2010 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview: The Old Man Tries Again
For Brett Favre, it might literally be one last shot at glory. It's glory he hasn't tasted since January 1997, when his Packers beat New England in Super Bowl XXXI. Favre wasn't the biggest star of that game -- Desmond Howard won MVP honors -- but he got rave reviews for leading a team that was without its top receiver, Robert Brooks, who was lost to a knee injury in the Packers' seventh game. Favre used Antonio Freeman (who missed a few games that season with a broken wrist), Keith Jackson, Mark Chmura, Don Beebe, Terry Mickens and late-season pickup Andre Rison to help his team win it all.
In what he says will be his last season, Favre is going to try that same act again.
Offense: The Vikings will be without last year's leading receiver, Sidney Rice, for at least the first five games (six weeks), and blossoming star Percy Harvin is a perennial question mark thanks to sometimes-crippling migraine headaches. Bernard Berrian still has big-play ability, but the Vikings also need him to be a reliable target on third downs. Summer acquisition Greg Camarillo will likely play a significant role in the offense, at least until Rice returns. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is definitely a Favre favorite.
While many have mocked Adrian Peterson for his fumbling issues, there is no mocking his big-play ability or toughness. Peterson has three straight 1,000-yard seasons, and he won the rushing title in 2008. Peterson scored 18 times last year, but his per-carry average dipped to a modest 4.4, thanks in part to an offensive line that underachieved for large parts of the season. The loss of third-down back Chester Taylor is potentially significant, as Taylor was a very good receiver, a deceptively good rusher and a very good blocker. Peterson's blitz pickup skills are not nearly as refined, and this could be something that hurts the Vikings.
That line is still a question mark. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is extremely vulnerable to the speed rush, as he showed a few times last year. Star guard Steve Hutchinson didn't look right last year, but offseason shoulder surgery should have him back in full form. Right tackle Phil Loadholt could be a future star. Heat Index: 8
Defense: The defense goes as the front four does. Tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are still going strong, even though Pat is 38 and Kevin has just crossed into his 30s. They're not quite as dominant as they've been in the past, but the Vikings know they can rely on the pair to at least keep the run game slowed down dramatically. End Jared Allen had 7 1/2 sacks in two games against the Packers, accounting for nearly half his season total. While that might make the overall body of work a little less impressive, Allen is one of the game's most feared pass-rushers. When he isn't generating the heat on his own, his running buddy -- Ray Edwards -- is usually getting single-team attention from opponents, and he parlayed that into a 12 1/2-sack season of his own last year.
It's hard not to appreciate the work middle linebacker E.J. Henderson has done to get back, not even a year after suffering a gruesome leg injury in a loss to Arizona. Henderson will man the middle again, with Chad Greenway and Ben Leber on the outside. E.J.'s younger brother, Erin, could make this team and provide significant versatility and depth.
Veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield could be losing a step, but the Vikings really like rookie Chris Cook, a second-round pick. Young corner Asher Allen could see a lot of time early, as there are still questions surrounding the health of Cedric Griffin, who tore an ACL during the NFC championship game. Veteran Lito Sheppard fits in this mix, too. At safety, the Vikings have Madieu Williams and a lot of youth, led by Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson. The playmaking here has suffered a bit as of late. The team might not miss Darren Sharper's risk-taking, but they miss his nose for the football. Heat Index: 8
Special teams: Veteran kicker Ryan Longwell might not produce booming kickoffs anymore, but not many are more accurate or reliable. He missed just two field goals last year. Punter Chris Kluwe hasn't always been a favorite of head coach Brad Childress, but he has a big leg and has generally been very good in a Minnesota uniform.
Harvin and Darius Reynaud give Minnesota a potent one-two punch in the return game. Harvin was a Pro Bowler as a returner last year, and Reynaud has real big-play ability, too. If that's not enough. special teams ace Heath Farwell also got the nod for the Pro Bowl last year. Heat Index: 9
Coaching: Childress has taken some ribbing for his personality, play-calling, late-game coaching acumen, ability to make young quarterbacks better (read: Tarvaris Jackson) , and now he has to deal with people criticizing him for his handling of the Favre saga. Last year, all that drama led to a 12-4 season and nearly got the Vikings to the Super Bowl. It's hard to complain with those results.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell doesn't get credit for much, but he does good work during the week helping prepare for opponents. He also has a good rapport with Favre. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is one of the best in the business. Heat Index: 8
Intangibles: The Vikings were 8-0 at home last year, and they possess a tremendous home-field advantage at the Metrodome, one of the louder stadiums in the league. Despite Favre playing for the enemy Packers for 17 years, and often beating Minnesota, Viking fans embraced him and only grew more fond of the ol' gunslinger as the team kept piling up wins. If Minnesota wins the opener at New Orleans, they could get off to a really hot start, thanks to back-to-back home dates against Miami and Detroit before their bye week. Heat Index: 7
Total Heat Index: 40/50: Simply put, Minnesota should have been considered the division favorite without Favre. Now that he's on board, look for the Vikings to hold off the Packers in the NFC North. They have the best defense, the most balance on offense and a quarterback determined to take advantage of his last shot at the big show.
There are no guarantees, but if last year's Vikings were good enough to make the Super Bowl, there's no reason to think this year's edition won't be.