By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings are third in the NFC North with a 6-4 record. It trails the Chicago Bears by a game and a half and the Green Bay Packers by one game.
The Bears play the San Francisco 49ers Monday at Candlestick Park in Week 11 while the Packers defeated the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Sunday.
The Biggest Surprise
It was a tough decision between Adrian Peterson’s comeback from ACL surgery and the win over the 49ers at Mall of America Field. The decision is Peterson.
The NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award will either go to Peterson or Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos. Peterson tore his ACL against the Washington Redskins on Christmas Eve to end his season with four games remaining. Manning missed the entire season while recovering from neck surgery. Peterson wasn’t expected to be a factor early this season, but leads the NFL in rushing.
The sixth-year running back is facing eight men in the box on nearly every play, but yet he still has managed 5.8 yards per carry. According ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson has averaged 6.3 yards per carry against eight men in the box. Only three runners have managed to rush for as many yards per carry as Peterson over a full season; Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Barry Sanders.
The Vikings’ run defense was as bad as it has ever been from Weeks 6-9. It allowed Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Arizona Cardinals third-string running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch to the 100-yard rushing mark. Griffin, Martin and Lynch are very good runners, but the Vikings put up little resistance against them.
A 6-4 record through 10 games should not be that surprising. The Vikings – following Sunday’s Week 11 games – tied with the New Orleans Saints for the fourth easiest schedule in the NFC. The Vikings have faced just four teams (the Indianapolis Colts, 49ers, Seahawks and Buccaneers). The most impressive win was against the 49ers, but the next best is a road win at a 4-6 Lions team.
The Schedule Ahead
The Vikings remaining schedule is as tough as anyone’s in the NFL. The Vikings play the 7-2 Bears in Weeks 12 and 14, the 7-3 Packers in Weeks 13 and 17, the 3-6-1 St. Louis Rams in Week 15 and 9-1 Houston Texans in Week 16.
The Vikings could get a break in Weeks 16 and 17. The Texans and Packers could have a playoff spot and its seeding decided by those weeks. Neither could risk an injury to their stars, especially quarterback, with a very good Vikings pass rush on the other side of the ball.
The Vikings strength of the offense is to run the ball and be more physical than its opponent. The strength of the defense is stopping the run and rushing the passer in obvious passing situations. That is the formula, along with winning the turnover battle, which would get the Vikings to 10 wins and a likely playoff spot.
Most Interesting Stat
Individually, the Vikings lost the tie-breaker in the head-to-head matchups against the Seahawks and Buccaneers. But, when all three are tied, the Vikings hold the tie-breaker due to best win percentage in conference games. The Vikings are 4-3 in the conference while the Seahawks are 4-4 and the Buccaneers are 3-4. This situation arose because the Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers Sunday.
In short, the Seahawks (who did not play on Sunday) lost the tie-breaker over the Vikings because a team as far away from Seattle as possible (who previously beat Vikings) won.
As previously mentioned Peterson should be a finalist for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. He is also getting consideration for the league’s MVP Award. If the Vikings are to reach the postseason, he would have to be the favorite for both awards. Leslie Frazier should be in the conversation for Coach of the Year. Only the Colts have made a bigger jump in the standings from the end of last season to this point in the season.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.