Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as a comment on a story on 1500ESPN.com. That story is linked here. The author is a frequent contributor to Vikings Territory and has expanded on his original comments for this story.
The playoff and Super Bowl window for this Minnesota Vikings roster could reasonably be said to have opened in 2015 with Mike Zimmer and Teddy Bridgewater’s sophomore seasons — and it can be reasonably expected to stay open through 2021 or 2022.
That’s based not so much on the team having reached the 2017 conference championship game, but rather, on the contracts with its core players, some of which are already in place and others expected to be addressed in the coming years.
Injuries caused the Vikings to stumble in 2016, but if the front office can avoid hollowing out the roster and instead replace some of the worn down parts, the window could hypothetically remain open through 2021 or 2022. This is not an easy task, but even in the modern era, it can and has been done by the following teams:
Baltimore Ravens, 2008-2012
Like this Vikings team, the Ravens were led by a top-notch general manager — arguably the best of his generation — and head coach. The roster was built around an excellent defense, but contrary to my oft-stated advice, the Ravens did it with a quarterback drafted in 2008, so I could be wrong about drafting a quarterback this year!
Philadelphia Eagles, 2000-2004
The Eagles were also in the hunt with a young quarterback and first-time head coach, but it was a top-10 defense that elevated this Eagles team over those that followed and were led by the same coach and quarterback.
Denver Broncos, 2011-2015
The Broncos have had stability at general manager, but I don’t think Zimmer will be pushed aside like John Fox was in Denver. Still, if Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, or Sam Bradford are the Vikings’ own version of Tim Tebow, who will be their Peyton Manning? Perhaps, more importantly, can the Vikings defense be a more consistent force than Denver’s? The Broncos’ once-elite defense seesawed from top-5 unit to a mid-20s unit in points allowed during the run, and has continued to do so since Manning’s retirement.
Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2010
The Colts went through three head coaches and fielded a top-10 defense only five times in 12 seasons, but did so with the Hall of Fame quarterback the Vikings currently lack. Their next run, 2012-2014, was cut short with Andrew Luck’s injuries, which exposed an otherwise thin roster.
Carolina Panthers, 2013-2017
They’ve been on more of a roller coaster ride than the Vikings would like, but they seem to be back in the thick of things. Still, the inconsistency on defense and at quarterback is nagging, especially with a thinner offensive supporting cast than the Vikings’, not least a Vikings cast-off at left tackle.
Atlanta Falcons, 2008-2012
Atlanta had a new coach and new quarterback, but their defense couldn’t sustain and support the success of the offense. Now, they’re back under a new head coach, the quarterback is a veteran Pro Bowler with an MVP season under his belt, and they’ve rebuilt their defense in Seattle’s likeness.
Seattle Seahawks, 2012-2017
The superb defense is showing cracks, and the failure to build a decent offensive line or rebuild the running game may be wasting the prime of a quarterback who’s a potential Hall-of-Famer. It is nice to see, though, that the Vikings’ general manager and head coach don’t seem to be making the same mistakes.
Pittsburgh Steelers AND New England Patriots, 2001-2017
What can you say? Not even the most optimistic Vikings fan in the world could hope to aspire to what the Steelers have accomplished, let alone the Patriots, unless the Vikings can get a Hall-of-Fame quarterback of their own. General manager Rick Spielman seems to be trying harder to hold on to the stars on his team than the Steelers or, particularly, the Pats have done; maybe to make up for that missing Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Minnesota.
Aside from the Lombardi Trophies, what may demonstrate most clearly why the Pats and Steelers are the two best franchises of this era is that the Patriots have had a top-10 offense and defense 13 out of 17 years, while the Steelers have managed to do that only five times, more often than not relying, instead, on either a strong offense or defense to carry the other unit.
A healthy Bridgewater might have been the Vikings’ Joe Flacco, a quarterback good enough to win a Super Bowl behind a stellar defense and solid running game. The parallels between the Purple and Gold and the Purple and Black are fairly striking, otherwise, especially if the Vikings defense can generate a killer instinct and remain at the top of the heap.
If the Vikings can finish shoring up the offensive line — should probably resist taking another shot at Pete Carroll, here — and get the right quarterback and placekicker, they’ve got a roster stocked with enough good-to-excellent starters and rotational pieces who are still in, or just entering, their prime that multiple Super Bowl appearances could be in the cards before their 2014-2022 window closes completely.