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Minnesota Vikings rising as Adrian Peterson rejoins young core

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Finally, the NBA Finals are tipping off. LeBron James is back -- making his fifth consecutive Finals appearance -- and better than ever. That's great for the NBA. It's also fantastic to have some fun, new blood in the Golden State Warriors, an exhilarating team filled with fresh-faced stars. The "Dubs" are in the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years.

Yes, I'm excited for the Finals (LeBron in six, by the way). And the Warriors' presence got me thinking about another young sports team on the rise, another thrilling outfit that hasn't been to the championship round in nearly four decades.

Enter the Minnesota Vikings.

Now, let's get one thing straight: I'm not predicting that the 2015 Vikings are a Super Bowl team. (In a related story, though, I didn't think Golden State would make the NBA Finals back in the preseason ...) But I do think Minnesota is an up-and-coming bunch that oozes youth and likeability, akin to the Warriors. And yes, the Vikings could surprise many people with how good they are this season.

Make no mistake: The NFC North belongs to the Green Bay Packers. It's Aaron Rodgers' world and we are just living in it. Print the T-shirts. Green Bay will win the division in 2015 and deserves to be a -- if not the -- Super Bowl favorite.

But you can make a very intelligent argument that Minnesota will be the second-best team in the division -- and very well could be playoff-bound.

While the Vikings are on the rise, the Lions are on the decline. Detroit will take a step back sans Ndamukong Suh. Losing Nick Fairley hurts, too. I don't think Matthew Stafford is truly a big-time quarterback and don't believe Jim Caldwell distinguishes himself as a difference-making coach.

The Chicago Bears, one of the NFL's most disappointing teams in 2014, should be better with John Fox's energy ... but it's tough to buy into the idea they'll take a major step forward when the starting lineup still includes Jay Cutler at quarterback.

So let's get back to the subject at hand: the ascending Vikings.

As I previously penned, I loved what Minnesota did in this year's draft, beginning with the perfect acquisition of top corner prospect Trae Waynes in Round 1. Inside linebacker Eric Kendricks (Round 2) and offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings (Round 4) were splendid value picks at positions of need.

Such draft dexterity is nothing new for the Vikes. Since Rick Spielman's promotion to general manager in 2012, Minnesota has drafted guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Barr, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Jerick McKinnon, Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton. That's a fine job of talent collection, creating a strong young core to build around.

And, of course, the guy to push the Vikings from young and exciting to contender is Adrian Peterson.

Despite months of speculation, Peterson was never going anywhere. The Vikings were not going to allow Peterson to drive the bus out of town when his own actions of child endangerment fostered the apparent discontent in the first place. The Vikes weren't going to trade him or give him a new contract. (He's already the highest-paid running back in NFL history, after all.) Peterson simply needed to show up and play football.

And this week, he did.

So now, the Vikings can dream big.

I thought Peterson sounded genuine at his press conference on Tuesday, discussing therapy sessions and what he has learned about parenting and disciplining his children. He sounded like an improved person. I hope he is.

If that's the case, and if he's focused on football, Peterson will immediately regain his spot as a top-five running back in the NFL. Truthfully, he has a golden opportunity to reclaim his title as the league's best runner and establish himself as a legit MVP candidate. That's not hyperbole -- it's actually my legit expectation for Peterson in 2015. He'll get back to being Adrian "All Day" Peterson, a peerless presence in the ground game. And the domino effect in Minnesota will be huge.

Peterson's rugged dominance will aid the young defense, of course, keeping the unit fresh by eating up time of possession for the Vikings. But the biggest beneficiary will be Bridgewater, who rocked steady during a solid rookie campaign conducted mostly without Peterson. Now, the entire emphasis of the opposition's defensive game plan will be to stop No. 28. This takes the pressure off Bridgewater, and it could also open things up for the ultra-disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson, who flopped miserably with increased expectations last season.

It's worth jogging the mental rolodex to last offseason, when Peterson told me on SiriusXM how excited he was to work for coordinator Norv Turner. Peterson is a perfect fit in this offense. And Turner deserves credit for superbly coaching up Bridgewater. I'm not a fan or believer in Mike Wallace at receiver, but Norv gives him a fighting chance to re-establish himself as the downfield terror he was during his halcyon days in Pittsburgh.

Speaking of capable coaches: Mike Zimmer is a stud. I banged the drum for Zimmer to get a head-coaching job for quite some time, and he's certainly proving his worth in Minnesota. He handled the Peterson situation with aplomb. On Tuesday, the running back lauded the coach: "He's just one of those guys, one of those coaches, that you really don't want to disappoint because you understand, you're able to see that he has the same passion for the game as you." Zimmer is indeed a fabulous leader of men. He is intense and meticulous, yet players love playing for him. The Vikings' defense jumped from 31st to 14th in Zimmer's first year at the helm. No surprise there -- he's succeeded with far less talent at prior stops. It's scary to think what he'll do as this young defense truly comes into its own.

I think the Packers, Seahawks and Cardinals are better than the Vikings in the NFC. I believe the Eagles will win the NFC East -- as I wrote on Tuesday -- and somebody (New Orleans?) has to win the South.

Who will snag the conference's sixth playoff bid? Are the Vikings in position to win more games than the Cowboys (who lost DeMarco Murray), Giants, Redskins, Rams, Panthers, Bucs and Falcons? Sure. The only team listed that gives me pause is Dallas, because of the presence of a supreme quarterback in Tony Romo.

I'm not predicting a Warriors-type run for 2015. But when the Vikings open their new stadium in 2016, this team should be ready for prime time. And in the meantime, the Vikings can add some sizzle and spice to their league.

It's time to make a splash, brother.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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