As we approach Week 6 of the 2016 NFL season, the only undefeated team remaining is, surprisingly, the Minnesota Vikings. So are the Vikings the best team in the NFL? Is it possible that the best team in the NFL has Sam Bradford as quarterback? Is it possible the Vikings are doing all this without Adrian Peterson? At the beginning of the year anyone would have laughed at these questions. Today after another convincing win on Sunday, it’s possible that all these questions are true.
Denver, the reigning Super Bowl champions are not nearly as good as they were last season and may have to rely on rookie Paxton Lynch at quarterback. The Panthers, who are the returning NFC champions, are a dreadful 1-4. Arizona has been held back by Carson Palmer’s noodle arm since last January’s NFC Conference Championship and a defense not nearly as good as last year. The New England Patriots are on pace to win 12 games for the seventh consecutive season, but a loss to the Bills in Week 4 showed their weakness even without Tom Brady. Despite injuries taking their toll, the Vikings has looked like the best team in the NFL week in and week out.
It’s not as if the Vikings were an overnight success. A missed chip shot field goal prevented them from advancing in the playoffs last year, a bitter end to a stellar 11-5 season. However, all that hope for this year with a team full of young talent went away before the season even started. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater decimated his knee in a non-contact injury during practice on Aug. 30. The injury was reportedly so gruesome that his teammates were vomiting on the practice field and practice was ended early. Four days later, Minnesota traded their first round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a conditional fourth round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford – a move that was scoffed at by many at the time as a desperate attempt to save the season. Bradford, a former first overall draft selection, has often been injured in his NFL career and has never won more than seven games in a season.
So as Week 1 approached, the Vikings were essentially written off as Super Bowl contenders. With Bradford unready to handle the reigns after being acquired just days before the opening game, backup Shaun Hill was named the starter against Tennessee. Hill was able to do what he was asked – manage the game, don’t turn the ball over and let the defense handle the rest as the Vikings capitalized on two defensive touchdowns to defeat the Titans.
The Vikings have continued to defy expectations even after losing Peterson in Week 2. They have done so behind Bradford’s stellar play, whose 70.4 completion percentage and 7.9 yards per attempt are easily career highs, and an unmovable defense, who have allowed a league-low 12.6 points per game. Their special teams play has also been among the league’s best.
With all three aspects playing at such a high level, the Vikings have become the surprise team of the league. If they want to continue to win, they will need to rely heavily on their defense and hope that their oft-injured quarterback stays healthy. Their schedule has not been all that taxing so far, but the coming weeks will show a little more what kind of team they really are.
There are a cluster of teams with one loss waiting for the Vikings to slip up. The Vikings defense will allow them to have poor offensive performances and still win. Their defense is already playoff caliber. They will rely an unproven and young talent on offense to help Bradford. To make matters worse, the Vikings are also dealing with injuries on the offensive line that could make the always brittle Bradford more of an injury risk. The positives of this team outweigh the negatives going forward. Minnesota was a playoff team last season and seem to be moving in the right direction behind a rejuvenated quarterback and Super Bowl-ready defense. So the question remains: Are the Vikings for real? As of today the answer is yes.