Free agent signings have pretty much wrapped up, the schedule is in and the draft is over. Rookie workouts have completed and now there’s a large lull in the way of NFL news. So let’s start the week by predicting the outcome of the 2013 season. I’m going to try to make these predictions as scientific as possible, using team’s statistical averages from last year while giving some extra leeway one way or the other depending on how free agency and the draft worked out for the Vikings and all teams we are about to face.
To begin with, I’ll give an overall rating of how I’m going to adjust the Vikings’ score. Offensively, the team lost one weapon in the Percy Harvin trade, while adding 2 more signing Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson. They improved the backup QB position, Ponder is coming into a career defining 3rd year, and AP is starting this season out at 100% health. Defensively, the team lost two starters in Antoine Winfield and….ummm…give me a second, I’ll think of it…Jasper Brinkley. The defense didn’t add any notable free agents, but found two first round steals in Floyd and Rhodes, and drafted a LB with plenty of promise in the 4th. Overall, this looks like a significant upgrade for the Purple, and should net the offense an extra 1 point on the road and 4 points at home, while the defense sneaks in another point of leeway both on the road and at home.
For our opposition, I’ll start out with divisional games.
The first and last games of the year are against our good friends from Motor City. They found themselves an upgrade in free agency at the RB position, and got a top-notch DE in the draft, but didn’t appear to do much else. Losing two starting DEs to free agency makes this line a downgrade. Speculation is that the DB they drafted will be their top CB, and that they got a steal with a late round WR. They also needed help on the offensive line, dropping two starters, but didn’t address the position in the draft until the third round. Speculation is that they’ll be moving a 2nd year RT over to the left side to fill in for the loss. So this seems to be another overall downgrade. I’m going to give the Lions the benefit of the doubt at home and say they stand pat, but on the road get a 1-point downgrade in points scored and allowed. In the end, these numbers just give the Vikings more convincing wins. Taking the first game by a difference of 29-24 and the season closer by a convincing 36-21.
The Bears get to host the Vikings - 2, and again a bit towards the middle of the season. They signed a top-teir tackle to help protect Cutler, and then grabbed a guard in the first round to improve the line even more. Defensively, they lost an aging leader in Urlacher, but grabbed two LBs early to try to replace him, and found a steal at DE in the 5th round. However, the team is under new management, and may take a while to get a hold of themselves. So I’ll say that the team improved by 1 point offensively and defensively both at home and on the road, as they’ll be starting to have things a bit better figured out by the time they visit Minnesota. This leaves the Bears winning the first matchup at Soldier field by a score of 16-21, and the Vikings taking revenge at home in a close 24-23 victory.
Green Bay lost some talent this year to free agency, and once again tried to use the draft to compensate. They got an upgrade at DL in the first round, and addressed their running game with some strong picks later on. Overall, this looks to be a +4, +1 difference for the offense at home and on the road, with a wash for the defense in both categories. That will give the Packers a massive win in Lambeau, beating us by a score of 31-20, but we split the series with them at the Dome by a score of 29-24.
On to the other NFC opponents:
A home game against Carolina pits Ponder against the QB who was the first overall draft pick and ROTY from the same class. Carolina added some beef to their defense by grabbing DTs with their first two draft picks, including the favorite DT in the draft. Unfortunately, Carolina didn’t have much else for draft picks, and maybe got one other decent player in LB AJ Klein. Overall, I’m going to say that their offense didn’t get any better or worse, but the defense improved by 3 points on the road (since this game is in the Dome). This makes the final score 25-21 in favor of the Vikings.
Washington also gets to Visit the dome. Speculation is that RGIII will be back to full health by the time he comes to MN, but with no first round picks, I don’t see anything that they did in the draft give their team much improvement, but seeing as they grabbed a few decent DBs, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, giving up 2 points less on the road than last year’s adjusted average would otherwise say they should. This is not enough improvement for them, however, as they still lose to the Vikings by a score of 30-25.
Philly comes to town to face off in a game that should have been a blowout before the Vikings’ great offseason improvements. They grabbed a good OT and TE in the draft, but the rest of their picks appear to be players who will be competing for starting positions a year or two down the road. With Vick doing all he can to ship his body off to the dog food factory, I’ll be generous and give their offense 2 extra points on the road. After the adjustments, this blowout just gets bigger with the Vikings dominating the Eagles by a score of 33-15.
