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Sunday, October 20, 2013
Vikings' injury luck might be running out

By Ben Goessling

SOMEWHERE OVER MICHIGAN -- Hello from the air on the way to the New York area, where the Minnesota Vikings will make their only appearance of the season on "Monday Night Football" tomorrow night. I've been kicking around the Vikings' injury situation this morning, and wanted to discuss it a little bit here after doing some research on it.

Many of you know the Vikings had remarkably good fortune with injuries in 2012. Yes, they lost Percy Harvin after nine games, but they managed to get through the season without any other major season-ending injuries and generally got players back on the field after week-to-week ailments. What you might not realize is just how fortunate the Vikings were with injuries last season. In fact, according to Football Outsiders' Adjusted Games Lost statistic -- which takes into account the importance of players lost to injury and how many players were playing hurt after being listed as probable, questionable or doubtful on the injury report -- the Vikings were the second-healthiest team in the league last season.

They lost just 30.9 adjusted games, according to Football Outsiders, trailing only San Francisco's AGL of 16.2. That probably played a significant role in the Vikings' ability to go 10-6 and reach the playoffs; eight of the 12 postseason teams from last year had AGLs in the league's top half, and only Washington (29th), Indianapolis (30th) and Green Bay (32nd) were in the bottom four of the league. What's more, the Vikings were relatively healthy in 2011, as well, with a 48.8 AGL that ranked 10th in the league.

(Perhaps not surprisingly, the Vikings' 55.4 AGL in 2010 was 20th in the league, joining with a number of other factors to contribute to the team's famously bizarre 6-10 season. But generally, the Vikings have been among the league's healthier teams in the last few years; their average AGL from 2008-10 was 10th-best in the NFL.)

If you believe these things are cyclical, you were probably a little nervous about how the Vikings would fare, injury-wise, in 2013. It's one of the reasons I picked them to slide back to 8-8 (a prediction that looks pretty optimistic now), and the Vikings absorbed their first two big injury blows this week when they put linebacker Desmond Bishop (torn ACL) and safety Harrison Smith (turf toe) on injured reserve, designating Smith to return if he doesn't need surgery in eight weeks. Those two injuries could be haymakers to a struggling defense, and the Vikings have weathered other injury problems on that side of the ball this season, as well, missing Kevin Williams (knee), Chris Cook (groin) and Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) for a game each and A.J. Jefferson (ankle) for two.

Things have been better so far on the offensive side of the ball, with only quarterback Christian Ponder (rib) missing a game among the Vikings' normal starters. But left tackle Matt Kalil is questionable for Monday's game with back tightness, and running back Adrian Peterson is playing through a hamstring injury. Peterson came back from a torn ACL, played with a sprained ankle, somehow stayed on the field with a sports hernia for half the season and still ran for 2,097 yards last year, so he's obviously unique when it comes to pain tolerance, but a hamstring injury can be awfully detrimental to a running back if it flares up.

We'll have a fuller picture of the Vikings' injury situation at the end of the season, of course, and they still might be among the healthier teams in the division (Bears and Packers fans would probably point out the presence of Henry Melton and Randall Cobb on injured reserve, among others). But if this week's bad injury news continues, it might mean the other shoe has dropped -- and stubbed the Vikings' toes, so to speak -- after a run of good health.