Few people believe the Vikings are going to compete as a legitimate contender for the division, conference or league throne. How bad is it? If the 2012 Vikes stun the NFL world, the payoffs will be enormous.
If the Vikings seem to enter the season with a chip on their collective shoulders, it's hard to blame them. It would seem that everyone that doesn't own a Vikings jersey has stuck a fork in them before the 2012 season even starts. This comes despite the fact that what has made the NFL the pre-eminent sport in the world (we discount soccer in the United States) has been the ability of teams to rise from the outhouse to the penthouse in a single season.
The fact that a team had a dismal record the previous year doesn't always matter in the NFL. While the road to the Super Bowl is typically paved over two or three years – you make the playoffs, you advance a game or two in the playoffs and then make the big time – rising from the ashes is a trademark of the NFL and what makes it the No. 1 choice of fans. Since 1996, at least one team that had 10 or more losses the previous season had made the playoffs – the Packers won the Super Bowl two years ago coming off a 10-loss season and Detroit was one of five teams with 10 or more losses in 2010 that made the playoffs in 2011. It happens and it happens often. But, according to the gambling community, the Vikings are the longest of long shots – not because they are the worst team, but it's a combination of being a young team in arguably the strongest division.
The gambling website Bovada.lv has released its official gambling odds (you can invest your money in the NFL, which, during these economic times, may be a better investment than working with Wall Street). The numbers will spike upward or downward as the season progresses, but these are the odds that we're starting the season with – when most people plunk down their cash and make a financial investment on top of an emotional investment in a team.
As would be expected, the Packers are the overall favorite to win the Super Bowl at 6:1, followed by New England (13:2), San Francisco (10:1), Houston (12:1) and Philadelphia (12:1). Chicago isn't far behind (16:1) and Detroit is viewed as a middle-of-the road candidate at 22:1 – the 13th lowest total in the league.
So where are the Vikings? You may want to bypass this and just scroll down to the game day notes if you're a dyed-in-the-wool Vikings fan. They are at 150:1. They are better only than today's opponent, Jacksonville, which limps in at a brutal 200:1 shot. The Vikings have the same 150:1 Super Bowl odds as Cleveland and Indianapolis – two teams that may find it hard to win more than three or four games all year. Their odds are double those of St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Miami – teams that many think will be lucky to win more than a handful of games.
But it gets worse because the Vikings are in what is clearly viewed as the strongest division in the stronger conference.
The Packers are the 7:2 favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Only three teams are viewed as more than a 28:1 favorite to be the NFC entrant in the Super Bowl – Tampa Bay (35:1), St. Louis (40:1) and the Vikings (70:1).
When it comes to winning a division title, it gets a lot tougher to bet on the favorite. New England is a 3:10 favorite to win the AFC East, meaning you have to bet $100 to win $30. Even more pronounced in the AFC South, where the Houston Texans are 1:5 favorites (you have to bet $100 to win $20). But, even in that division, Indianapolis and Jacksonville both have 18:1 betting odds to win the AFC South title.
Clearly the most difficult division to pick a winner is the AFC West, where Denver is the favorite at 9:5, but the Oakland Raiders, predicted to finish last, carry just 4:1 odds to win the division. Even the Rams, who are the same as the Vikings at 150:1 to win the Super Bowl, are just 8:1 in betting odds to win the NFC West, despite the presence of the 13-3 49ers from last year.
Why is that important? Because the Vikings are 40:1 underdogs to win the NFC North. Green Bay is a 4:9 favorite (you would win $44 for every $100 bet). Next is Chicago at 7:2 and Detroit at 4:1. The Vikings' odds are 40:1 to win the NFC North – ironically the same odds given to St. Louis to be the NFC rep in the Super Bowl.
The Vikings sit in 12th place in the league in terms of available salary cap space that can be used during the season. The in-season salary cap takes into account all 53 players, the practice squad and players on injured reserve. The Vikings have $8.2 million in available cap space. Two teams have more than $15 million in available cap space – Philadelphia at $21.4 million and Jacksonville at $20.7 million). Two teams have less than $1 million available – San Francisco ($880,000) and Houston ($882,000). The Vikings gained almost $1 million in in-season cap space by releasing Sage Rosenfels.
The Jaguars made it official Saturday by activating Maurice Jones-Drew from the Inactive/Did Not Report list. MJD returned to the team last Sunday and kicked in a one-week roster exemption until the team decided what to do with him. It was a formality that he would be activated, but it came at a cost to RB Keith Toston, who had to be released to make room for Jones-Drew.
The Vikings and Jaguars are far from alone in having questions at running back heading into Week 1. Aside from Peterson, seven other running backs are listed as questionable for today's games – Delone Carter (Indianapolis, chest), Arian Foster (Houston, knee), Brandon Jacobs (San Francisco, knee), Marshawn Lynch (Seattle, back), Trent Richardson (Cleveland, knee), Jonathan Stewart (Carolina, ankle) and Beanie Wells (Arizona, hamstring). Add to that list that San Diego starter Ryan Mathews has already been ruled out for Monday's game and there are a lot of teams that have significant question marks heading into the season opener.
Just when it looked like former Viking Lorenzo Booker was going to continue his NFL career, he got the rug pulled out from under him Saturday. Booker, who made the 53-man roster of the Chicago Bears, was listed as questionable for today's game with Indianapolis with a head injury. Instead of deactivating Booker, the Bears placed him on injured reserve, pulling RB Armando Allen up from the practice squad. The move had some analysts shaking their heads, because the team also released Patrick Trahan, dropping their active roster down to 52 players.
Several Vikings will take part in an NFL Play 60 clinic at Catholic Charities-St. Joseph's Home for Children Tuesday. Players expected to participate in the clinic include Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Jamarca Sanford, Devin Aromashodu, Larry Dean and Tyrone McKenzie.
While nobody is picking the Vikings to win the Super Bowl, for those viewed as legitimate contenders, getting their season off to a hot start would seem not only essential, but almost inevitable. Of the 46 Super Bowl winners, they have a combined record of 37-8-1 in their first game. By this rationale, the Giants have already been almost mathematically eliminated from winning it all. But, not so fast my friend. Last year, the Giants got doubled up 28-14 by the lowly Washington Redskins.
The Vikings have lost their last two season openers. In the 51-year history of the franchise, they have never lost three straight.
The Vikings are 3-1 all-time against the Jaguars and none of them have been nail-biters. The average margin of victory has been 24 points. The last time the teams met, the Vikings scored two touchdowns in the first two minutes of the game, on their way to a 30-12 win.
Both the Vikings and Jaguars will be opening the season with their third different starting quarterback – Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder for the Vikings and David Garrard, Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert for the Jaguars.
Former Lions and Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams announced Saturday he was done with football. In a related note, the NFL announced that it was done with Williams in 2010.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.