The Vikings are coming off a bye with only two losses to their name this season, a credit to numerous names across Minnesota's roster.
When looking back over their first eight games, which player could be identified as the Vikings Most Valuable Player?
Michael Rand of the *Star Tribune *delved into this topic Wednesday, discussing a handful of Vikings before deciding on quarterback Case Keenum and safety Harrison Smith to be at the top of his list. Rand wrote the following of Keenum:
*He hasn't been the best player on the field for the Vikings during the first half of the season, but you could build momentum for calling him the most important one. The Vikings were 2-2 when they re-inserted Sam Bradford into the lineup for a Monday night game in Chicago. Bradford aggravated his knee injury and looked uncomfortable for the first half. Keenum stepped in and helped Minnesota to a victory – and three more since then. His Total QBR suggests Keenum has been among the top third of NFL quarterbacks this season. *
Rand said that Smith has taken an "already very good skill set to another level" in his sixth season in Purple through a combination of "smart blitzes, solid run defense" as well as executing in the passing game.
It has added up to Pro Football Focus's highest grade of any safety this season (93.7). Let's not forget, too, it was Smith's interception at Chicago with the score tied 17-17 that set up Minnesota's game-winning field goal in a season-defining game.
Other players included in Rand's consideration were Adam Thielen, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr. He added the disclaimer that others could have been included on the list, specifying "a few defensive players … and the entire Vikings offensive line."
Revamped offensive line tabbed as Vikings 'most impactful' offseason move
The Vikings made several moves over the offseason that have had a positive impact on Minnesota's season thus far, including adding new names through free agency and adding young players through the draft.
In a recent article, ESPN's Mike Sando took a look at each of the NFL's 32 teams and identified which offseason move he felt has had the greatest impacted for its respective club. It can't be denied that signing Keenum and drafting Dalvin Cook greatly benefited the Vikings; but according to Sando, their focus on revamping the offensive line has been most significant. He wrote:
Left tackle Riley Reiff and right tackle Mike Remmers were the veteran additions Minnesota targeted to stabilize an offensive line that struggled in 2016. The moves have paid off better than some evaluators expected (though some still aren't convinced). The Vikings are averaging 120 yards rushing per game and 4.0 yards per carry, up from 75.3 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry last season. The sack rate has dropped from 6.5 percent to 3.6 percent, even though Minnesota is throwing longer passes and taking more time before the pass on average.
And as far as Minnesota's NFC North rivals? Sando said the Packers were right to keep Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, Detroit's biggest move was adding T.J. Lang to the offensive line, and Chicago's surprising trade up to draft Mitchell Trubisky has proven worth it.
Washington's 4-4 record can be deceiving
When the Vikings travel to Washington this weekend for Sunday's matchup, they hold a two-game advantage over the east coast team.
John Holler of Viking Update emphasized, however, that Washington's 4-4 record can be deceiving. He wrote:
Since [its] playoff loss to Green Bay in the 2015 playoffs, Washington has played 25 games and has a record of 12-12-1. That has rolled over into 2017. The Redskins are 4-4, but when you take a closer look, Washington is far from mediocre and not to be taken lightly.
Given the current standings, there may not have been a bigger gauntlet a team has had to face in its first 10 games of the season than what the 2017 Redskins have faced. Their four road games this season have been against the 6-2 Rams, the 6-3 Chiefs, the 7-1 Eagles and the 5-3 Seahawks.
Holler pointed out that Washington's schedule doesn't appear to get easier, as it faces back-to-back 6-2 teams in Minnesota and New Orleans. He said that Washington's stats are "average" both offensively and defensively but should be evaluated with consideration of its opponents.
According to Holler, Washington is a "battle-tested" team that has plenty of talent and "shouldn't be trifled with."