Christian Ponder (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The difference between the Vikings losing and winning in Week 1 paints a different picture. Suddenly, there can be visions of a decent first half of the season. Plus, we dig into the rankings after only one week.
If Vikings fans learned anything from Thursday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, it is how quickly fortunes can turn in the NFL from one week to the next. In Week 1, Chicago looked like an offensive juggernaut while the Packers looked like a defense that would get steamrolled early and often against quality competition.
On Thursday night, the talking heads of professional football were predicting a blowout win for the Bears. They had everything but a bugler ready to blow “Taps” on Green Bay, they had a big hole dug six feet deep to bury the Packers and were ready to anoint a changing of the guard in the NFC North.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. Jay Cutler looked like the same Cutler who has exasperated Broncos and Bears fans over the years and there was a blowout. However, the blowout came for the Packers, not against them.
As the Vikings head into Indianapolis, they face a franchise in disarray. While only a 3-point favorite, it’s hard to imagine the Colts being able to hold up for 60 minutes against the Vikings. But, as we learned on Thursday, things in the NFL aren’t always as they seem.
The Vikings could very well come out of today’s game with a 2-0 record and start taking on passengers to their bandwagon. But a 16-game NFL season isn’t a sprint. Injuries can derail a playoff-bound team (just ask the 2011 Bears). But when you look realistically at the battles the Vikings will face, the projections have to go up – considering that most “experts” picked the Vikings to have just four or five wins.
Even if the Vikings are 2-0 when the sun sets today, they will be prohibitive underdogs the next two weeks when they host San Francisco and travel to Detroit.
But, from there, what are realistic projections moving forward? Even in a worst-case scenario, with a win today the Vikings would be 2-2 after four games (if not better – San Francisco has painful memories of the Metrodome and the Vikings should have beaten the Lions in Detroit last year). Looking into the crystal ball, things are looking much better than it may appear.
Tennessee at home? The Vikings are likely to be favored. Washington on the road? RG3 had a big opener, but the Vikings play well in the nation’s capital and should at least be in the game regardless. They won just three games last year, but one of them was at Washington.
Arizona and Tampa Bay might be two of the most offensively challenged teams in the NFL. The Vikings will almost surely be favored at home against both. Heading out to Seattle will be a challenge, but the Seahawks are far from dominant – at home or on the road. In their final game prior to their bye week, they play Detroit at home, where they have historically dominated the Lions.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for the Vikings to be .500 or better by the time they hit their bye week. If that is the case, the Vikings will have their own destiny – for better or worse – in their own hands. Of their final six games, four of them will be against the Packers and Bears. If they’re ready to take the next step, it’s all waiting there for them.
It’s hard to project four months worth of football after Week 1, but the outlook for the Vikings is looking much more promising than it did just a couple of months ago when they were preparing to head to training camp. By no means are we suggesting that the purple Kool-Aid be consumed with reckless abandon, because, as we learned Thursday, fortunes can change in the span of three hours, but things are looking considerably brighter for the Vikings at this point and would only pick up momentum with a win today against the Colts.
VIKINGS-COLTS BY THE NUMBERS
With just one game to go on, the Vikings have the 10th-ranked offense with 389 yards. The Colts are ranked 15th with 356 yards.
The Vikings have the 17th-ranked defense, having allowed 355 yards. The Colts are 27th, allowing 428 yards.
Both the Vikings and Colts are tied for 14th in red zone offense, scoring twice on four chances. However, the Vikings came away with points on all four of their trips to the red zone, while the Colts came away empty on two of their four red zone opportunities. Only Miami has a worse red zone scoring percentage than Indianapolis.
The Vikings are tied for eighth in red zone defense, allowing just one touchdown on three opponents trips to the red zone. The Colts are tied for 24th, allowing four touchdowns on six red zone chances.
Both the Vikings and Colts were dismal in third-down offense. Both of them converted just 2 of 10 third-down opportunities. The only team in the league with a lower conversion is New Orleans (two of 11).
Defensively, the Colts allowed just 4 of 12 third down chances to be converted (33.3 percent). The Vikings allowed 50 percent of third downs to become first downs (nine of 18). Only five teams were worse on third down than the Vikings defense.
The Vikings offense is third in the league for yards gained on first down at 7.63 yards – well above the league average of 5.0 yards. The Colts are tied for seventh, gaining 6.03 yards on average on first down.
The Colts are ninth in the league defensively on first down, allowing just 3.91 yards per play. The Vikings are 18th at 4.94 yards.
In Week 1, there were nine quarterbacks who threw for 300 yards. Andrew Luck was one of them, as was Jay Cutler, whom the Colts allowed to throw for 333 yards.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads the NFL with 135 receiving yards. The Colts also allowed Brandon Marshall to gain 119 yards – the third-highest total of Week 1.
Christian Ponder has the ninth-highest passer rating in the league at 105.5. He is fifth in the league in completion percentage (74.1 percent) and fourth in average gain per pass attempt (10.0 yards).
Andrew Luck didn’t fare nearly as well. While he is sixth in passing yards, he is 29th in completion percentage (51.1), tied for 27th in interceptions (3) and 28th in passer rating (52.9).
Luck is dead last in third-down passing, completing just one of seven passes with one interception and a passer rating of 0.0.
Adrian Peterson is 12th in the league in rushing with 84 yards. Donald Brown is 22nd with 48 yards, but those came on just nine carries.
Wayne is tied for second in receptions with nine and rookie TE Coby Fleener is tied for 12th with six receptions. One of the players he is tied with is Percy Harvin.
Wayne leads the league in receiving yards with 135. Harvin is tied for 19th with 84 receiving yards.
Peterson is tied for first in scoring among non-kickers with 12 points. Nine other players have scored two touchdowns.
Blair Walsh is tied for fourth in scoring among kickers with 14 points. Adam Vinatieri is 31st with three points. In Week 1, 14 kickers scored 10 or more points.
Wayne is fifth in the league in total yards with 135 (all receiving). Harvin is 20th with 104 yards (84 receiving, 20 rushing). Peterson is tied for 31st with 87 yards (84 rushing, 3 receiving).
Indianapolis’ Pat McAfee is sixth in the league in punting average (51.4 yards) and seventh in net punting average (42.8 yards). Chris Kluwe is ninth in punting average (48.4 yards) and fifth in net punting average (44.8 yards).
Marcus Sherels is sixth in the league in punt return average (11.0 yards).
Harvin is fifth in the league in kickoff return average at 29.3 yards, a total more impressive when you consider his longest return is 30 yards.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.