Vikings' predicted record - 9-7. . .because there's no way that the 2011 season could possibly be worse than the 2010 season. There's no Favre drama this year, and I highly doubt that the Vikings will lead the NFL in interceptions again in 2011 like they did in 2010. Also, one would imagine that the odds of the Metrodome roof collapsing again and causing the Vikings to play two home games on the road are relatively small. The Vikings still have plenty of talent on their roster, and with a new offense that will focus more on a power rushing attack and less zone blocking for the offensive line, the Vikings are certainly a team that could sneak under the radar for most of the season.
Best Game On The Schedule
It might just be the season opener against the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers, despite the stumbles they had in 2010, are still one of the most talented teams in the AFC, and they will be a good test for a Vikings' defense that should remain good up front, but has some questions remaining in the secondary. Of course, it will be hard for these two teams to top the fireworks that took place the last time they got together back in 2007. In that game, two NFL records were set. . .Antonio Cromartie's 109-yard return of a missed Ryan Longwell field goal set the record for longest play in NFL history, and Adrian Peterson broke the single-game rushing record with 296 yards (243 of which came in the second half of play).
Player Who Takes A Step Back This Year
If I had to take one player on this team to take a step back in 2011, it would probably be defensive tackle Kevin Williams, for a couple of reasons. For starters, it looks like he's going to have to finally serve the suspension for the StarCaps fiasco that took place what seems like a decade ago, but reports are that the suspension will be two games rather than the original four. It has also been reported that Williams has developed plantar fasciitis in his foot, and that he will attempt to play through the injury. Since coming into the league in 2003, Kevin Williams has been among the best all-around defensive tackles in the game, and 80% of Kevin Williams is still pretty darn good, but he might not be at the same level of dominance that we've become accustomed to.
Breakout Player Candidate
It would be hard to declare wide receiver Percy Harvin to be a "breakout" player, but even with as good as he's been over his first two NFL seasons, he could explode in 2011. Bill Musgrave's new offense is built around the short passing game, and that's the kind of thing Harvin excels at, having the ability to turn a 5-yard hitch into a 60-yard touchdown in the blink of an eye. In the NFL, a wide receiver's third season is the year that they usually finally "get it" in terms of the NFL game, and while Harvin has done a pretty fine job over his first two NFL seasons, Musgrave's offense could allow him to do significantly more this season. . .particularly if he is (finally) migraine-free, as has been reported.
Best Vikings Player Others Have Never Heard Of
Everybody knows who Minnesota's primary running back is, but it's one of his backups that could be a tremendous difference maker for the team in 2011. Running back Lorenzo Booker was so anxious to get to Minnesota, he paid his own transfer fee from the XFL, and in his short time in Minnesota in 2010 he made a significant impact on special teams and as a third-down back. An outstanding pre-season will likely give him a permanent role on third downs this season, and while he may not ever reach the level that Chester Taylor did during his time in Minnesota in that role, he's certainly no slouch, either. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss will lead to a lot of converted third downs for the Vikingsin 2011. . .a component that the offense was sorely lacking in 2010.
Underrated Vikings Player
When it came time for the Vikings to determine who they were going to use their franchise tag on, many people were surprised when Minnesota chose to put the tag on linebacker Chad Greenway rather than wide receiver Sidney Rice. But the South Dakota native has been outstanding since missing his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, racking up a ton of tackles and getting exponentially better in coverage every season he has been in the league. Despite his abilities and talents, he doesn't really ever tend to get mentioned with the elite outside linebackers in the NFL. However, even with as good as Minnesota's front four has been in recent years, Chad Greenway has played a huge role in making the Vikings one of the better defenses in the NFL. . .even if he doesn't get the recognition outside of Minnesota that he probably should.
Fantasy Football Outlook
If you're looking for a sleeper at the tight end spot, look no further than Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings' second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. Minnesota's new offense will utilize a lot of two tight end sets, which means Rudolph will likely see a lot of playing time. With current No. 1 tight end Visanthe Shiancoe missing the entire pre-season with hamstring issues, Rudolph got a lot of time in the games that don't count, and showed outstanding hands and very good athletic ability. With his size (6'6", 265 pounds) and the scheme that the Vikings are running, I would expect Rudolph to have plenty of opportunities to make his presence felt in 2011, particularly in the red zone.
As far as some other Vikings are concerned in fantasy football, if you have the top overall pick in your league's draft and select somebody other than Adrian Peterson, I want to be in your league. He should, once again, put up numbers that will put him among the NFL's elite, as he's the only back in the league that has been in the top five in fantasy scoring in each of the last four years. Percy Harvin isn't a #1 wide receiver, but would make an outstanding WR2 if you can grab him somewhere in the fifth or sixth round. The defense should still be solid, so they're likely worth a late-round pick, and depending on how deep your league is, Donovan McNabb is a guy that could be either your second quarterback or one of the first guys you grab off of the waiver wire in the event of an injury.
Best Media Personality In Minneapolis
There are a lot of young, up-and-comers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul sports media scene. . .but for pure entertainment value, it's really hard to beat the old standby, the man we know and love as "Grandpa Sports," Sid Hartman. Sid, who penned his first column for the Minneapolis Daily Times nearly 66 years ago (he made his debut on September 11, 1945) continues to report for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today. While other reporters at press conferences have moved into the digital age, you'll see Sid there with his old-school audio tape recorder and think to yourself, "Wow. . .I didn't even know they made blank cassette tapes any more." Hartman, who is a "close personal friend" of just about every major sports figure of the last five decades (to hear him say it, anyway) might be the youngest 91-year old in America, and for as much flak as he generally receives from readers, he's still an original.
Best Player To Follow On Twitter
A lot of the subjects in this article are up for debate, but this one most assuredly is not. The best Viking to follow on Twitter is punter Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft), and he has lapped the field several times in this category. Whether it's his infamous white board drawings from the dark days of the NFL lockout, posting videos where he shows Adolf Hitler yelling at Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith to get a deal done, or just posting random thoughts about computer games and other subjects, there certainly isn't a more interesting punter in the NFL, and there are few more interesting players period. If you're an NFL fan on Twitter and you're not following Chris Kluwe, whether you're a Vikings fan or not, you're doing yourself a pretty big disservice.