Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has cut way down on his turnovers.
Where they stand: Internal struggles between coach Brad Childress and his players has obscured the fact that, even in quiet weeks, the Minnesota Vikings haven't played well. Two of their victories came against the Detroit Lions (2-6) and Dallas Cowboys (1-7), and their third required the greatest comeback in team history. For a team built to make one final run at the Super Bowl, a 3-5 record at the midpoint is a deep disappointment. The Vikings remain within striking distance in the NFC North if they can get their act together, but they are running out of time to do so.
Falling: Those superlatives haven't been enough to make up for this team's deficiencies. Favre, brutalized for much of the season by opposing pass-rushers, has thrown an NFL-high 13 interceptions and has committed 17 total turnovers. The Vikings have been short at cornerback all season because of injuries to Cedric Griffin and rookie Chris Cook, and defensive end Jared Allen managed one sack through the first seven games. More important, the atmosphere in the locker room has ranged from ambivalent to toxic following the botched Randy Moss trade. It's clear that some players tolerate Childress but none profess much loyalty to him. For the most part, the Vikings have professional players who will make a premium individual effort every week. But there is little doubt that the back-room sniping has taken the edge off this group. The most talented group of players doesn't always make the best team.
Rising: Tailback Adrian Peterson has been a rock amid the chaos surrounding this team. His 857 rushing yards rank second in the NFL, and he is on pace for a career high in receptions. Almost unnoticed has been a dramatic drop in his fumbles this season. He has only been involved in one, a botched handoff with quarterback Brett Favre. Otherwise, Peterson has followed through on his pledge to improve ball security. Meanwhile, receiver Percy Harvin is on pace for a 1,000-yard season and has established himself as the team's top threat in the passing game. Defensively, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson has hardly missed a beat after returning from a fractured femur and weak-side linebacker Chad Greenway (81 tackles, including seven for loss) is having his best season.
Midseason MVP: Peterson has been both a steadying influence and the team's most productive player.
Outlook: The reality is the Vikings are only 2.5 half games behind the Packers, and at any point they could flip the switch and become the team they were last season. The pending return of receiver Sidney Rice would help in that regard, and it's possible that Sunday's rousing 27-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals could serve as a springboard. But that comeback could also be a tease from a team incapable of putting it together on a weekly basis. We're already in Week 10. At some point, you are what you have been. The Vikings face a steep climb to reach their original goals for 2010.