As the 2016 season inches closer, the Minnesota Vikings are finding themselves earning a little more respect around the NFL, despite still being viewed as the second-best team in the NFC North.
On Tuesday, ESPN.com released its post-draft power rankings and the Vikings continue to climb on the list.
Minnesota moved to the No. 9 spot, up one spot from ESPN’s post-free agency ranking.
In explaining its rationale, ESPN’s Dan Graziano said of the Vikings: “Often, the surprise upstart playoff team takes an ugly step back the year following the breakthrough. The Eagles in 2014. The Chargers last year. The second season of “Friday Night Lights.” The Vikings could be such a team, but they shouldn’t get discouraged if it happens. Clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose.”
Whether that piece of prose is cause of celebration or concern, the Vikings are climbing a lot of power rankings because, of the 2015 playoff teams, few have as many players returning from last season as the Vikings and they didn’t suffer a single offseason loss that could be viewed as a step backward from that position during an 11-5 season.
As expected, New England and Carolina remain Nos. 1 and 2 on the list. Perhaps as a bit of a surprise, Green Bay jumped from No. 6 to No. 3 – citing the return of Jordy Nelson, a return to fitness from Eddie Lacy and a couple of draftees to fill needs.
Following the Packers are the Seahawks and Cardinals at Nos. 4 and 5 – giving the NFC four of the top five spots in the preseason rankings.
The AFC finally got recognized with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Denver checking in at Nos. 6-8 in front of the Vikings.
If those projections hold up, the Vikings would once again be a playoff team, but, given the NFC teams in front of them, under this scenario the Vikings would be no better than the second wild card team that would have to play the winner of the NFC South or NFC East on the road.
Considering that the Vikings haven’t taken a backward step in the offseason and had better records than both the Packers and Seahawks, apparently the thought is that addition to those rosters will outweigh the Vikings bringing everyone back that was critical to their 11-5 season in 2015.
Respect is a hard thing to come by in the NFL, despite the fact that change is inevitable and, with the exception of the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots, teams have a rising period, an apex and a decline before reloading and making another run at the top spot.
To look at franchises like Green Bay and Seattle, their success has led to the problem of not being able to keep everyone they want to keep. The loss of Nelson alone showed how much Aaron Rodgers was impacted and how potentially fragile the Packers offense could be. Seattle had to come to Minnesota to attempt to get back to the Super Bowl and, without an improbable 1-in-a-100 missed chip shot field goal, one can only imagine what steam the Seahawks would have. Then again, the following week, Carolina sent a message that the NFC king was dead in a big way.
Rankings are what rankings are. For the most part, the teams at the top of the charts are the teams that have been there and done that.
Siegfried & Roy were that way for a long time. And then they’re weren’t when the hunters became the hunted.
Be satisfied with the No. 9 ranking, Vikings fans.
Because the Vikings won’t be satisfied with it.