By Anthony Brousseau
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Prior to the beginning of this season, most analysts had the Minnesota Vikings pegged as a good, young team with a lot of potential.
Now, with five games down, the Vikings sit atop most power rankings. They’ve done it with an out-of-this-world defense, an offense that’s improving every week and a special teams unit with a knack for making big plays when they need them.
So let’s take a look at how the Vikings climbed from a good but not great team to the consensus No. 1 team in the NFL.
The preseason Vikings team looks a lot different than the one we have now. Teddy Bridgewater was the starting quarterback, he was handing off to Adrian Peterson and the offensive line was full of potential.
Now, we’ve got a resurgent Sam Bradford and Peterson is on injured reserve along with half the offensive line. So take these preseason rankings with a grain of salt, as they don’t really reflect the current Vikings team.
Bleacher Report: 9
Note that CBS is the only outlet that put their rankings together after Bridgewater’s injury, which results in a slight, but not huge, drop from the others.
The consensus in all of these preseason rankings was that if the Vikings’ offense could score a few points, the defense would be strong enough to carry them to the playoffs, if not another division win.
“In 2013, the year before coach Mike Zimmer arrived, the Vikings ranked last in points allowed. In 2015, Zimmer’s second year, they finished fifth. If the offense can score some points, expect the Vikings to stay in the top 10,” ESPN said.
Bleacher Report actually updated their ranking after Bridgewater was injured, saying “Shaun Hill is a capable veteran backup. But he isn’t Teddy Bridgewater, and Minnesota’s Super Bowl aspirations appear to be toast.” Now, they didn’t know the Vikings would trade for Bradford or that Bradford would play at a level he never has before, but I bet they’d like to take back that claim.
After a less-than-inspiring defeat of the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the Vikings took a slight dip in the power rankings.
Bleacher Report: 10
Unsurprisingly, the focus of these rankings heading into Week 2 focused on the incredible performance of the defense, which scored two touchdowns to bail out the offense.
Even this early in the season, Bleacher Report’s lead NFL analyst Chris Simms noted that the defense was “2015 Denver Broncos/2013 Seattle Seahawks special.” That’s rare company to be mentioned in, and after four more stellar performances, we can safely say Week 1 was not a fluke.
There were two big themes in these early season rankings: Who would start at quarterback moving forward, and could the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers?
“Who starts at quarterback next week?” asked CBS’ Pete Prisco.
“The Vikings’ defense scored two touchdowns in Week 1, the offense scored none,” NFL.com’s Elliott Harrison said. “It resulted in a win, but that was against the Titans. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will provide a tougher test in Week 2.”
The answer to the first question determined the answer to the second, as Bradford put together an impressive two touchdown performance in a 17-14 victory over the team’s biggest rival in his first start.
Let’s jump ahead in the season. After beating the Packers in their first game at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings absolutely embarrassed 2015 MVP Cam Newton in a win over the Panthers. Sitting at 3-0, the narrative around this team began to change.
Bleacher Report: 3
CBS: 2 (Note: CBS’ post-Week 3 rankings were unavailable, so this ranking comes after the Vikings’ Week 4 defeat of the New York Giants)
That’s a big jump in the rankings for the Vikings. Simms called them “the most talented team in the NFC.” Harrison said they continue to prove people wrong.
“They have a Super Bowl look to them right now,” Prisco said.
Just under a quarter of the season down, the Vikings were the class of the NFC and being recognized as true contenders. With a defense that gave up 17 points to a two-time MVP and Super Bowl winner and 10 to the most electric quarterback in the game, it’s no surprise that people were beginning to take notice of this team.
After their most complete performance of the season in a 31-13 win over the Houston Texans, Mike Zimmer’s team is the best team in the league, according to many experts.
Bleacher Report: 2
In the words of DJ Khaled, the Vikings are all the way up.
“Name one NFC team that’s been more impressive through five weeks,” Simms said. The Bleacher Report analyst ranked the Patriots ahead of the Vikings due to a lights out performance by Tom Brady in his return from suspension, but considering who it came against – the Cleveland Browns – I’m not sure it’s more impressive than the Vikings dismantling of the Texans.
“How do you keep the Vikings out of the top spot? They’re the only undefeated team left, have beaten three playoff participants from last season and are allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL,” Harrison said.
Both ESPN and Prisco noted that Zimmer has to be the frontrunner for Coach of the Year right now, and I’m sure many would agree with them.
This is a team that, less than two months ago, looked mediocre at best. When Bridgewater suffered a freak season-ending knee injury in practice, fans and analysts alike thought the Vikings chances of playoff contention dropped significantly. Then, when the team lost Peterson as well, hope for the season became even scarcer.
But here we are, atop the league. The only undefeated team left. As a lifelong Vikings fan, I’m disinclined to be optimistic. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. This team has let me and other fans down too many times. We know how this will probably end.
But when’s the last time the Vikings were the best team in the NFL? Maybe for a stretch in 2009 when Favre led us to the NFC Championship. Definitely in 1998 when Randy Moss tore up the league as a rookie. And certainly in the 1970s, when the team made it to four Super Bowls thanks to the Purple People Eaters.
This is the best Vikings team we’ve seen in a long time. Let’s enjoy it for however long it lasts.