decline the option on his contract for the 2017 term.
Replacing the 31-year-old will not be straightforward, although there is a potential fit in the draft in the form of Leonard Fournette – who like Peterson is emerging from starring in the college game into the NFL.
Jamaal Charles is also available on the free-agent market should the Vikings attempt to replace Peterson with a player – who can not only run out of the backfield but also catch passes – making him an intriguing prospect for the club’s offense.
Offensive line help is a must for the Vikings in the off-season as they struggled immensely in protecting Bradford last term. Matt Kalil’s injury caused problems on the left side of the line, although his play was a concern before the term.
Signing a veteran like Andrew Whitworth could be a short-term solution given the lack of options available in the draft. Russell Okung and Kelvin Beachem could also be considered by Zimmer.
Retaining the services of Adam Thielen and Charles Johnson should also be a priority. Thielen emerged as a solid player for the club last season and trusted target of Bradford, including a 200-yard performance against the Packers.
With those re-signings and the return to health of Bridgewater the club could have a chance of surging back into the playoffs, although there are still question marks surrounding the health of their quarterback.
Peterson was cut by the Vikings due to his high salary for the 2017 season. However, the door is not permanently shut on his return to the club. Backing him to make a comeback with Zimmer’s men at odds of +400 with Bovada sportsbook could be well worth a punt.
Bridgewater’s injury was very severe and pending his progress in the off-season – it could well force him to sit out the 2017 campaign. He may enjoy a rapid recovery though as injuries are very unpredictable therefore backing him at -600 with TopBet to play in the opener may be a wise move.
The Vikings still have an excellent defense, which should be the core a potential push for the playoffs in 2017. Improvements will certainly be made on the offensive line, while a quality addition at running back will alleviate the pressure on Bradford or Bridgewater at the quarterback position.
As a result, backing Minnesota at +1200 to win the NFC Championship and reach the Super Bowl should be worth a small punt at the least.
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