2005 preview: Vikings

Charles Robinson
Yahoo! Sports

NFC North predictions

1.

Minnesota

2.

Green Bay

3.

Detroit

4.

Chicago

NFC North predictions

1.

Minnesota

2.

Green Bay

3.

Detroit

4.

Chicago

NFC North predictions

1.

Minnesota

2.

Green Bay

3.

Detroit

4.

Chicago

Minnesota Vikings
Head coach: Mike Tice, fourth season
2004 record: 8-8
2004 rankings: Offense, Fourth (396.2 yards/game); Defense, 28th (368.9 yards/game)
2005 strength of schedule: 22nd
From SportingNews.com: NFC North overview

If there's been one consistency about the Vikings the last two seasons, it's that they start fast and hit a brick wall around midseason. Last year, Minnesota started 5-1 and finished 8-8. The offense was prolific, so blame a poor, poor defense that gave up 27 points or more nine times.

A playoff win over Green Bay salvaged some good feelings about the season, but there was no trip to the NFC title game or Super Bowl. In the end, the Vikings wasted one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history.

OFFENSE

Randy Moss is gone, but it's wrong to assume Daunte Culpepper's numbers were all a derivative of his former star receiver. Culpepper cut down on his fumbles last season (from 15 to nine) and threw only 11 interceptions in 379 passes. He is still going to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL in 2005, even with Moss in Oakland.

Culpepper's statistics should decline slightly if the running backs can stay healthy. One big question is how Culpepper will respond to losing offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Scott Linehan.

The loss of Onterrio Smith will hurt because he most likely would have beaten out Michael Bennett for the starting running back job. But Bennett, Moe Williams and Mewelde Moore still form a strong backfield in this offense.

As for the receivers, Moss is irreplaceable, but Nate Burleson and Marcus Robinson can both be 1,000-yard receivers. Free-agent pickup Travis Taylor and rookie Troy Williamson will contribute, too.

DEFENSE

Offseason acquisitions pumped significant talent into the defense – enough to make a dramatic improvement. But chemistry is going to be a big question with five new starters who weren't in the system last season.

The defensive line will have a stellar interior with free-agent signee Pat Williams and Kevin Williams at the defensive tackle spots. There needs to be more of a pass rush from the ends, but that area may require some patience, as Darrion Scott and Kenechi Udeze continue to develop.

The biggest question mark is at linebacker, where there is a new starting threesome of Sam Cowart (in the middle), Napoleon Harris (strong side) and Dontarrious Thomas (weak side). It will be hard for this year's starters to be worse than last year's, but Cowart will have to play better than he has in recent years to hold the group together.

The linebackers will have a strong – but risk-taking – secondary backing them up. Starting cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield can be gamblers at times, but they are fast and talented enough for Minnesota to employ blitz-heavy, man-to-man defenses. Safety Darren Sharper wasn't at his best last year, but he's still capable of being one of the NFL's top safeties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker is still a mystery, and it looks like there will be a camp battle between Aaron Elling and Paul Edinger. Elling lost the job last summer, and Edinger fell off so badly over the last two years that the Bears dumped him.

Punter Darren Bennett was mediocre in 2004, but the Vikings have few better options. Receivers Kelley Campbell and Burleson will split return duties, unless one of the rookies (possibly running back Ciatrick Fason) steps up.

PREDICTION

The Viking will finish 9-7 and first in the NFC North.

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