ORLANDO –The Vikings may have fallen short of the playoffs in 2016, but what they haven't lost out on is league-wide respect.
With six Vikings players receiving Pro Bowl nods as recognition of their performance this season, a number of national media members spoke highly of the way Minnesota handled adversity in 2016 and the direction the team is headed under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio said that Zimmer is continuing to build a strong roster of players and hung tough during a frustrating third season at the helm.
"It just seems that for whatever reason, there was always some obstacle in front of this Vikings team after the 5-0 start happened," Marvez told Vikings.com. "[But] this is a team that isn't very far away. They have some really good pieces."
Marvez emphasized the importance of strengthening the offensive line, assessing Adrian Peterson's role and continuing to see young wide receivers "step up" in the offense.
"I don't think the Vikings are that far off from being in the playoffs again," Marvez said.
CBS Sports' Pete Prisco believes that Minnesota responded as positively as possible to a number of difficult scenarios, specifically pushing through and finishing 8-8 after being hit severely by the injury bug.
Prisco offered kudos to Zimmer for holding the team together under difficult circumstances.
"How many teams could withstand losing their starting quarterback in [the preseason], you lose your right tackle, you lose your left tackle, you lose your running back," Prisco said. "I mean, there aren't a lot of teams that could withstand that."
The Vikings despite their mid-to-late-season struggles showed plenty of resiliency, and it did not go unnoticed.
NFL Network reporter Jane Slater covered the Vikings in Week 2 at their matchup against the Packers and again caught up with the team as Minnesota prepared to face the Cowboys in Week 13. At that point, Slater said she believed the Vikings were "the team to beat going down the stretch." Although Dallas pulled away with a narrow win, Slater said Minnesota's talent showed through as a testament to Zimmer.
"I love his intensity," Slater said of Zimmer. "I just think he's such an intense coach; I think his players feed off that.
"When you have a coach like that, when you start to see the players mirror that, you've got the right guy in that position," Slater added.
"I think that, had they not had the injuries, they could have made a real run," Slater said.
In addition to agreeing that Zimmer has been successful in leading the Vikings, a common consensus with the national talent is that the 2017 offseason holds a number of unknown variables for Minnesota.
Marvez, who during the 2016 preseason picked the Vikings to be in the Super Bowl, said the team has a number of players and contracts to consider, including Peterson and Riley Reiff, in addition to maintaining their strong defensive presence.
Also mentioned by Marvez was the strength and increasing competitiveness of the NFC North division.
"I'll tell you this – a lot more questions than answers with the Minnesota Vikings entering this offseason than there have been in recent years," Marvez said. "So it's not going to be easy, but Mike Zimmer's the right guy, [General Manager] Rick Spielman's the right guy for the job. They'll just try to get it done."
Prisco and Slater both opined that healthiness of roster will be the most important factor headed into a new season.
If the Vikings can stave off injury, Slater said the sky could be the limit.
"I think that, had they not had the injuries, they could have made a real run. And to have the eight wins they had this season, it's so hard to get eight wins in the NFL," Slater said. "I think if they get some pieces of the puzzle next year, they could make a real run at it."
Added Slater: "Of course, with the Super Bowl being in Minneapolis, that would certainly be fun."