MINNESOTA VIKINGS (Consensus division finish: 1st)
Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 Too bad they couldn't pry Favre away from the Packers this offseason. Now they need quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to be a steady presence for a team with a strong defense and an even stronger running game.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 The No. 1 running team and No. 1 team at stopping the run needs Brad Childress to be right about his faith in QB Tarvaris Jackson.
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 With a reliable and consistent quarterback, the Vikings are championship contenders. They have the running game and the defense. It's up to Tarvaris Jackson.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 I think QB Tarvaris Jackson will be able to take care of the ball and allow the No. 1-ranked run offense and No. 1-ranked run defense from 2007 to do the heavy lifting. RB Adrian Peterson has a very good shot at being the league MVP, and that will be enough to take the NFC North crown from the Packers.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 While I'm not at all sold on Tarvaris Jackson, it's a situation in which they can win games on Sundays when he manages to be just OK. Jared Allen will be a monumental addition.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 Isn't this the sexy pick? Great running back. Great offensive line. Great pass-rusher. OK, sign me up.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Vikings made moves to upgrade their roster. How sharp will Tarvaris Jackson be after missing time? Injuries are making life tougher for Minnesota.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 The Vikings have high-level talent at some positions and questions at a few others, including quarterback. A few preseason injuries are a concern, but this still should be a wild-card team.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 Tarvaris Jackson looked great in the preseason before his injury. If Jackson stays healthy and manages the game, the Vikings are good enough to play with anybody in the NFC.|
ESPN The Magazine
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 "Brett, Childress here. Look, it's Week 5 and we still can't throw. Can you please punch Mangini? Drive your car into a wall? Anything to get released. Wait -- am I tampering?"|
|DIVISION FINISH: 1 The Vikings could easily compete with the Cowboys this year in the NFC. Both of their lines are top-notch and running back Adrian Peterson is a true difference-maker. This team will be a lot of fun to watch.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 2 They have the best defense in the league and no one will run on them. Adrian Peterson is obviously very special, but the passing game is just too worrisome. A wild card is certainly a possibility.|
|DIVISION FINISH: 3 They made a lot of good moves in the offseason, but they're still overhyped. They wouldn't have been sniffing around Brett Favre if they thought they were set at quarterback.|
||CONSENSUS DIVISION FINISH: 1 | NFL standings|
BEST OF THE VIKINGS
Best cash flow: Owner Zygi Wilf. Wilf has become the George Steinbrenner of the NFL, willing to pay for any player his football people ask him for. The Vikings' optimism this season is based in part on Wilf's willingness to guarantee defensive end Jared Allen and wide receiver Bernard Berrian a combined $47 million this offseason.Best assistant coach you might not have heard of: Kevin Rogers. As quarterback coach, Rogers is the man mostly responsible for the development of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Rogers spent most of his career as a college assistant and is a patient, exacting man. Jackson has plenty of hurdles to overcome, but Rogers is giving him every tool to do so. Best receiver other than Bernard Berrian: Sidney Rice. The Vikings are expecting big things from a second-year player who had a surprisingly productive rookie season. Rice will move into the starting lineup opposite Berrian and will be a top target in the red zone. Rice also has good body control, allowing him to get his 6-foot-4 body low to the ground or far above opposing cornerbacks. Best old guy on defense: NT Pat Williams. The Vikings will start four defensive players who will be at least 30 years old this season, but none will make an impact as big as Williams. Even at age 35, Williams can shut down an opponent's running game. He is still quick enough to anticipate the snap counts, and the Vikings' defense is much different when he is off the field. -- Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com
SCOUTS INC.'S FAB FIVE
|Scouts Inc. has evaluated and graded more than 2,400 NFL players heading into the 2008 season, giving Insiders a leg up on the competition with exclusive grades, alerts and scouting reports.|
|Top five players
1. Kevin Williams
6-5 | 311
|(Rating 92) He is considered one of the most outstanding interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Williams has a rare combination of size, strength and athleticism. He's an instinctive player who feels pad pressure well.|
2. Steve Hutchinson
6-5 | 313
|(91) He has an excellent combination of size, strength and athleticism. He is a tenacious competitor who brings attitude to the line. He's a solid technician who uses quickness, power and proper angles to gain leverage.|
3. Jared Allen
6-6 | 270
|(89) He's a gifted, high-energy pass-rusher who plays the run as well as he pressures quarterbacks. Allen plays big and uses his long arms to keep blockers off his body. He goes all-out until the whistle on every play.|
4. Adrian Peterson
6-1 | 217
|(89) His combination of size, strength, instincts and athleticism forced opposing defensive coordinators to overplay the Vikings' ground attack last season. Peterson has deceptive burst and speed.|
5. Pat Williams
6-3 | 317
|(86) He continues to be a force in the middle defending the run because his combination of power, toughness and technique is tough for blockers to contend with.|
|Player grading scale: Elite (90-100), outstanding (80-89), solid starter (75-79), good starter (70-74)|
SCOUTS INC.'S ANALYSIS
This play might look simple, but it's one that helped RB Adrian Peterson win ROY honors and will be seen countless times again this season.
More best plays
Run defense: All signs point to Minnesota's defense dominating opposing running games again. Creating movement or quick rushing lanes is extremely tough against the Vikings' front seven. DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams and DE Jared Allen will control the line of scrimmage, and the reactive linebackers will quickly get to their run fits. The entire defense (including 5-foot-9, 180-pound CB Antoine Winfield) is tough, physical and takes pride in forcing opponents to throw.Offensive line: The front five is a solid group across the board, but the left side makes the group special. LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Steve Hutchinson and C Matt Birk are as good a blocking threesome as there is in the league. Their experience, toughness, technique and tenacity paved the way for the Vikings' NFL-high 164.6 rushing yards per game last year. If that trio stays healthy, so will Minnesota's run game. (The NFL gave McKinnie a four-game suspension Friday for violating the league's personal conduct policy.) Run game: RBs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor are an explosive combo with complementary skills. Already an elite player headed into his second NFL season, Peterson has outstanding vision, speed, balance and body control. Taylor is a top-notch backup who has good running instincts and acceleration and excellent pass-catching hands.
QB: Much has been made of third-year QB Tarvaris Jackson's need to show improvement. The more it's discussed, the more the pressure builds. The position is a weakness until Jackson can prove otherwise, and opinions vary whether he can do so quickly enough -- or even at all -- to capitalize on a talented supporting cast.Tight end production: Starter Visanthe Shiancoe delivered an underwhelming performance in his first season in Minnesota and could be in jeopardy of losing play time to Garrett Mills. Shiancoe's 27 receptions for 323 yards were career highs, but the Vikings' front office paid for far better production. If Jackson is going to turn the corner at QB, Shiancoe must become a bigger threat in the passing game.
-- Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles.
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MY BEST OPPONENT
In a SportsNation vote, Fran Tarkenton was selected best Viking ever. The Hall of Fame QB holds Viking marks for most passing yards and touchdowns. Complete results
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Looking for more Vikings coverage? You've come to the right place. Kevin Seifert writes about all things NFC North in his division blog.
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I'm excited to see what AP can do this year. With a full season he might break even more records. The part people seem to be worried about is QB. Blog
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