Strong finishes have set apart teams from one year to the next when it comes to ascending the ladder of success in the NFL. Past Super Bowl champions like the Rams, Ravens and Patriots all did it the previous year, and the Vikings were one of the hottest teams in the league at the end of last season.
So when Mike Tice told the assembled media types, "We're going to make the playoffs, that's for sure" when asked to assess goals for 2003, he set the bar pretty high.
Considering that the Green Bay Packers are coming off a 12-4 regular season, even if they fall back a couple of games next year, the Vikings will have to go 10-6 or 11-5 to surpass them. While few believe the Bears or the hapless Lions can make that much of an improvement, it's still going to be a tall order.
What will Tice need to get this accomplished? Defense. The Vikes have a pair of very good defensive linemen in Chris Hovan and Kenny Mixon, but are shopping with yet another high draft pick and looking at a defensive lineman with the seventh overall choice. At linebacker, Greg Biekert was a rock last year and, despite showing some signs of age, he should still have a couple years left in him. Neither of the other two LB spots, however, are locks, but Henri Crockett and Raonall Smith both fit into the plan. In the secondary, with Corey Chavous now at safety, he and Jack Brewer could give the Vikes adequate starters there, but the corner spots are not only up for grabs, they should be there for the taking, whether through the draft or free agency.
Offensively, the Vikings have most of their key components in place. Jim Kleinsasser will be the key player to sign and, once they release Derrick Alexander, his spot will need to be filled by a wideout, whether a veteran or a rookie. Other than that, the Vikings will be shopping and drafting for depth.
So maybe Tice is right. The Vikings have every chance to be a playoff team in 2003. The question now will be: do they get it done?
Tice: "We're Going to the Playoffs"
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