The Minnesota Vikings wrap up the 2014 season at TCF Bank Stadium against the Chicago Bears. The young Vikings have persevered and really made all fans of the purple and gold proud. While they will not be headed for the postseason, there have been plenty of great signs this year, and the future looks extremely bright.
The offense has a great foundation with QB Teddy Bridgewater, as he has taken giant steps forward in the second half of the season. The team looks to have its franchise face at the quarterback position, harkening back to the days of Fran Tarkenton , Tommy Kramer and perhaps Daunte Culpepper.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bears.
Bridgewater has thrown for 2,710 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, completing 64.2 percent of his passes while turning in a respectable 84.9 passer rating. He has averaged 206.7 yards per game, thanks in part to his hot play lately. Over the past four games he has completed 70.4 percent or more of his passes while going for 259 or more yards in each of his past three outings. He has thrown a touchdown pass in nine straight games, and he has two or more touchdown strikes in four of the past five.
Looking ahead to 2015, Bridgewater has risen from a rookie risk for Fantasy owners to a legitimate Top 15 quarterback. He will be a middle-round Fantasy selection in leagues which require two starting quarterbacks, and he will get nibbles in the final rounds of standard formats as a viable backup Fantasy option for when your primary option has a bye week, injury or difficult matchup. It will be exciting to see how Bridgewater improves from Year One to Year Two, especially working as the unquestioned starter during offseason workouts and into his second training camp. With a strong camp, preseason and perhaps with the addition of another playmaker at receiver via free agency or the draft, he could potentially crack the Top 10 among the quarterback ranks.
For Week 17, some Fantasy leagues hold their championship games, and Bridgewater is a very attractive option. He passed for 158 yards and a touchdown Nov. 16 at Chicago, but he will be even better in this go-around. The Bears rank 31st in the NFL against the pass, and they have allowed an NFL-high 33 touchdown passes with 62 pass plays of 20 or more yards. Look for Bridgewater to turn in his fourth 300-yard game with two more touchdowns.
WR Greg Jennings led the receiving corps with three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown last week. The veteran has jelled very nicely with Bridgewater in the second half of the season, going for three or more receptions in five consecutive games while posting 43 or more yards in each of the past four. He has also found the end zone in four of his past five games. It is his highest touchdown total since the 2011-12 season when he was a member of the Green Bay Packers, and the six scores are tied for the third-most of his nine-year NFL career. Going into Week 17, he is a legitimate WR3/4 who should be able to post 60-70 yards with another TD to close out the season on a high note.
WR Jarius Wright scored a touchdown in Miami, and posted three or more receptions for the third consecutive game. He is wrapping up his third season as a professional, and it is his best with 39 receptions and 565 yards. In fact, he has improved statistically in each of his first three campaigns, and he has emerged as a legitimate WR4 or 'flex' Fantasy option in deeper formats. He could be part of an impressive, young and talented receiving corps for years to come in the Twin Cities. Wright is certainly worth monitoring during the offseason, as he looks to take another step forward in Year 4. So far, all signs indicate he continues to trend upward.
Meanwhile, Charles Johnson also has three or more grabs in three straight games, and multiple catches in six in a row. He has totaled 213 receiving yards and a score over the three-game span, and has emerged as a budding star in the Minnesota offense. Heading into 2015, he will be worth a look starting in the middle rounds on draft day as a solid WR3/4 or 'flex' option. TE Kyle Rudolph should also be 100 percent healthy barring an offseason ailment, and he will re-emerge as a Top 10 Fantasy option at his position in 2015.
And let's not forget Cordarrelle Patterson. He entered this season as a sleeper because of his superb showing down the stretch last year. This season he has been quiet, but he is an amazingly gifted talent with both his hands and legs who can be a difference maker when he is healthy. He might fly under the radar in Fantasy drafts in 2015, and therefore will be a steal in the middle- to late rounds on Draft Day.
Matt Asiata ran 16 times for 58 yards and two more scores, the fourth multi-touchdown game of his career, and third this season. Asiata is tied for second in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. Plenty might be interested to know Asiata ranks 11th among all tailbacks in NFL.com leagues over the past four weeks with 48.4 Fantasy points, outscoring the likes of Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte (47.2 points), Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (47.0 points), New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram (39.1 points), among others.
