Vikings are new favorite

On Aug. 30, Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was immediately placed on injured reserve (IR) with no chance of return after tearing his ACL; the Vikings faced their first major obstacle, and the season hadn’t even begun. Then, on Sept. 18, former MVP running back Adrian Peterson went down with a complete meniscus tear. He was also placed on IR, likely lost for the season.

Starting tackle Matt Kalil is out for the season. Star cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed time due to injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has been hurt. Receiver Stefon Diggs, tackle Andre Smith and guard Brandon Fusco have all been limited – the list goes on and on. It seemed impossible that Minnesota could put together a winning season. However, through the first five weeks of the season they haven’t simply won. They’ve dominated.

The Vikings currently sit at a comfortable 5-0, the last undefeated team in the NFL. Furthermore, they’ve managed this with a brutal early schedule, topping the perennial playoff attendee and archrival Green Bay Packers along with a convincing victory over the Carolina Panthers, last season’s NFC champions. How is it that against all odds a Vikings team missing so many crucial pieces has managed to devour each of its opponents?

One major addition has been Bridgewater’s replacement. Four days after their future starter went down, the Vikings traded their first-round draft pick to Philadelphia for unproven quarterback Sam Bradford. The Vikings paid a pretty penny for Bradford, with no shortage of risk due to his history of injury and inconsistency, but their gamble looks to be paying off.

Bradford has shined with the Vikings. In four games he has 990 passing yards with a completion percentage of 70, 6 touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, zero interceptions. His passer rating sits at a whopping 109.8. Even Bridgewater has never paralleled this level of production. Given Bradford’s past, it’s hard to say if he’s simply on a hot streak or finally living up to his potential after being drafted first overall by the Rams back in 2010. However, if Bradford continues his torrential pace, the Vikings could finish the season as the first seed in the NFC while eyeing a possible Super Bowl run.

Peterson has been an elite running back since his rookie season in 2007, so losing him seemed like a devastating blow. But the Vikings have shown in the past that when Peterson goes down, their running production doesn’t slow down. During his suspension in 2014, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combined for 1,804 rushing yards in Peterson’s absence. Opposing defenses need to prioritize Peterson when he’s in the backfield, thus opening up the passing game, but Bradford hasn’t missed a beat despite this disadvantage. Overall, Peterson’s loss has been quite minor. He gained only 50 yards in his one game this season, indicating that he might be past his prime anyway.

However, the most important factor in the Vikings’ success has to be their fearsome defense. Minnesota’s defense has made some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton, look lost. They’ve only allowed an average of 12.5 points per game, with a measly 50 total points surrendered on the year. Ever since head coach Mike Zimmer took over in 2014, Minnesota’s defense has improved from 11th overall to fifth in 2015, culminating this season as they boast the NFL’s second-best defense. Zimmer is a mastermind who has gradually built this intimidating defense from the ground up. With his guidance, they should be elite for years to come.

The Vikings are firing on all cylinders right now. At this rate, they might be able to take firm grasp of the NFC North for years to come and finally win that coveted, elusive Super Bowl.