Thursday July 28th, 2016

The Vikings really arrived as contenders a year ahead of schedule in 2015, surpassing preseason expectations by winning the NFC North and hosting a playoff game for the first time since ’09. There will be a different level of pressure this year—Bovada lists Minnesota with the seventh-best Super Bowl odds (16:1), behind only Carolina (12:1), Arizona (12:1) and division rival Green Bay (8:1) within the conference.

In other words, Mike Zimmer’s team is not sneaking up on anyone. And with Adrian Peterson defending his rushing title and the defense coming off a top-five finish in points allowed, the onus will fall squarely on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to elevate his game. The offensive line’s progress (or lack thereof) will go hand in hand with how Bridgewater performs, but the Vikings would love their third-year quarterback to be a little more aggressive through the air. That plan includes, ideally, stretching the field deep—Bridgewater and Mike Wallace never managed to make that happen. The Vikings can win on the backs of Peterson and their defense, but a better Bridgewater would help them live up to the hype.

Projected Vikings 2016 depth chart, from Fansided’s The Viking Age

The Rookie: First-round receiver Laquon Treadwell is far more critical to Minnesota’s Super Bowl hopes (and Bridgewater’s aforementioned development), but Moritz Boehringer will have plenty of eyes on him through training camp and the preseason. The sixth-round pick out of Germany never played college football in the States, but his size (6' 4", 227 pounds) and athleticism made him a buzzworthy prospect headed into the draft, and now it's time to see how his game translates.

Position Battle Spoilers: Terence Newman turns 38 in September; Trae Waynes turns 25 next week. Eventually, the Vikings need Waynes to take over for Newman as a starting cornerback. Waynes should be better this year than he was during a difficult rookie campaign, but Newman probably will delay the transition for a while longer. He was quite steady in 2015.

The Stat: 20.4, the number of rushing attempts per game Adrian Peterson had last season, easily the highest average in the league. Peterson failed to hit 100 yards in four of Minnesota’s last five regular season games, then again fell short during a playoff loss marred by a fumble. Keeping him fresher should be a priority.

Preseason Watchability Guide: Road trips to Cincinnati and Seattle will pose decent tests for Minnesota on both sides of the ball, but the real fireworks on the Vikings’ preseason schedule will come on Aug. 28, when the franchise raises the curtain on U.S. Bank Stadium against the Chargers.

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