Happy Monday – out here in NYC we’re starting to feel some real fall weather, which can only mean stating the obvious: we’re halfway through the 2017 NFL Season. At this point, I think it’s safe to start picking who the real contenders are (rather than after week 1 when every fan of a winning team thinks this is their year). On the NFC side, everyone is talking about the Eagles, which are off to a great 7-1 start, and there is always the Seahawks and Panthers who have been strong units for the past few years. In the AFC, Patriots stand tall per usual but the Steelers and Chiefs could do damage if they make it into January. However, there is one team I still can’t believe more sports pundits aren’t talking about: The 2017 Minnesota Vikings.
This is a team that is technically on their 3rd String QB, lost their stud starting RB, has a banged up O-Line, and has had their star wide receiver sit for 2 out of 8 games. (Although I think it may time to except that Adam Thielen is the best WR on this team) With all of this they are STILL 6-2. I will tell you why this team can contend for a super bowl, and it’s balance. All it takes for this team to win games is the balance. Simple enough, if the Vikings score more than 21 points, they will win. Last year they averaged 20.4 points per game (23rd in the NFL) and this year they are averaging 22.4 (14th in the NFL) and it’s the reason for their September and October success. On average, last year they scored 1.67 points per drive and this year it’s 1.98. We all know how good this defense is, and how good they’ve been since Mike Zimmer took over. Their D had 5 pro bowlers last year (5!), but the offense has taken just enough of a jump to separate those L’s from W’s.
Speaking of the defense, last year they allowed 19.2 points per game, and this year they are allowing 16.9 (for reference the Eagles are allowing 19.5 and the Seahawks it’s 18.9). Everson Griffen is torturing defenses, and I mean torturing. He’s had at least one sack in EVERY single game. Anthony Barr seems to be back to playing up to his full potential (let alone ending QB’s seasons cough cough), and I don’t care what anyone says but Harrison Smith is the best safety in the NFL. Oh, and let’s not forget about Xavier Rhodes ghosting WRs, Linval Joseph completely shutting down run games, and emerging stars Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks becoming tackling machines. (Remember when Jon Gruden said if he could choose to look like anyone, it be Danielle Hunter? That was kind of weird, but I suppose true.)
However, the only thing that could hold them back is Case Keenum. And trust me there could be much worse problems a team is having. Case has played admirably and is definitely fitting well in this offense. The problem is he isn’t putting up numbers like a Super Bowl QB. This is the 2017 NFL. There will likely never be another Trent Dilfer super bowl winning team, and I don’t think Case is going to miraculously start putting up Matt Ryan 2016 numbers in the second half of the season. However, they still have Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford looming in the shadows. I think if you are Mike Zimmer, it’s time to pick your starting QB and stick with it. If Bradford’s knee is not going to be 100% by December, he probably won’t have enough time to get warmed up for the playoffs. (I’ll remind you he has still never played in a playoff game) Could the Vikings go 10-6 and win the division with Case Keenum? With their defensive talent, probably yes. But if they are going to make a deep run in January they need a QB that is going to be throwing that extra TD every game and giving this Minnesota defense just a little bit extra time on the bench to stay fresh and healthy. With Aaron Rodgers down, and the Eagles using a backup left tackle, this is my pick for the NFC super bowl representative in 2017. And wouldn’t you know it happens to be in their house.