The Minnesota Vikings think they're better than the club that won the NFC North a year ago, and they might be right. Nevertheless, there are a lot of people out there who like Chicago more this season because, basically, they believe Jay Cutler will do more for the Bears than Adrian Peterson does for Minnesota.
Maybe. And that's a big maybe.
|Sage Rosenfels picked himself up and impressed the Vikings in November. (US Presswire)|
Then, the Vikings were willing to trade a second-round pick. Now they surrender a fourth-rounder and get the deal done. Not bad, especially when Jackson stepped in for the injured Gus Frerotte late in the season and played the best football of his career, throwing eight touchdown passes and only one interception down the stretch.
He beat Arizona in Arizona. He beat the defending Super-Bowl champion New York Giants on the last weekend. He won three of his last four starts. In short, he was the quarterback he was not the year before ... at least, he was until the playoffs rolled around, which is why the Vikings opened the door to competition at quarterback.
If Rosenfels is as good as he was against Minnesota last season -- and he completed 21 of 29 passes in the second half -- the Vikings will be fine. The threat of the pass will make Peterson and Chester Taylor that much more effective, and they were good enough to comprise the league's fifth-ranked rushing attack. If, however, their quarterbacks aren't improved, the Vikings are in a three-way scramble for the top -- with coach Brad Childress feeling the heat.
QB: Jackson is back, but he's not the starter. Not yet anyway. He and Rosenfels will battle for one job at training camp, with Rosenfels the early favorite. I know Jackson finished strong and was Childress' draft pick. But if the Vikings had a conviction about him they wouldn't have swung the deal for Rosenfels, a guy they unsuccessfully tried to acquire the year before. John David Booty carries the clipboard.
|Vikings Draft Needs|
|QB|| ||Needs starter|
|RB|| ||Not at all|
|WR|| ||Needs starter|
|TE|| ||Needs depth|
|OL|| ||Needs starter|
|DL|| ||Needs depth|
|LB|| ||Needs depth|
|DB|| ||Needs depth|
RB: Adrian Peterson is back, too, and that ends the conversation here. All he did was lead the league in rushing, score 10 times and carry the Vikings into the playoffs for the first time in four years. Peterson is the league's premier back, and Chester Taylor is a solid No. 2 option. So he ran for 399 yards. He was more a threat as a receiver, ranking third on the team in catches. Jackson makes for the third back, provided, of course, he starts.
WR: The Vikings figured that if they were going to pose a threat as a passing team they might as well have a legitimate receiver. So they threw a lot of money at Bernard Berrian, and he responded with seven touchdown catches and a whopping average of 20 yards per reception. Bobby Wade was the team's leading receiver, which is the good news, but he had only 53 catches and two scores. So he's not much of a threat. It's time for Sidney Rice to do something. Same goes for Aundrae Allison.
TE: When the Vikings acquired Visanthe Shiancoe in 2007 they thought they were getting a pass receiving threat. They were, only it took them two seasons to find him. Shiancoe tied Berrian for the team lead in touchdown catches with seven and was fourth in overall receptions with 42. Jim Kleinsasser didn't make much of a dent on the statistics but continues to be one of the league's top blockers at this position.
OL: You can forget about the left side. With tackle Bryant McKinnie and guard Steve Hutchinson, that is set ... provided, of course, McKinnie stays out of trouble. Matt Birk is gone, replaced in all likelihood by second-year pro John Sullivan or Ryan Cook. I don't know much about Sullivan, other than he hasn't started a pro game, but the Vikings have enough confidence in the guy to let Birk walk. Anthony Herrera is solid at right guard, but the Vikings must do better at right tackle. There's a reason they gave up 43 sacks a year ago. I'd put an offensive tackle at or near the top of their board, and I think the Vikings will, too.
DL: A year ago the Vikings traded for defensive end Jared Allen, hoping to improve a pass rush that produced 38 sacks in 2007. They made the right move. Not only did Allen produce a team-high 14.5 sacks despite knee and shoulder injuries, the Vikings wound up with 45, fourth best in the NFL. Defending the run has never been a problem, not with Kevin and Pat Williams anchoring the middle, but defending the pass has. Or, at least was. With Allen on board, Kevin Williams jumped to 8.5 sacks, his best total since 2004, and the pass defense improved to 18th. There are three Pro Bowlers here, but it may be time to draft a defensive tackle to start grooming behind the Williamses.
LB: The key here is that linebacker E.J. Henderson, who missed all but four games last season with a toe injury, is back and should be healthy. His absence hurt the club and forced the Vikings to sign Kansas City castoff Napoleon Harris. With Henderson missing, more was put on the shoulders of Chad Greenway and Ben Leber, and all Greenway did was lead the team in tackles, including 5.5 sacks. Leber led it in fumble recoveries with four.
DB: This has been a hot spot for the Vikings, with the club ranked last in pass defense in 2007. That's not as much a commentary on the secondary as it is the entire pass defense, with the Vikings unable to defend receivers or tackle quarterbacks. Cornerback Antoine Winfield is one of the game's best best hitters, and he's involved in negotiations to sign a contract extension. Cedric Griffin -- who did gain an extension -- improved at the other corner position, while rookie Tyrell Johnson looked decent as Madieu Williams' stand-in the first seven games. He and Williams take over now that Darren Sharper is gone, with Williams the youngest starter on the defense. If there's a need here, it's for a playmaker. Only five teams had fewer interceptions than Minnesota, with 12.
|Team Needs by Division|
|AFC East||NFC East|
|New England Patriots||N.Y. Giants|
|Miami Dolphins||Philadelphia Eagles|
|N.Y. Jets||Washington Redskins|
|Buffalo Bills||Dallas Cowboys|
|AFC South||NFC South|
|Houston Texans||Carolina Panthers|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Tennessee Titans||Atlanta Falcons|
|Indianapolis Colts||New Orleans Saints|
|AFC North||NFC North|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Chicago Bears|
|Baltimore Ravens||Minnesota Vikings|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Green Bay Packers|
|Cleveland Browns||Detroit Lions|
|AFC West||NFC West|
|Denver Broncos||Arizona Cardinals|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Seattle Seahawks|
|San Diego Chargers||St. Louis Rams|
|Oakland Raiders||San Francisco 49ers|