M&J Camp Preview: What will the Vikings' record be in 2014?
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The Minnesota Vikings opened training camp on Friday in Mankato hours after we, "Mackey & Judd," concluded our five-part on-air preview that examined various topics involving Mike Zimmer's team.
The grand finale featured our attempt to predict the Vikings record for the coming season, although this won't be the last time we do this. We'll have a new prediction before the regular season opens on Sept. 7 in St. Louis.
So without seeing the Vikings play a game or even go through a practice, here's where we landed on trying to forecast how the Vikings would fare.
As I've pointed out before, attempting to put a win-loss record on an NFL team is extremely difficult because things can change so quickly. Good teams suddenly plummet and bad teams rebound and end up in the playoffs. It happens all the time. Just look at 2012 Vikings, who went 10-6 and made the playoffs after going 3-13 the previous year.
The Vikings have what appears to be difficult five-game stretch to open the season, facing the Rams, Patriots, Saints, Falcons (who figure to be much improved) and Packers.
But the Vikings also made steps to being an improved product in 2014. Zimmer, a longtime defensive assistant, is getting his first shot as an NFL head coach and has spent the offseason introducing a new scheme.
General manager Rick Spielman made numerous personnel changes to a defense that gave up the second-most yards in the NFL last season and finished last in the league by surrendering 30 points per game.
The offense, of course, will need far better play and continuity from the quarterback position. Matt Cassel figures to open the season as the starter and, if all goes according to plan, he will be successful enough to hold the job for the entire season as first-round Teddy Bridgewater makes the adjustment to the NFL.
If Cassel can provide competent play, the Vikings have an offense that has plenty of weapons with Adrian Peterson at running back, Cordarrelle Patterson and Greg Jennings at wide receiver and Kyle Rudolph at tight end.
Veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner should be a significant upgrade over Bill Musgrave as well, meaning he will bring an improved scheme and some creativity to a unit that needs it.
While I'm not willing to say the Vikings will go from 5-10-1 and last place in the NFC North to the playoffs, I do think Zimmer will bring enough stability to get this team to 8-8 and, let's say, a third-place finish in the division.
One of the most important factors in a team's record is the schedule they play. While it's entirely too early to make definitive statements about the Vikings' schedule, we do know this: Five-win teams don't usually get slapped upside the head with a schedule that includes three of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time in the first five games - Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
In fact, the Vikings get very few breaks in the schedule when it comes to facing really good opposing quarterbacks. Along with Brady, Brees and Rodgers, the Vikings also play Matt Ryan in Week 4, Robert Griffin III in Week 9, Rodgers again in Week 12 and Cam Newton in Week 13. That's almost half the schedule, not including the Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson and Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall pairings.
In other words, Mike Zimmer had better get to work on fixing that defense quickly.
To me, the Vikings' chances at remaining relevant in the NFC all boil down to how well they weather the first five games -- @ STL, vs. NE, @ NO, vs. ATL and @ GB. A 2-3 record through that stretch gives them a chance to make up ground against the Lions, Bills, Buccaneers and Redskins heading into the bye week.
Of course, the entire schedule outlook changes if, say, the Buccaneers experience a quick turnaround from last season.
Every year we always see multiple playoff teams fall off the map and bad teams make a huge leap. The Vikings have more talent on the roster than last year's five wins suggested, especially now with the additions of Captain Munnerlyn, Linval Joseph, full seasons of Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph, and full usage of Cordarrelle Patterson. They could easily be a team that makes a leap.
In fact, with even average quarterback play, they should make a leap.
That's why I say 9-7.