The Vikings have had a strange few years, coming dangerously close to a Super Bowl before bottoming out before unexpectedly making it to the playoffs before slumping to another subpar season.
It won’t be easy to turn things around in 2014, where it will be a major accomplishment not if the Vikings win the NFC North, but if they simply avoid finishing behind the Packers, Bears, and Lions.
As the season approaches, here are five questions that will go a long way toward determining whether the franchise can compete for third place, and maybe even contend for first.
1. When does the Teddy Bridgewater era begin?
The Vikings didn’t trade back into round one for the privilege of selecting a quarterback who would be relegated to the bench for the next four years. While Matt Cassel and his two-year, $5 million deal puts him atop the depth chart for now, Teddy Bridgewater’s draft pedigree and his splitting of reps with Cassel strongly suggest that it’s only a matter of time before Bridgewater will be under center.
Of course, if Cassel gets the nod to start the season and plays at a high level in new coordinator Norv Turner’s offense, it could be difficult to flip the switch to the rookie. And if Cassel somehow leads the Vikings to the playoffs, it could be even harder to elevate Bridgewater next year.
Some would call that a good problem to have. Others would simply call it a problem.
2. Will Adrian Peterson ever slow down?
With more than 2,000 regular-season carries and another 200-plus receptions in seven years, Peterson averages more than 300 touches per season. While an extremely rare physical specimen, he remains human. We think.
At some point, he’ll need to slow down if he hopes to play at a high level beyond his 30th birthday. It’s one thing to say it, and quite another for Peterson to set aside his ultra-competitive nature and do it.
Don’t count on it happening. Absent injury or illness, Peterson will be playing and running and catching as much as he always has. Even with injury or illness, he’ll likely still find a way to focus on maxing out his performance today, and worrying about his ability to keep doing it later.
3. Can Kyle Rudolph live up to his contract?
The Vikings have made a major wager on tight end Kyle Rudolph becoming one of the best players at his position, opting to make him the fifth highest-paid tight end before his contract year in lieu of coughing up even more after the 2014 season.
Now, it’s on the Vikings and Rudolph to prove that the Vikings made a good investment.
With Norv Turner drawing up the plays and calling them, Rudolph could indeed make an even bigger impact than he has in his first three seasons. If he does, the Vikings definitely won’t finish in the basement of the division.
4. Can the pass rush thrive without Jared Allen?
He arrived in 2008, cashed every check of a six-year contract, and then moved on to the Bears. Now, the Vikings will have to fashion a competent pass rush with newly-minted (and possibly overpaid) multi-millionaire Everson Griffin and Brian Robison on the outside, 2013 first-rounder Sharrif Floyd and 2014 free-agent arrival Linval Joseph on the inside, and 2014 first-rounder Anthony Barr wreaking havoc from anywhere/everywhere along and behind the line of scrimmage.
With new coach Mike Zimmer bringing his ability to get a defense to play better than the sum of its parts, the Vikings may not miss Allen very much. Until they have to play him twice.
5. Are the Vikings ready to take the show outdoors?
After decades of playing in a dome, the Vikings will spend two years outside again, in elements that will become elements as the season rolls on.
It won’t affect Adrian Peterson very much, and Teddy Bridgewater’s glove habit will make more sense after the weather turns. But the move to the University of Minnesota campus will represent a major change for a team that was built to play indoors. Based on three of the last four seasons, however, it’s not as if the Greatest Show on Turf has been banished to Siberia.