This is the 38th year for me covering the Vikings and the NFL, and never has there been a season with quite the built-in pressures and expectations for the Vikings as this season. Head Coach Mike Zimmer, now in his third season, already was rewarded with a contract extension. The Wilf brothers ownership really believes in his leadership. And with that you still have to produce.
Losing star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a sudden season-ending knee injury was a huge blow and sent shock waves through the Vikings nation. The dislocation and ACL tear of his right knee in a non-contact drill last week was unexpected.
On the heels of a 4-0 pre-season, that has not changed the team’s goal. The Vikings, you may have heard, have enormous expectations as the defending NFC North Champions.
U.S. Bank Stadium, their $1.2 billion new home, has changed the game for the Vikings. General Manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer said all the right things last week after Teddy’s horrific injury, announcing that back-up quarterback Shawn Hill, a 15-year veteran, would step up and replace Bridgewater.
The Vikings were simply blowing smoke — they didn’t think Hill could do it. He lacks mobility. They quickly gave up a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional fourth pick to Philadelphia for former number-one pick quarterback Sam Bradford.
The thanks-but-no-thanks nature of professional football in regard to individual injuries and how quickly things change is evident. Bridgewater has 9-12 months of tough surgery and rehabilitation ahead with the hope he’ll recover and that he can return next year or 2018.
The Vikings, in the meantime, are moving. They believe they are built right now offensively with Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football, and an improved offensive line with new coach Tony Sparano and talented young receivers.
Defensively, the Vikings are really good up front. Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen and, on the back end, Harrison Smith the Pro-Bowler are ready to challenge and pursue winning Minnesota’s first-ever Super Bowl Championship.
Sunday, September 11 they open the 2016 season on the road at Tennessee, so it’s full steam ahead. Here’s how I see the 2016 NFL season unfolding and the 12 teams highlighted that I pick to qualify for the playoffs. # also indicates the teams I predict will make the playoffs.
AFC West: Kansas City#, Denver#, Oakland, San Diego
AFC East: New England#, New York Jets, Buffalo, Miami
AFC South: Houston#, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Jacksonville
AFC North: Pittsburgh#, Cincinnati#, Baltimore, Cleveland
NFC North: Green Bay#, Vikings#, Detroit, Chicago
NFC South: Carolina#, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
NFC East: Washington#, Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia
NFC West: Arizona#, Seattle#, Los Angeles, San Francisco
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.