The Vikings are, as Rodney Dangerfield said, getting no respect. Maybe they garner some locally, but not much of an ounce of respect nationally, whether it's from media giant ESPN or the bookies who make a fortune off the misfortunes of others.
ESPN's predictions were just the most stunning evidence of it yet. Of 35 ESPN reporters and analysts employed to cover the NFL at large, only one of them picked the Vikings to win the NFC North this year. Who was that bold, go-against-the-grain prognosticator? Cris Carter – yes, the former Minnesota Viking who was just inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Of the 34 other votes cast that ESPN unveiled, only one person, former NFL defensive back Eric Allen, picked the Detroit Lions. Five others picked the Chicago Bears, and the rest of the crew filed the populist opinion, picking the Green Bay Packers.
Carter's running mate for several years during the heyday of the Vikings' passing game, Randy Moss, now an NFL analyst with FOX Sports 1, sided with Carter, saying Vikings can unseat the Packers with Adrian Peterson in the backfield and if Christian Ponder can improve at quarterback.
"I think the Minnesota Vikings have a good shot contending with Green Bay for the division," Moss said during a FOX Sports conference call with reporters last week, according to the Star Tribune. "Green Bay is very strong, and really nobody in that division should be able to compete with them. But Minnesota has been steady on defense. They've made some acquisitions at wide receiver. And, of course, you know the MVP (Adrian Peterson). It's really on Ponder. If I could pick any of the three (other teams in the division), it would be the Minnesota Vikings, depending on the year Ponder has. I think coach Leslie Frazier will have them ready."
The irony of Moss conducting a conference call as a member of the media aside, he is right to qualify his statement on the performance of Ponder. No Viking has more pressure on him this year than the third-year pro. If he can make the improvements he did from Year 1 to Year 2 – going from 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 70.1 rating to 2,935 yards, 18 TDs, 12 INTs and an 81.2 rating – and further ascend in Year 3, the Vikings should be in position to unseat the Packers.
But even Ponder says he understands the lack of respect he engenders. Quite simply, he hasn't earned it yet. Former NFL QB Ron Jaworski ranked Ponder 27th in his quarterback listing this summer.
Was Ponder offended? Hardly.
"I think the 27th ranking is probably rightfully so with how I've played," he said. "The good thing about that is it leaves me a lot of opportunity to improve and move up in the rankings."
Maybe that's part of the issue critics have with Ponder. There isn't the bravado so many of the top quarterbacks possess. Should he be offended by being ranked so low?
On a broader scale than just Ponder, the entire team is predicted to take a dip in wins, according to the money machine that is Las Vegas. The Packers have their over-under win total set at 10½, the Bears at 8½, the Lions at 8 and the Vikings at 7½, according to Bovada.lv.
Apparently even Vegas' prediction isn't low enough in the betting public's mind. The Vikings are ranked third among teams that the public loves to pick under the posted total, according to Bovada.
But all the predictions of a dip from last year don't seem to bother Frazier. Like a lawyer spouting a disclaimer, he doesn't want his players thinking that last year's success is indicative of future results.
"I think all of us standing here know that every year stands on its own. It's just 2013," Frazier said. "This team, this league, will be far different than 2012. So we've got to come out and earn everything that we get. I'm sure Detroit is not talking about the fact that we were a playoff team a year ago. We've got to put our nose to the grindstone and get it done. There's nothing we can hold onto from a season ago."
"He said he wasn't trying to. He said what he said, and what he did is two different things," Williams said. "I didn't think there was any place for it. He could have hit me high."
"Whatever it is, this is nothing but opportunity so that's fine with me," said Randle, who grew up watching a lot of Barry Sanders. "I'll always give my best, I'll always give my good looks to the scout team."
"It is my hometown so you could possibly think that it might be nerve-wracking to have all my old fans coming there. It's just another game. I've had family at a lot of games," said Line, who was a star running back at SMU and grew up a fan of the Lions. "They're good about traveling. It will be fun. If anything, I've played one high school game at Ford Field. We crushed the team we played, so it would be nice to go back there and do it again."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.