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Adrian Peterson's immense talents help make the Vikings favorites in the NFC North.


NFC North preview:

Bears: QB holds key | Lions: Tampa north | Packers: Rodgers' neighborhood | Vikings: Ready to take charge

The Vikings are putting together a team that likely would have been much more at home in the old Metropolitan Stadium than in the climate-controlled Metrodome, as they depend on a punishing running game behind Adrian Peterson and a terrific defensive line.

Many of the preseason forecasts believe that will be enough for the Vikings, who have missed the playoffs three years running, to take charge in the NFC North. They certainly showed signs in the second half of the 2007 season, running off five consecutive victories before losing the last two games to finish 8-8.

2008 forecast
Vic Carucci : The dominance of their defense and Adrian Peterson's running give the Vikings the fundamental ingredients of a contender. Tarvaris Jackson's quarterback play will determine whether they're a strong one. Prediction: 10-6

Thomas George : Clearly the class of this division. Quarterback play decides how far they'll go. Prediction: 11-5

Pat Kirwan : How much the Vikings need Tarvaris Jackson to win games late will decide their fate in 2008. The defense and running game can win games, and with Brett Favre gone the division is wide open. Prediction: 10-6

Gil Brandt : After leading the league in rushing offense and defense last year, the additions of WR Bernard Berrian and Jared Allen will help the pass offense and defense, respectively. QB Tarvaris Jackson needs to be better and more consistent. Prediction: 10-6

» Vikings' 2008 schedule
Fantasy file
Riser: Tarvaris Jackson
Jackson has a terrific backfield support and a new weapon in Bernard Berrian in the passing game, so he'll have a chance to produce the best numbers of his career.

Faller: Chester Taylor
Taylor will receive his share of carries, but Adrian Peterson is without question the centerpiece of Minnesota's offense. He would have 1,000-yard potential on another team.

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Then again, four of the five victories came against teams that finished the year with a losing record.

Nonetheless, Peterson's big rookie year (1,341 yards rushing, 5.6 a carry) and the addition of defensive end Jared Allen, via trade, to a line that already included Pat Williams and Kevin Williams have given the Vikings big hopes.

Minnesota, which runs a version of the West Coast offense, also signed a receiver Bernard Berrian away from division rival Chicago. The hopes is Berrian will stretch the field and keep defenses from stacking up against Peterson and his reliable backup, Chester Taylor. Last year, Taylor rushed for 844 yards and his 5.4 average tied for second in the league, behind Peterson, among the NFL's top 30 rushers.

Of course, the Vikings' strategy will work only if quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, beginning his second season as a starter, can develop into a reliable passer and stay on the field. He's been hobbled by a string of minor injuries in his two years. And Peterson's success will depend in part on the blocking of new fullback Thomas Tapeh, signed as a free agent to replace Pro Bowler Tony Richardson, who signed with the Jets.

The addition of Allen, who led the league with 15½ sacks last year, notwithstanding, there also are questions about the defense. In 2007, the Vikings allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league but the most passing yards. They signed Madieu Williams to play free safety but he missed most of training camp due to a neck injury. The hope is that Allen will beef up the pass rush enough to protect the secondary.

On the hot seat

Tight end Visante Shiancoe was signed as a free agent a year ago for big money, and tight end is a critical position in the West Coast offense, particularly in the passing game. But Shiancoe had just 27 catches for 323 yards last season, and the Vikings need much more production out of that position.

Difference-maker

Although Darren Sharper made the Pro Bowl at free safety last season, he did not play as well as he had in the past. The Vikings need Sharper to regain the form he had in 2005, his first season with Minnesota, when he led the NFC with nine interceptions. He had only four each of the last two years.

Hard road to hoe

The Vikings need to be ready early. They open the season at Green Bay, come home to play Indianapolis and Carolina, then travel to Tennessee and New Orleans.

Vikings will be better than you think if ...

Tarvaris Jackson develops at quarterback, improves his completion percentage and limits turnovers and other mistakes.

Vikings will be worse than you think if ...

They can't stop the passing game on defense again. They believe that task will fall more to the defensive backs now that they have added a significant pass rusher in Allen.

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