Just a few days away from one of the biggest games in the franchise’s recent history, the Minnesota Vikings are preparing for their anxiously awaited rematch against the Seattle Seahawks. The stage is set: The Vikings will have an NBC prime time game for the third week in a row. They’ll face the two-time defending NFC Champions on the same field where they were walloped 38-7 just over a month ago. The game will be one of the coldest in franchise and playoff history. The loser goes (or stays) home while the winner forges onward in the playoffs towards the Lombardi Trophy.
There’s a lot at stake for the Vikings this upcoming Sunday. And where there is a lot at stake, there is typically a lot to lose.
However, regardless of what happens against the Seahawks this weekend in the Wild Card round of the 2015 NFL Playoffs, the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success.
This isn’t an attempt to preemptively make excuses for a game that hasn’t been played yet. (In fact, I want to make it very clear that I’m cautiously optimistic about the Vikings’ chances this Sunday.) It’s not an attempt to suggest the current opportunity in front of the Vikings isn’t a huge one.
It’s simply a reflection on the 2015 season, and what made it one of the more successful ones in recent memory.
Winning The North
The Vikings’ 2015 season is a success because they won the NFC North.
Heading into the season, expectations were high for the Vikings. The young team in its second year under Mike Zimmer was finally starting to catch the eye of popular media outlets. Many people had the Vikings as a dark horse team to make a playoff run in the NFC.
But not many people considered the Vikings to be a threat to take the title of NFC North Champion from its long-time owner, the Packers. The Vikings were considered a strong up-and-coming team, but the North belonged to Green Bay. And the few brave souls that suggested otherwise were likely not taken very seriously — considered to have sipped just a little too much purple Kool-Aid.
After both teams suffered significant losses very early in the season (or preseason for the Vikings), the Vikings and Packers managed to stay neck and neck atop the division. And after losing handily to the Packers at home in Week 11, Zimmer’s resilient group bounced back. They strung together some impressive outings against both teams they beat and teams they didn’t, ultimately earning themselves a chance to take the North if they could upset Green Bay in their own house at Lambeau Field in Week 17.
They did just that.
The Vikings (11-5) managed to have their best season and first NFC North Championship since 2009.
With just this accomplishment alone, the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success. But that’s not going to stop us from further reveling in additional 2015 achievements.
Young, Developing Talent
The Vikings’ 2015 season is a success because their young players continue to develop and show huge promise.
The Minnesota Vikings are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and have been over the past 3-4 years. In the two years prior to 2015, this fact was obvious — each season resulted in a losing record. However, after some very promising rookie draft classes, it was clear this team was full of potential, clear it was populated with young, developing players that had the ability to become superstars.
That potential materialized this season for many. And once again, the incoming rookie class showed that it was not without its own promise.
Let’s just run down the list:
Teddy Bridgewater (23) hasn’t had the year many expected him to have after finishing the 2014 season red-hot. However, he’s shown that he still has the potential to be a very strong quarterback in this league. Some will find that statement debatable, and no doubt it’s something that’s been contested on the pages of Vikings Territory. However, I still believe that, all things considered and the hurdles Bridgewater has had to overcome this year, he’s developed well and taken the next step in becoming the future quarterback for this team.
Anthony Barr (23) in just is second year in the NFL is already one of the best linebackers in the league and is on his way to becoming an elite defender.
Jerick McKinnon (23) has provided the explosiveness and versatility in his sophomore season that Adrian Peterson has been unable to add to Norv Turner’s offense.
Shamar Stephen (24) has proven to be a reliable backup and dangerous rotational piece in Zimmer’s defense.
Trae Waynes (23) performed well in fill-in duty when injuries required him to take the field. He’s been one of the Vikings’ best performers on special teams and still has the tools to be a great corner opposite Xavier Rhodes.
Eric Kendricks (23) has shown flashes of greatness throughout the season and shown that he can be the other half of a formidable duo alongside his college buddy, Anthony Barr.
Danielle Hunter (21), considered athletically gifted but raw coming out of LSU, has developed more rapidly than anyone expected and has been a playmaker in rotational duties along the defensive line.
