Any number of reasons could be cited as to why former head coach Leslie Frazier was fired. Most of those reasons involve the defense, which was the league’s worst defense at preventing points. The Vikings gave up 30 points per game, 37 passing touchdowns, and had the league’s third-worst third down defense. Surprisingly, without having much of a passing game, the Vikings were in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories.
Adrian Peterson had 600 more yards from scrimmage than any other Minnesota Viking in just 14 games. The Vikings were one of seven teams to throw more interceptions than touchdown passes. Only one receiver, Greg Jennings, averaged more than four catches per game. The Vikings were the only NFL team to have more rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns.
Peterson really saved the Vikings offense, a unit that used three different starting quarterbacks throughout the season. The defense was even worse. The only player to register double digits in pass break-ups was rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The defense forced just 20 turnovers and 12 interceptions, leading to a -12 turnover margin and gave up nearly 4600 passing yards. Only the Philadelphia Eagles allowed more. Only the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons allowed a higher quarterback rating against average.
It seems that oddsmakers and bettors may be torn on the Vikings this season. The LVH Superbook opened the Vikings win total at 6 after the South Point Hotel and Casino opened 6.5 and the number was bumped up to 7. Currently, the Vikings win total at Sportsbook.ag is 6, with the over at -120.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|1||@ St. Louis||+4.5|
|2||New England||+3 (-105)|
|3||@ New Orleans||+10|
|5||@ Green Bay (Thu)||+10|
|8||@ Tampa Bay||+3|
|14||New York Jets||-2|
Along with the NFC North, the Vikings take on the AFC East and NFC South. The Vikings play one 4:25 pm kickoff and one Thursday night game. The rest of their games begin at 1 p.m. and there’s very little travel on the schedule for the Vikings. The westernmost road game is in St. Louis and the easternmost road game is at Miami in Week 16, which should be a nice December vacation. Things will change for the Vikings as they will play their home games outside at TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Capacity will only be 52,000, the smallest stadium in the NFL by over 10,000 seats. It marks the first time since 1981 that the Vikings will play all of their home games outside.
The schedule features a set of three consecutive home games and two road back-to-backs. Five of the first seven games are on the road, which puts the bulk of the Vikings home games closer to winter. Minnesota winters can be particularly cold and brutal, but it remains to be seen if that will actually provide a home-field advantage since the Vikings have been a dome for more than three decades.
Cole Ryan rated the Vikings schedule 21st out of the 32 teams. The Vikings are favored just twice out of their 15 lined games. They will likely be underdogs in all six NFC North contests depending on how Week 17 shakes out for the Bears. The Vikings could pick up a couple of favorite spots against the Lions and Falcons at home, but with better things expected for both teams, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings only favored twice all season.
Why bet the over?
Matt Cassel provided as much stability as anyone at the quarterback position and he and Christian Ponder will compete for the starting job. First-round pick Teddy Bridgewater could be the surprise starter for the Vikings after going from being a top 10 lock to barely a first-rounder due to a bad pro day. Both Cassel and Ponder have some intangibles. Cassel was 3-3 as a starter and posted a respectable 60.2 percent completion rate. Ponder is a mobile guy and was accurate when he threw to his own guys. He had a 63.4 percent completion rate.
The offense still runs through Adrian Peterson, who is an outright stud when healthy. Peterson crossed the 10,000-yard mark in career rushing yards last season in just seven NFL seasons. He has amassed at least 10 rushing touchdowns in every season of his career. He’s a special player and as long as his body still works, he won’t stop being a superstar.
Later in the season, the Vikings started to get creative with Cordarrelle Patterson. He got more carries and more targets to be more of a threat in the offense after showing well as a kick returner. He’s an intriguing player to watch this season with breakaway speed and good size.
The defense added some much needed help in the secondary with the free agent signings of Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox. In 11 starts last season, Chris Cook only had three pass break-ups. Munnerlyn and Cox represent a starting upgrade and quality NFL depth at that position. For one of the league’s worst pass defenses, that’s beneficial. First-round pick Anthony Barr is a large man that will have a major impact in stopping the run.
A new voice was necessary in Minnesota. With Frazier out, Mike Zimmer, who had four top-10 defenses with the Bengals in six seasons, takes over. In all six seasons, his defenses were in the top 15 in yards and in four of those six seasons were top 10 in points allowed. Norv Turner is a creative, experienced offensive coordinator. He helped turn Philip Rivers into the quarterback that he is and he has some young, toolsy guys to work with in Minnesota.
Why bet the under?
Regardless of who is at quarterback, the offense will be a work in progress. One of the more impressive things about Norv Turner is that he will rely heavily on his offensive strengths. He has years with a lot of passing attempts, but also has had seasons where his offenses were in the top 10, or even top five, in rushing attempts. That means a steady diet of Adrian Peterson, which is great, but his workload will be substantial. That could definitely limit his production, especially later in the season as the number of hits and injuries piles up.
The loss of Jared Allen is huge for the defense. There’s no way to replace a player like him. He amassed 85.5 sacks over 96 games for the Vikings and countless pressures on the quarterback. There’s a pretty good chance he will be enshrined in Canton and Hall of Fame defensive ends don’t grow on trees.
Running back depth is a concern. Behind Peterson are Joe Banyard, Jerome Felton, and rookies Dominique Williams and third-round pick Jerick McKinnon. The Vikings would obviously be dead in the water if Peterson got hurt for any length of time, but there’s not even much depth to spell Peterson during a game. The Vikings will probably address this need after training camp roster cuts, but for now, it looks like a problem area.
It took 20 years of NFL experience before Mike Zimmer got the chance to be a head coach. There’s no telling what kind of head coach he will be. It would seem that the Vikings gameplanned for the possibility that he would be lacking offensively with the Turner hire, but first-year head coaches always come with a degree of uncertainty.
Pick: Under 6 (-110)
Ultimately, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and the Vikings don’t have a starting quarterback. Their shortcomings in stopping the pass are what led to a 5-11 season and the second-most points allowed in franchise history. With the Packers slated to improve, the Lions having a talent advantage over the Vikings, and the Bears in year two of Marc Trestman’s system, wins are tough to come by in the NFC North.
A 1-4 (or worse) start looks pretty likely and that would require the Vikings to go 6-5 over the final 11 games to cash this bet. That does not seem likely. With a push in play at 6 late in the season when the Vikings take on the Bears, hedging possibilities are always available in that game or in the weeks leading up to Week 17.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.