MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)
OPEN CAMP: July 25 (rookies), July 28 (veterans), Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, Eagan, Minnesota
LAST YEAR: Despite losing starting QB Sam Bradford after season opener and rookie RB Dalvin Cook in fourth game, both to knee injuries, Vikings rode backup QB Case Keenum and league-leading defense to second-most wins in franchise history. Beat Saints on last-second 61-yard TD pass from Keenum to WR Stefon Diggs in play dubbed “Minneapolis Miracle,” before being trounced by Eagles in NFC championship game to miss chance of becoming NFL’s first Super Bowl host to play in game.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, WR Kendall Wright, OG Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O’Neill.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: Keenum, Bradford, RB Jerick McKinnon, RG Joe Berger, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, QB Teddy Bridgewater, OL Jeremiah Sirles.
CAMP NEEDS: Cousins must continue to build chemistry with Diggs, WR Adam Thielen, TE Kyle Rudolph and rest of receivers, but even more important is establishment of healthy line in front of him. RT Rashod Hill will be in spotlight after taking most of first-team reps in spring practices while Mike Remmers moved to RG, and C Pat Elflein has catching up to do with Cousins on cadence and calls; Elflein was out of team drills all offseason in recovery from shoulder, ankle injuries. Cook looks to step back in as starting tailback 10 months after ACL surgery. First-round draft pick Hughes will have opportunity to earn jobs as primary KR and nickel CB.
EXPECTATIONS: As high as ever, with fully guaranteed contract for Cousins and under-radar signing of Richardson to supplement one of league’s most stacked rosters. With Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Anthony Barr on expiring contracts and handful of defense’s stars nearing, at, or over 30, time is now for team’s first title. Repeating last year’s record won’t be easy, with questions remaining on offensive line, where Berger’s retirement created opening, and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks.