A number of teams surprise every season as the NFL has the best parity and playoff turnover rate of any American professional sports league. One of the most surprising teams of this season is the Minnesota Vikings, who are currently 5-2 after finishing with a mere three wins last season. If they continue to play solid defense and run the ball effectively, they could challenge for a playoff spot, an unlikely scenario for any observer at the beginning of the season.
Led by a stout defense and the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings use an old-school styled approach to beat opponents: do not let them score and tire them out with the ground game. The Vikings are an unlikely playoff team with a limited second year quarterback at the helm in an increasingly passing oriented league, but Peterson and the Vikings defense keep churning out wins.
After suffering an ACL and MCL injury in week 16 of last season, no one expected Peterson to be back so soon, let alone be the number three rusher in the league up to this point. At 652 yards on the season, Peterson is only seven yards behind rushing leader Arian Foster. The quick turnaround from his injury at the end of the season to his dominance in the first half of this year shows just how great of a worker and running back he is.
Percy Harvin meanwhile has blossomed into one of the most reliable receivers in the NFL this season. Always capable of breaking off a huge play with his speed, Harvin’s first four seasons featured explosive plays, but inconsistency from week to week. This season however, Harvin is second in the NFL in catches behind only Wes Welker, while ranking sixth in receiving yards. Based off his first seven games, Harvin is projected to have career highs with over 120 catches and 1,300 yards to go along with seven total touchdowns.
Credit must also be given to Christian Ponder who has bounced back from a dismal rookie season to become a solid, but not great starting quarterback. With the sixth highest completion percentage in the league, and fourteenth best quarterback rating, Ponder has transformed into a serviceable quarterback capable of managing an offense well enough to stay with opponents and win games. He won’t be breaking any passing records anytime soon, but if Ponder keeps handing off to Peterson and limits his mistakes, he could be the quarterback of a playoff team come January.
Defensively, the Vikings limit the run with an intimidating front seven featuring Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Chad Greenway. The secondary is still young at certain positions and mistake prone, but with Antoine Winfield at corner and rapidly improving rookie safety Harrison Smith playing well, the Vikings defense has the weapons to slow down fellow NFC North contenders Chicago and Green Bay.
The Vikings may fade late in the season with a mediocre offense outside of Harvin and Peterson, but they have shown they are going to come at opponents with a physicality and winning mindset that was comlpetely absent last season. I don’t expect the Vikings to make the postseason, but Peterson has surprised me before.
Injuries and bye weeks are limiting fantasy owners to very few options as waiver wire pickups are more important now than ever. Most of these running backs and receivers are gaining opportunities thanks to injuries to the respective starting players at their positions. If you are an owner of one of these injured players, pay special attention to who their replacements are and how they have been producing. You might just find the next Victor Cruz.
Pickups of the Week:
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland
Weeden isn’t the most attractive option for fantasy owners, but if you are in need of a quarterback, he is a viable option this week. With four straight weeks of double digit fantasy points, Weeden has improved dramatically from his first game of the season, throwing two touchdown passes each of the last three matchups. He has also cut down on turnovers with one interception in his last two games combined. Weeden is owned in a mere 8.8 percent of leagues and has a favorable matchup against a San Diego defense that has been torched the last two games they have played.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona
Stephens-Howling has a tough week eight matchup against the 49ers, but the last two running backs that have faced San Francisco have done pretty well to say the least. After his standout performance on Sunday, LaRod has a chance to make an impact for your fantasy team with injuries continuing to limit numerous Arizona backs.
Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville
With Maurice Jones-Drew out next week due to injury, Jennings has a real chance to prove his worth to the Jaguars and fantasy owners alike. Rashad will be facing a Packers defense that has allowed double digits to running backs in every single week this season. Jennings may not be a candidate for 100 yards and a touchdown, but he is certainly capable of racking up at least 10 fantasy points.
Chris Givens, St. Louis
Danny Amendola’s injury has opened the door for Givens to become the Rams new offensive weapon. Givens is a burner who has had four straight weeks with a play over 50 yards, one resulting in a touchdown. You have to figure the Rams will continue to go deep to Givens, meaning he will have a few shots each game to score or break a huge play down the field. He is risky, but he can garner the yards faster than anyone.
Logan Paulsen or Chris Cooley, Washington
RG III’s favorite target in Fred Davis is done for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. That opens up the door for Paulsen or newly signed Chris Cooley to become the Redskins starting tight end. Since Davis was the ‘Skins leading receiver, Griffin seems comfortable looking down the field for the tight end. In place of Davis Sunday, Paulsen racked up four catches for 76 yards with some impressive down the field plays. With a mere one catch on the season before week seven, we will have to wait and see whether Shanahan gives Paulsen a shot or allows Cooley to come in and try to be the Pro-Bowl tight end he was at the middle of the century.