MyCole Pruitt (23) has flashed his athleticism with limited opportunity and should be a promising pass-catching tight end for the Vikings moving forward.
Stefon Diggs (22) has been the Vikings’ best receiver in his rookie year and was considered one of the top-2 rookie receivers in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. (Tyler Lockett was the other.)
The average age of the above players? 22.7
And that’s not even including other players from the 2014 and 2015 draft class that have been key contributors throughout the season despite their occasional struggles. Guys like Antone Exum, Scott Crichton and T.J. Clemmings have all played a role in the Vikings’ accomplishments this year.
The average age of the Minnesota Vikings’ roster is 25.83 years old (7th youngest in the NFL). As good as they’ve performed collectively so early in their careers, the potential of Minnesota’s young roster is absolutely thrilling. And the fact that a majority of the cornerstone players on this roster are all under age 25 is just another reason the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success.
Adrian Peterson’s Return
The Vikings’ 2015 season is a success because Peterson returned and provided a happy ending to an ugly saga.
It’s not worth rehashing the events that took place in 2014 and during part of this past offseason. It’s been covered intimately here at Vikings Territory. The Adrian Peterson saga could have gone in a number of directions after everything that transpired. There was a lot of uncertainty how Peterson would perform after being away from football for so long, especially with the fact that he’d be 30 years-old at the start of the season.
But where Adrian Peterson stands today in the Vikings’ franchise and in the eyes of Vikings fans is very likely the best possible outcome, all things considered.
At times throughout the season, Adrian Peterson has been the spark this Vikings team needed to succeed the way it did. For the third time in his career, he led the NFL in rushing. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing multiple times and often put the team on his back when it needed him most. Peterson proved once again that regardless of the hurdles put in front of him or the odds stacked against him, he is not someone you want to bet against.
There’s no telling what the future holds for Peterson and the Vikings. And, quite frankly, I have no interest in speculating what happens after this season before it’s even over. Although at times there seems to be an inherent conflict between the strengths of Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater, there’s no denying that Peterson is a key contributor to the success of the 2015 season.
Because of the generally positive outcome of a saga that, at times, seemed dismal and beyond repair, the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success.
The Vikings’ 2015 season is a success because Mike Zimmer is the franchise’s answer as head coach.
Maybe the biggest reason the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success is because they have Mike Zimmer. It’s really that simple. After what seemed like an eternity of searching for the right guy to lead the Minnesota Vikings to better days, we have found that person; it’s Mike Zimmer. And he is not only the reason the 2015 season is a success, but also the reason for likely continued success into the foreseeable future.
Since Zimmer took over the team, all he’s done is improve virtually every facet of the franchise. After 2013, he took the team from a 5-10 record to 7-9 and then from 7-9 to 11-5. He took a defense that was the worst in the NFL, improved them to a mediocre defense with promise in 2014, and then to a defense that ranks in the top-five in points-per-game allowed this season. He’s taken young players who were struggling without him and turned their careers around.
Statistically, Zimmer’s left his mark, improving this team in a number of different ways.
But most importantly, Zimmer has given the Vikings the leadership required to create a championship team. He has given the fans hope that on Sundays, they’re going to see a passionate group of players who will put their all on the line. He’s given the players a figure they can look up to and learn from — one that will always have their backs.
Mike Zimmer is honest, strong and passionate about the Vikings. He is a leader that will not settle for anything less than greatness out of every single member of this team.
Mike Zimmer is main reason the Vikings’ 2015 season is a success.
When Mike Zimmer was introduced as the Vikings’ Head Coach on January 17, 2014 he said the following:[pull_quote_center] I want Vikings football to be a tough, smart and aggressive team that plays with passion and that works relentlessly for one common goal. I pride myself in making each player better with technique, and teaching them every aspect of the game. I want our fans to be proud of the way we play – tough, resilient, physical football and a team that makes big plays and represents them on the field and in the community. We don’t win alone. We win as a team and I am determined to bring a championship to Minnesota[/pull_quote_center]
Zimmer has created the Vikings team he described that day when he took his position as head coach (Championship pending).