The Vikings dethroned Green Bay to take over as NFC North division champs in 2015, and this year they hope to repeat it.
In a video segment Tuesday, NFL Media's Brian Baldinger delved into the Vikings offseason and said he thinks they can retain the division title in 2016. In addition to improvements by the Vikings defense under Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Baldinger emphasized the additions Minnesota has made on the offensive line:
"I think, defensively, Mike Zimmer's really molding one of the better young defenses in this league," said Baldinger. "I think what they did in the offseason, whether it was bringing in Alex Boone or Andre Smith – who I thought was one of the best run blocking right tackles in all of football – from Cincinnati … You give Adrian Peterson probably even more holes up front.
"I think this team got better in the offseason," Baldinger added. "I don't think that 11-5 record a year ago, including that Week 17 game where they went to Green Bay to win the division, I don't think that was a fluke."
NFL Media's Colleen Wolfe joined the discussion as well, pointing out that wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, whom the Vikings drafted 23rd overall, will add another tool on offense for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Baldinger agreed.
"I like the fact that you have a guy like [Vikings Offensive Coordinator] Norv Turner there kind of molding [the offense]," Baldinger said. "I think he's done a good job of protecting Teddy to this point, really working the run game. He has a new weapon here – I do think that 'Teddy to Tready' is going to stick around.
"I think, as they say in this world right now, the Vikings are trending north," Baldinger added.
Vikings offensive line one of NFL's most improved position groups
Pro Football Focus on Tuesday looked at all 32 NFL teams and opined on the 10 most-improved position groups across the league heading into the 2016 season. The Vikings offensive line came in at No. 8.
The Vikings signed guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith in free agency; the two were given PFF grades of 65 and 39.6, respectively. They also will be getting veterans John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt back from injuries. Nathan Jahnke wrote the following:
*If everyone returns to playing their best football, the Vikings could own one of the best offensive lines in football this season (when you include both starters and backups). *
Jahnke said that Boone has graded above average each season he's played, and that he ranked as a top-three guard in the NFL during his peak performances.
[Boone] is projected to play left guard, which moves Brandon Fusco back to right guard. 2013 was Fusco's last full year at right guard, and he was a top-five run blocker that season. While Smith had a down year in 2015 with Cincinnati, at his best he was a first-team PFF All-Pro. Throw in the return of John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt, and the line has the potential to be special.