2004 Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> Mike Tice (15-18) <BR><BR> <b> Last Season's Record:</b> 9-7 (4-2 in NFC North, 2nd place) <BR><BR> <b> Last Playoff Appearance: </b> 2001 NFC Championship Game

09/12/04 Dallas
09/20/04 @Philadelphia
09/26/04 Chicago
10/10/04 @Houston
10/17/04 @New Orleans
10/24/04 Tennessee
10/31/04 NY Giants
11/08/04 @Indianapolis
11/14/04 @Green Bay
11/21/04 Detroit
11//28/04 Jacksonville
12/05/04 @Chicago
12/12/04 Seattle
12/19/04 @Detroit
12/24/04 Green Bay
01/02/05 @Washington
Receiver Randy Moss #84 of the Minnesota Vikings pulls away.
Getty Images/Jonat

Key matchup(s): Since Las Vegas odds-makers have Philadelphia as the favorite in the NFC and Minnesota second, the two teams' NFC showdown on Monday Night Football on Sept. 20 will be a key early-season indicator of how good both teams can be. That will be a nationally televised game on ABC, and there is little doubt the talking heads will have plenty of comparisons between the Vikings' Randy Moss and the Eagles' Terrell Owens. The other key game is Nov. 14 at Green Bay. Most observers feels the NFC North will be a battle between the Vikings and Packers, and this first meeting at Lambeau Field could set the tone for the second half of the season.

Star Power: Daunte Culpepper (QB, 6-4,264, 6th year) to Randy Moss (WR, 6-4, 210, 7th year) has been the repeating theme the last few years in Minnesota, but if Michael Bennett (RB, 5-9, 209, 4th year) returns to full health in 2004 after a Pro Bowl season in 2002, along with a host of very talented complementary players on offense, this will be a dangerous unit. The Vikings also added veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield (CB, 5-9, 180, 6th year) on defense to go with a speed/youth movement on that side of the ball.

Notable Additions: Free agents Antoine Winfield (CB, 5-9, 180, 6th year, Buffalo), Marcus Robinson (WR, 6-3, 215, 8th year, Baltimore); drafted Kenechi Udeze (DE, 6-3, 281, R, USC) and Dontarrious Thomas (LB, 6-2, 241, R, Auburn) will also make an immediate impact.

Notable Subtractions: With a great salary cap position, the Vikings lost no one they wanted to keep.

Notable Returnees: Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, TE Jim Kleinsasser, DT Kevin Williams, DT Chris Hovan, S Corey Chavous.

Offensive Overview: With the NFL's No. 1 offense adding firepower and losing no one of dire consequence, the Vikings have a great opportunity to defend their offensive title from 2003. Pro Bowl players abound on this side of the ball with Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, Michael Bennett and Matt Birk all having been to the Pro Bowl at least once in the last three years. Moss, widely considered the most feared receiver in the game, put concerns of lingering plantar fasciitis behind him during the offseason, and Culpepper continued to work on limiting his turnovers while coming off a starting gig in the Pro Bowl. When Bennett returns to 100 percent from an injury-ravaged 2003 and more concerns early in 2004, he could be ready for his best professional career. The backfield, which finished with the league's top rushing game in 2002, is also deep with Bennett, Onterrio Smith (suspended for the first four games after violating the league's substance abuse policy), Moe Williams and third-down rookie Mewelde Moore. The offensive line, long a strength of the Vikings, returns all five starters from last year. Birk is one of the best centers in the game, and the left side is loaded with under-appreciated talent in guard Chris Liwienski and tackle Bryant McKinnie. The receiver corps added exciting but oft-injured Marcus Robinson and tight end Jermaine Wiggins. In reality, this offense, if healthy, should be one of the best in the league again.

Defensive Overview: The defense has been the Achilles heel of the Vikings the last five years - or more. While the offense has been putting up huge numbers since its NFL-record scoring title in 1998, the defense has been slow to rebuild. However, this offseason it got a big shot in the arm with the signing of one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Antoine Winfield. Along with the continued improvement of cornerback Brian Williams and safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell, the secondary is hoping to turn from suspect to successful. The rest of the defense is quick but largely unproven. The linebacker corps lost slowing veterans Greg Biekert and Henri Crockett, going with a youth movement in second-round choices from the last two drafts, rookie Dontarrious Thomas and E.J. Henderson. They will flank strongside LB Chris Claiborne. The youth movement is also taking over up front, with rookie Kenechi Udeze expected to start at right end and second-year phenom Kevin Williams staying inside full-time this season after 10-1/2 sacks from end and tackle in 2003. Chris Hovan remains next to Williams inside, with free-agent signee Steve Martin providing rotational depth as the pure nose tackle. A combination of rookie Darrion Scott, Kenny Mixon (suspended for the first two games) and Lance Johnstone provide the rotation to Udeze on the outside. Overall, the defense is faster and young, but the experience of coordinator Ted Cottrell could turn youthful athleticism into a top-10 defense.

Special Teams Overview: The Vikings struggled with inexperience at punter and kicker last year. Now they are simply old, with with the signing of 39-yard old Darren Bennett from San Diego and the 44-year-old Morten Andersen at kicker.

The Vikings will win the NFC North and be a deep playoff contender if...... the stars on offense stay relatively healthy and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell pushes the right buttons for his young defense.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview
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