The Vikings visit Seattle in what is likely to be a heated battle against the Vikings West, and as much as I hate to say it, Seattle currently looks like a strong favorite for the Super Bowl. Pair that with their history of dominating at home, and this game looks ugly. They added a lot of strength in trades and free agency, getting Percy Harvin and two top-notch DEs for a team that already had a great defense. They added to the defense even more in the draft with two large tackles, and got some help for the running game to boot. Other picks they had looked like pretty big reaches, but they can afford to reach when they already have such an intimidating team. At home, I’m giving the Seahawks 4 extra points on offense, and 5 fewer on defense, leaving the Seahawks to obliterate the Vikings by a score of 31-10. Don’t worry though. We’ll get our revenge in the playoffs.
Another NFC road game has the Vikings visiting the Giants in what looks to be another ugly battle. They started the draft with a reach for an offensive lineman after the valley had already been picked pretty clean in the first round. They followed that with a couple of decent defensive linemen and a QB who will be preparing for Eli Manning’s retirement. Offensively, I don’t think the Giants got any improvement, but get an extra 2-points of leeway on defense. Overall, this leads to another ugly road game for the Vikings, losing by a score of 20-29.
The Vikings also get to visit Dallas. A team that has been overhyped and underperforming for more than a decade now. I wouldn’t expect Romo’s new contract to make things any better for them. They made one of the bigger reaches in the first round, grabbing a center who should have still been available in the third. I don’t see any of their picks doing enough to offset whatever losses they had in free agency, so I’m down-grading the Cowboys by a point both on offense and defense in Dallas. The Vikings were favored by a little more than a point before the adjustment, but now should win by a final score of 28-22.
On to the AFC:
Cleveland looks to be the Lions of the AFC, and they make things easier on the Vikings by visiting the Dome to determine their fate. Outside of a late 7th rounder, the Browns spent the entire draft looking for ways to improve their defense. They’re bound to have hit solid on at least the first two picks, so I’ll give them 2-fewer points lost on the road. Offensively however, I don’t see any way they could have improved. The Vikings finish this home game leaving the fans mighty happy with a score of 29-16.
While technically a home game, we face off against Pittsburgh on a neutral site. It was tough deciding how to treat the score of this game, but due to the heavy amount of travel both teams have in store, I’ve decided to treat it like an away game for both sides. The Steelers had a lot of action in free agency, losing and signing a lot of big names on both sides of the ball. With that much adjustment, it should take them a bit longer than 4 weeks into the regular season to get on the same page, so this should give the Vikings a slight advantage. They did get a good blitzing OLB in the draft, albeit one who is a bit injury prone. Overall, I’d say they had an average draft, leaving them with a downgrade of 1 point on both defense and offense early in the season while the team gets acquainted with each other. So, in a game that gave the Steelers a slight advantage, the offseason puts the Vikings on top in an old school defensive brawl, with a final score of 19-17.
On the road to Baltimore, many people have the Super Bowl champs as heavy favorites against the Vikings. These people seem to not realize that a hefty portion of that Super Bowl team has since retired or moved on to a new team. Center Birk is gone, as is the MVP WR of the Super Bowl, Anquan Boldin, and a big fat paycheck isn’t going to make Flacco any better prepared to lose these keystones to his supporting cast. Their defense wasn’t any better off, losing future hall-of-famers Lewis and Reed, 2 more starting LBs and 2 other strong DBs. But they also signed some significant free agent replacements, so it will be interesting to see if these guys can fill in for the departed vets. They dug deep into defense in the draft, still trying to make up for lost players who were large factors in the Super Bowl victory. Overall, it still wasn’t quite enough to make up for the losses, and I’ll be docking the Ravens 2 offensive points at home, while putting up 1 extra point against their defense. Unfortunately, this still leaves the final score at 22-25 in favor of Baltimore.
Finally, we come around to the road game against Cincinnati. They seem to be a team on the rise, with a red-headed step child coming in to his own at QB, and some good young weapons as supporting cast. They added some more fluff to that offense with TE Tyler Eifert in the first round and followed that up with a 2nd round RB, so this is going to be an interesting matchup for our defense. They then added some situational players on defense, and didn’t seem to lose much to free agency. Normally, I’d say Cincinnati should be a win for the Vikings, but this year I’m giving them an extra 2 points on offense and one fewer on defense. With home field advantage, that gives the Bengals the win by a score of 21-25.
So, the final tally leaves the Vikings with a score of 4-2 in the division, 8-4 in the NFC, and 2-2 in the AFC, with a final record of 10-6. Not exactly an improvement over last year, but should prove to be enough to get the team into the playoffs and ready to show the league that they can go the distance this time around.