As far as Asiata's outlook for the 2015 season, he is likely to have company in the backfield, possibly in the form of a draft pick and/or free agent signing. Still, he has proven to the team to be extremely valuable in short yardage situation and near the goal line, so he will factor into the plan. He has shown a tremendous set of hands, too, so watch the offseason moves and draft accordingly when the backfield picture becomes clearer.
For Week 17, Fantasy owners will want to use Asiata as an RB2 or 'flex' play against a Chicago Bears rushing defense which allows 112.1 yards per game with 12 touchdowns. The Bears have also been dinged for 10 runs of 20 or more yards, and three runs of 40 or more yards. Look for Asiata to reach double digits in touchdowns with at least one score and 65-75 total yards from scrimmage.
While the weather will be in the 20's Sunday, there is just a 10 percent chance of wintry precipitation. That's good news for PK Blair Walsh, who is likely to be very busy in the regular season finale. He had a multi-field goal game in Miami, totaling nine points, his best mark since Oct. 19 in Buffalo. In fact, it tied his third-best point total of the season. He had seven points Nov. 16 in Chicago, and will be good for eight to 10 points in the season finale. He will be a Top 12 Fantasy option for Week 17, and heading into the 2015 season he remains a legitimate No. 1 Fantasy kicker thanks to his strong leg. He has 100 or more points in each of his first three NFL seasons.
The Bears turn back to Jay Cutler, who is no stranger to the turnover. Those looking for a Fantasy defense/special teams unit for the regular season finale will want to give the Vikings a look if they're available. The Vikings will come up with at least four sacks and two turnovers, and a defensive score is not out of the question. For those in IDP leagues, continue to rely upon FS Harrison Smith, who is a Top 10 defensive back in those formats which use individual defensive players. LB Gerald Hodges has also quickly emerged as a legitimate LB2/3 over the past month. Smith, LBs Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway and DE Everson Griffen each are among the tops at their position, and will be Top 10 players in 2015 in IDP Fantasy formats.
In other action, the Dallas-Washington and Detroit-Green Bay games are expected to be high-scoring contests, and as such, plenty of Fantasy points are sure to follow.
In the final regular season game, we sometimes see teams resting starters when they have their playoff seeding all wrapped up. Rest will not be the case in the Carolina-Atlanta, Cincinnati-Pittsburgh and Detroit-Green Bay matchups. Each game has the division title up for grabs, and players will go the distance barring any injuries. Falcons QB Matt Ryan will be particularly impressive this week, with 250 yards and at least two scores, and Steelers QB Ben Roetlisberger, RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Antonio Bryant are all legitimate No. 1 options at their respective positions against a Cincinnati Bengals defense which has been leaky against the pass and the run. Look for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to put up a solid stat line despite the fact he is facing a top-notch pass defense, and RB Eddie Lacy to roll up 70-80 yards and a score.
For those you will want to avoid, Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck might be limited to a quarter or a half. QB Tom Brady and the Patriots have the No. 1 seed in the AFC sewn up, so it's likely he does not see a ton of action. TE Rob Gronkowski has been an obvious slam-dunk play this season, but he too could be held back, especially with his history of injury. There is no sense putting him out there in a meaningless game and risk losing him for a deep playoff run.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Baltimore Ravens are likely to have an impressive Fantasy stat line. It is possible when they face the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 that third-string rookie QB Connor Shaw makes the start, with QB Johnny Manziel (hamstring) and QB Brian Hoyer (shoulder) nicked up. While statistically, the Ravens haven't been the Fantasy force we've seen in past years, they should have big-time numbers against a rookie in a tough spot.
Daniel E. Dobish ofRotoExperts.com* is a 15-year veteran of the Fantasy industry and has won four Fantasy Sports Writer's Association awards. For more in-depth Fantasy Football analysis from the RotoExperts team, click here. Dan and the RotoExperts team will also answer your Fantasy Football questions right here*.