MINNEAPOLIS -- The outlook for Minnesota Vikings' 2016 season, at least in these pristine months before injuries and agonizing defeats can take their toll, is as optimistic as any the team has had since the previous decade. That flows, to some extent, from the projected opening of U.S. Bank Stadium -- the Vikings' $1.1 billion home in downtown Minneapolis -- this August. But it also stems from the hope that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can take a real step forward in his third season and help revitalize the league's 31st-ranked passing game.
Those two threads might be more closely linked than one would think.
There's some excitement in the Vikings organization about what Bridgewater can accomplish now that he's trading the sometimes-frigid conditions of TCF Bank Stadium for the climate-controlled environs of U.S. Bank Stadium, and Bridgewater's numbers during a few indoor games help lay the groundwork for that belief.
In five career games (including four starts) in indoor stadiums or those with a retractable roof, Bridgewater has completed 70.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,290 yards and posting a passer rating of 95.1. Three of those games were in 2015, when he fashioned a 101.6 passer rating while throwing for 825 yards and three touchdowns against one interception. Those numbers far outpace what Bridgewater has done outdoors (a 63.8 completion percentage and 85.2 passer rating in 25 games). And in four games where the temperature was below 20 degrees, Bridgewater hasn't thrown for more than 209 yards.
While he was in town last week, the quarterback tweeted pictures he'd taken while driving by the new stadium, saying, "I can't wait to call this place home!" Considering that Bridgewater's numbers have been impressive indoors and pedestrian outdoors, it's not hard to imagine why the Vikings are looking forward to seeing their quarterback in his new surroundings.
"If you look at Teddy’s stats and how he performed when we were indoors -- when we were in Detroit, even out at Arizona, some of those ideal conditions -- we feel he’s going to even take another step forward," general manager Rick Spielman said during an appearance on Pro Football Talk Live last week. "He still has to be able play outdoors. We still have to go to Chicago, we have to go to Green Bay every year."
Yearly road games against the Bears and Packers mean Bridgewater is still going to have to deal with adverse conditions, and it'd be wise to wait for a larger sample size before assuming Bridgewater's numbers will necessarily take off in an indoor stadium. But when the quarterback has faced (and will continue to face) questions about his arm strength, it can't hurt for him to play more games in situations where he won't have to drive the ball in cold weather. And with nine indoor games, as well as trips to Jacksonville, Tennessee and Carolina on the 2016 schedule, the Miami native should have plenty of days where he can throw in favorable conditions.
Considering the Vikings will be asking for more from their offense as they try to build on an 11-5 season, that's certainly not a bad thing.