Last season, 10 Vikings players were named to the Pro Bowl. Four were first-team All-Pros. All told, this is a team with an obscene roster. On paper, at least, the Vikings have the most talented collection of players in the NFC and arguably the entire NFL.
The Vikings are counting on Randy Moss to make a fast transition.
But are they the best team? That question is much more subjective and far less easily answered. While the fashionable thought Wednesday will be to lock them in as Super Bowl favorites, I think we should pause a bit before so much as anointing them NFC North champions.
The Vikings (1-2) are already looking up in the standings at the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, both of whom are 3-1. They will open the most brutal stretch of their season Monday night at the New York Jets, followed by games against the Dallas Cowboys, at the Packers and at the New England Patriots. If they're above .500 at the season's midpoint, they should consider it a major accomplishment.
I'm going to hold back on any knee-jerk reactions and reserve judgment on whether my original thought on this division -- that the Packers were the best team -- should be changed. But I will say this: The fate of the NFC North now rests in the Vikings' hands. They now have the talent, and are rid of all obstacles, to win this thing going away. Whether they do it is purely up to them.
From my vantage point, here are the pressure points that will determine the outcome:
Is Moss still the same deep threat he was in his prime with the Vikings? In four games this season with the Patriots, Moss had nine catches. Only two of them were on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Since Sidney Rice's hip injury, the Vikings' offense has sorely lacked a downfield threat who could make difficult catches in coverage. At 33, is Moss still an elite receiver? According to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., he is. "Moss goes deep -- probably better than anyone who has ever lived," Williamson said. "His ball skills are out of this world and he has tremendous hands. Maybe he has lost a smidgen of speed, but getting downfield and behind coverage is not a problem for this guy -- at all. He certainly can take the top off of a defense, provide big plays and open up a lot of room underneath for the running game, Percy Harvin out of the slot and Visanthe Shiancoe in the middle of the field."
Will there be an adjustment period? It's certainly reasonable to expect one, but the schedule we just discussed doesn't really allow for it. For Moss to take the Vikings where they want to go, he needs to hit the ground running. But for what it's worth, he has never played in a West Coast offense. Moss' football intelligence has always been first-rate, but that doesn't mean he'll have a seamless transition or instantly be in sync with Favre.
Can the Vikings protect Favre enough to allow the longer passes to develop? To this point, they have not. Favre was battered in their first three games and there are once again questions about whether John Sullivan (calf) will be healthy enough to play Monday night. Williamson said: "In order to go deep, you have to protect. Minnesota's offensive line looks worse than ever to me. Pulling this off won't be easy."
Will Moss be on his best behavior? You would think so, but his long history of trouble with every organization he has played for should at least give us pause in this regard. The Vikings apparently won't give him a new contract, which should leave him hungry and motivated -- or could also have an opposite effect. The Patriots tried that same tack, leaving him with an expiring contract for motivational purposes, and it backfired. Will Moss accept the same situation in Minnesota?
Can coach Brad Childress accommodate what is surely to be a Favre-Moss faction of offensive-minded thoughts? Childress' clashes with Favre last season over that issue were well-documented. Trust me when I tell you that Moss is every bit as strong-minded when it comes to scheme as Favre is. Williamson said Moss "won't run West Coast routes" if Favre has any say in it, but this offense has been awfully rigid over time.
How will the Packers and Bears match up with a Vikings offense that once again has a deep threat? The Bears, for one, have made substantial improvement to their pass defense with the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers. They are playing their Cover 2 scheme as well as ever. When played right, it dramatically reduces an offense's ability to get the ball to outside receivers. As for the Packers, cornerback Charles Woodson, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, didn't arrive in the NFC North until after Moss' departure and probably has his own ideas about how their matchup might go.
The Vikings are now unquestionably the most talented team in the NFC North and NFC. They've got the best players money can buy. Whether they have the best team, however, is open for debate. I'm not willing to go there. Yet.