The Hottest Team in the NFL: The Vikings

Vikings Adam Thielen image
Vikings Adam Thielen fields questions after starring in Texans' game.

With a 5 & 0 record, a sensational new stadium and a new quarterback leading the charge, the Vikings are the talk of the NFL. With Sunday’s dominating performance over the Houston Texans, and previous wins over the Carolina Panthers and arch nemesis the Green Bay Packers, the Vikes have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

With the Denver Broncos’ loss to the surprising Falcons, the Vikings are the only unbeaten team in the league. An examination of their remaining schedule suggests the Dolphin retirees might have to put the champagne on hold for at least several weeks.

Vikings Overcome Injuries

How have the Vikings done it? Remember, this is a team that lost its starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a season-ending injury the week before the season started. The Vikings also lost its perennial star running back Adrian Peterson in the second game of the season and starting left tackle Matt Kalil shortly thereafter.

The combination of losing three key positions – starting QB, RB and left tackle – in the NFL within a month’s time period may have buried most teams. But, somehow, the Vikings have pushed forward for victories – and they’re winning in a convincing style.

Playing with Confidence that comes from Strong Coaching

The team’s confidence on the field comes from the coaching staff. Head coach Mike Zimmer leads an experienced crew, and one would think that Zimmer’s performance makes him the early favorite for Coach of the Year honors.

When Zimmer took over the reins in 2014 after defensive coordinator experience with the Cowboys, Falcons and Bengals, he inherited a team that seemed to lack mental toughness. Ill-timed penalties extended opponents’ drives and ended Vikings’ drives. In 2011, the Vikings turnover ratio was -11. In 2016 year to date, the Vikings turnover ratio is +11. The Vikings offense has not turned over the ball. That’s pretty amazing – especially considering the turnover at the three key positions: QB, RB and left tackle.

Zimmer’s approach to the key injuries helped set the tone for the entire team. In a nutshell, his message was, “Play on.” Stuff happens, but it should change the focus. And, for this year’s version of the Vikings, it hasn’t. Zimmer’s winning attitude appears to be contagious.

As head coach, Zimmer still makes all the defensive calls for the team. To note that this formula is working is an understatement. Led by rising stars like Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr, the Vikes are giving up only 12.6 points per game. With the defensive line featuring stars like Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen, there’s probably a need to come up with a more contemporary nickname, than “The Purple People Eaters” tribute to the 1960s defense, to recognize this D. “Purple Reign”, a tip of the hat to Prince, seems to be an early favorite.

Architect of the Team: Rick Spielman

Sam Bradford image
Bradford has the second highest QB ranking in the league.

Having been the driving force in recent drafts, Spielman has molded a team with big upside. His leadership was put to the test when Bridgewater went down for the year before the first game was even played.

In a gutsy move, Spielman moved quickly and decisively, orchestrating a trade to land Sam Bradford. The Vikes, desperate to find a worth replacement at QB, paid a heavy price to the Eagles in the form of a first draft pick and a conditional 4th rounder. But, now with the Vikes 5 & 0, and Bradford opening up the field with long completions, the trade looks like a stroke of genius. It may be one of those rare trades that help both teams. Carson Wentz is playing well for the Eagles, and Bradford was exactly what Minnesota needed. A win-win.

Replacing the Dome

After many years in the Metrodome, and a couple transition years at the Gophers’ TCF Bank stadium, the Vikings moved into US Bank Stadium this year. And, what a stadium it is!

From the outside, the stadium mimics a Viking ship setting sail towards downtown Minneapolis. The best viewing points to capture the beauty of the stadium are the views from the seats. With a predominantly clear roof, natural light flows into the stadium. On many game days, the entire field and much of the stands will be lit with natural sunshine. Initial plans for the stadium called for a retractable roof, but it just wasn’t practical. As they say, “Clear is the new retractable.”

US Bank Stadium image
US Bank Stadium

A wonderful view of downtown Minneapolis can be seen past one end zone via the Legacy Gate. The Legacy Gate is made up of five of the world’s largest glass doors that range from 75 feet tall to 95 feet tall and weigh some 57,000 pounds each. On pleasant weather game days, the doors are opened to the outside. The doors open to a 3-acre plaza area filled with pre-game festivities to enhance the fan experience.

Viking World Order image
Viking World Order are just part of an energized Minnesota fan base.

US Bank Stadium has nearly twice the footprint of the Dome, with double the number of bathrooms and twice the concourse size. The scoreboards are amazing. The 13HD technology of the screens provides remarkable clarity. Oh, and there’s some 2,000 televisions strategically placed throughout the facility to keep fans on top of the action no matter where they’re at. US Bank Stadium is the first in the NFL to open with LED lighting, consuming 75% less energy compared to traditional lighting.

The Vikings marketing team have added a couple of new, fan traditions with the new stadium. The Vikings Clap, similar to Iceland’s soccer team clap popularized at the Eurocup, and the blowing of the Vikings’ horn. At the Vikings vs. Texans game, former Vikes’ QB Tommy Kramer had the honor.

Minnesota’s Home-Grown Talent

If having a spectacular new stadium and a team with the best record in the NFL isn’t enough, Vikings’ fans have two Minnesota-raised players to cheer for.

Adam Theilen, filling in for injured Stefon Diggs, had a banner day with 127 yards in receptions and a touchdown. Born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Theilen played college football at Minnesota State. Theilen was undrafted but made the Vikings team at a rookie tryout at Winter Park.

“He does things really well. He’s smart, he can play a lot of positions,” notes head coach Mike Zimmer, “He’s one of those guys that the more you can do, the more success you have and the more opportunities that you get…Adam can go in and play any position, and he knows all the spots.”

Rochester, MN, product Marcus Sherels ran a punt return back for 79 yards and a touchdown. Having attended the University of Minnesota, Vikings fans are familiar with Sherels’ heroics. In college as a defensive back, Sherels returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown. Sherels already holds the Vikings punt returns for TD record with five.

High Hopes for the Vikes

With only 5 games in the books, it may be too early to talk playoff run and Super Bowl chances. Sure, the Vikings are the hottest team in the NFL right now. But, lots could happen between now and the playoffs. For the Vikes, a lot has already happened this season, and the team continues to bounce back from adversity and thrive.

Could this be the year?

Don’t bet against the Vikings!

Charles James II and Xavier Rhodes image
Charles James II and Xavier Rhodes sign and swap jerseys post-game.

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