I still remember it like it was just last week. Josh McCown frantically screams for his teammates to set for one final desperation play with the clock winding down. McCown just gets the snap off, drops back, and rolls out. “Yes!” I think to myself, “Just knock down the pass or sack him.”
But then the worst thing possible, something that never even crossed my mind, happened. Nate Poole, stupid Nate Poole, somehow made a catch in the back corner of the end zone to complete the comeback for the Cardinals. I was at work during this horrible meltdown by my beloved Purple. As fate would have it, I happened to be working alongside a huge Green Bay Packer fan that day. Not only had I been gloating for about an hour now because the Vikings had all but sealed the win, but I had been going on and on about the Vikings and Seahawks matchup for the first round of the playoffs.
But when stupid Nate Poole caught that stupid pass, my coworker went off like a time bomb. There was dancing, the rhythmless type of dancing that a middle-aged guy does when he has had one too many cocktails and R. Kelly’s “Bump N’ Grind” comes on. There was gloating, and even a song made up about Nate Poole. All I wanted to do now was hide in the storage closet and curse cornerback Denard Walker’s name. I did feel a little better after a few weeks had passed, and I again found myself working with my Cheesehead coworker on the night of the Philadelphia vs. Green Bay game. However, it just wasn’t the same as if my Vikings had been the ones to convert a fourth down and 28 to knock Green Bay out of the running.
But now 2004 is here and fantasy football is back. That coworker has found a new job, and nothing but Purple Pride inhabits my place of business. Yes, things are certainly looking up.
Not to mention that my team is looking a little different this year. Fantasy studs Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, and Michael Bennett return to anchor the best offense in the NFL. The addition of Marcus Robinson finally gives the Vikes someone who can make defenses pay for doubling and tripling Moss.
The entire offensive line returns as well, with another season together under their belts. The line is gigantic, and the extra year of experience will only help the entire offense. Moss, who had career numbers in 2003, has also improved. He has gained 15 pounds of muscle and has kept himself out of the negative light of the media with his good behavior and newfound leadership qualities. He remains the top wide receiver in fantasy football, and should be chosen in the neighborhood of 10th overall pick in your league’s draft, depending on how wideouts are scored in your system.
Culpepper, who dramatically corrected his turnover problem last year, was fantasy football’s #1 quarterback. He hooked up with Randy over 100 times last year, yet he didn’t force things and was able to find his other receivers when necessary. Culpepper is a lock to be selected within the first two rounds of virtually every draft this year.
Michael Bennett will be the wild card in 2004. He has world-class speed, improved instincts, and a behemoth offensive line blocking for him. And despite all the hype the Culpepper-to-Moss combo has received over the past couple of years, the Vikings will tell you that they like to establish the run and use it to set up their passing game. Let’s just hope that the running back situation, which also includes Onterrio Smith, Moe Williams, and now rookie Mewelde Moore, doesn’t turn out to be like Philadelphia’s running-back-by-committee mess.
The most drastic changes came on defense this off-season. It started when Tice and the Vikings managed to convince cornerback Antoine Winfield to ditch the Jets and sign with the Purple. He will give the Vikings the closest thing to a shut down corner that they’ve had in a very long time.
Brian Williams, who began to emerge as a defender last year, will return and play alongside Winfield. The interception demons, safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell, will also return to the Vikings’ secondary.
Linebacker Greg Biekert has decided to retire and youth will take over in Minnesota’s linebacking corps, bringing with it speed, something the defense lacked all of last year. Chris Claiborne is healthy and ready to pick up where he left off before his injuries. Second-year player EJ Henderson, a former Butkus Award winner at Maryland, will start at middle linebacker. On the other side of Henderson, speedy rookie Dontarrious Thomas looks to be the front-runner.
The gem of the Vikings’ defense will undoubtedly be their front four. Tackle Chris Hovan, one of the most underrated talents in the league, will look to bounce back to form this year. Partner in crime Kevin Williams had a monster rookie campaign and drastically improved as the season went on, finishing with 10.5 sacks, good enough for the team lead.
And in April, The Vikings received a gift from the football gods when Kenechi Udeze dropped to them in the draft. He was considered by many to be the best pass rusher in this year’s rookie class, and only dropped to 20th overall because of reports of a serious shoulder injury. The Vikings are confident that Udeze can play through it. He will give the team the athletic pass rusher from the edge that they haven’t had since the Chris Doleman era.
While everyone oohs and aahs over the Philadelphia Eagles this off-season, keep an eye on the Vikings. The Eagles have added Terrell Owens to bolster their offense, but it has yet to be seen whether or not he will push them over the top.
A sickly talented receiver, a superstar quarterback, two or three solid running backs, a young, up-and-coming defense. Are you seeing the similarities yet? Minnesota might even have the edge on the Eagles on defense following the departure of Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent. And they most certainly have the advantage in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
So there you have my prediction for the NFC Championship game, with my Purple, of course, advancing to the Super Bowl.
Call me a homer, but The Vikings have a championship caliber offense, and the defense looks to have made great strides. So, just bring on the Cardinals. This time, we’ll be ready.
WR Randy Moss – Mid-to-Late Round 1
QB Daunte Culpepper – Round 1-2
RB Michael Bennett – Round 2-3
WR Marcus Robinson – Round 7-9
TE Jim Kleinsasser – Round 11
If you see Andrew Scherber in the Cafe Forums, where he posts as scherber830, please don’t mention Nate Poole.
|Do the Vikings truly have what it takes to win the NFC? Or will they once again fall short and break the hearts of Minnesota’s long-suffering fans? Sound off on the Vikes!|