Out With the Old, In With the New

The year 2006 began with the firing of Mike Tice and ends with the Vikings' season finale today against the Rams. While the calender doesn't officially turn to 2007 until midnight, the Vikings are already putting their focus on next year -- and the changes that will come with the new year.

Officially, 2006 ends today. From the Vikings' standpoint, it couldn't come at a better time because 2007 is going to hold a lot of changes.

It's clear that there are going to be plenty of changes in the air for the Vikings in 2007. Brad Johnson and Fred Smoot are almost sure to be gone. Highly paid players on both sides of the ball are either going to be cut or told to restructure their contracts. Changes are likely at just about every receiving position possible.

To say the 2006 season was a disappointment is understating the case. The Vikings started the season at 4-2 and, if they lose to the Rams today, they will have lost eight of their last 10 games with the only wins coming against the lowly Lions and Cardinals – two teams assured of being in the top five of the draft lottery in April.

The Vikings have the right mix to turn things around in a hurry – a defense that has finally moved out of the cellar of the NFL, an owner willing to spend money to improve his personnel and a coaching staff hell-bent on winning. That didn't happen this year and the Auld Lang Syne of the 2006 season will see the curtain drop this afternoon.

From the moment that final whistle blows, the 2007 season will begin. There won't be much rest for the coaches and front office personnel. The only way to erase the last two months of this season is to essentially pretend it didn't happen and move on.

For better or worse, the first year of the Brad Childress-led Vikings is close to being over. Fans may want to take a closer look at the players on the field today. Because by the time the team "officially" starts trying to make a run for the postseason with the opening of training camp next July, a lot of the players on the field against the Rams won't be here.

* If Brad Johnson was quarterbacking today, the offensive game plan could be much different. The Rams have been brutal on run defense – allowing opponents to average almost five yards a carry. On average, teams have run 30 times a game against the Rams for 150 yards a game with 19 rushing touchdowns.
* With nine carries today, Chester Taylor will become the first Viking to ever rush 300 times in the season. The current single-season record for rushing attempts is 295 by Robert Smith.
* Taylor can move his way up the all-time single-season rushing mark for the Vikings today as well. He enters the game with 1,185 yards. He needs three yards to pass Smith (1998) for No. 5 all-time for the Vikings, 22 yards to pass Terry Allen (1992) for fourth, 82 yards to move past Smith (1997) into No. 3 and 112 yards to surpass Michael Bennett (2002) for second all-time. Smith holds the team record with 1,521 yards in 2000.
* Although Taylor has just five rushing touchdowns, that represents the highest rushing TD total by a Vikings since 2002 – when Moe Williams ran for 11 and Daunte Culpepper ran for 10 TDs in the same season.
* From 1993 to 2004, the Vikings had at least one receiver gain 1,000 yards or more each year. This will be the second straight year that the Vikings won't have anyone even close. Travis Taylor leads the team with 597 yards and also led the team in 2005 with 604 receiving yards.
* After catching 140 passes in his first two seasons with the Vikings, Jermaine Wiggins will need five receptions to reach the 50-reception plateau this year. Over the last two years, Wiggins has caught 114 passes, but just two of them for touchdowns.
* Ryan Longwell will need 13 points to hit the 100-point mark this season. In his first eight years, he scored 100 or more points in each of them and had 120 or more in six of those years. In 2005 with the Packers, he scored 90 points and currently sits at 87 points in 2006. Opposing kickers have scored more points than that (96) on field goals alone this year, notching 122 total points.
* The Vikings are 0-for-4 on two-point conversion attempts this year.
* The Vikes have been among the best in the league at converting on fourth downs, making good on 15 of 21 attempts – 71.4 percent. On the flip side, the team has converted just 32.4 percent (71 of 219) third-down attempts.
* The team sack lead will be decided today. Heading into the final game, Darrion Scott leads the team with 5.5 sacks, followed by Kevin Williams with five sacks.
* Three players – Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith – are tied for the team lead in interceptions with four. In five years with the Bills, Winfield had just six interceptions. In slightly less than three years with the Vikings, he has 11 picks.
* The Rams' playoff hopes died with the Giants winning Saturday night against the Redskins, making today's game more for pride than playoff positioning.
* Heading into Week 17, Travis Taylor leads the Vikings with 52 catches and 597 yards. The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL other than the Vikings whose leading receiver doesn't have more than 600 yards in receptions.
* Bethel Johnson will be the ninth different player in the last nine years to lead the Vikings in kickoffs returns. Dating back from 2005, the annual leaders were Koren Robinson, Kelly Campbell, Onterrio Smith, Moe Williams, Nate Jacquet, Troy Walters, Robert Tate and David Palmer.
* The longest reception for any Vikings receiver this year is 50 yards – which came on a screen pass to Mewelde Moore that was thrown by Brooks Bollinger.
* Unless Tarvaris Jackson can throw five touchdown passes in today's game, the 2006 season will mark the least number of touchdown passes for a Vikings team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. The current record is 15 TDs by quarterbacks, last set in 1991 when Rich Gannon and Wade Wilson threw just 15 TDs.
* If the Vikings score less than 30 points today, it will be their lowest season point total since 1993, when they scored 277 points. The team is currently 13 points behind the point total from 1984 – the year Les Steckel and the Vikings floundered to a 3-13 record.
* The Vikings and the Rams are at the top of a dubious category – penalties. The Vikings have been flagged 118 times, while the Rams have been penalized 112 times.
* Very few people around the country will see the Vikings-Rams game. The FOX broadcast team is Dan McLaughlin and former offensive lineman Tony Boselli.

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