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"I think physically and from a talent level, this is the best team I've ever been on."
Vikings QB Brett Favre following Sunday's 28 point win over St. Louis
This conversation came up in the media room at Winter Park on Monday: this Vikings team could be the franchise's best since ... '98 (15-1, lost in NFC Championship game)? '76 (11-2-1, lost in the Super Bowl)?
The Vikings are No. 1 in the NFL in take-away, give-away ratio at +8. They are top-three in third-down efficiency, top-five in points per game, and top-10 in points given up.
They have as much elite talent as any team in the league. QB Brett Favre, through five games, has been the best signal-caller in the division. You wouldn't trade RB Adrian Peterson for anyone. The stats say they have the best third-down running back in the NFL in Chester Taylor. All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson hasn't missed a game since 2002 and the experts who study O-line play say he is as good as it gets. Wide receiver Sidney Rice is fully healthy and like many before him -- Greg Jennings, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Brandon Marshall, Chad OchoCinco, and Terrell Owens -- is really playing well in his third year. Wide receiver Percy Harvin is dangerous anytime he gets the ball and WR Bernard Berrian averaged over 20 yards per catch last season. TE Vistanthe Shiancoe is maybe the hardest worker on the team and since the middle of last year, is scoring almost a touchdown per game.
The defense takes away the ball and sacks the opponent per pass play as much as any team in the league. So far, Jared Allen is arguably the league's defensive player of the year. Kevin Williams is still playing at a high level. Head coach Brad Childress said during training camp that linebacker E.J. Henderson, fully recovered from last year's toe injury, is faster now ... and he appears to be right. Linebacker Chad Greenway continues to make plays. Safety Tyrell Johnson has gotten better, just rewatch the win over the Rams. Cornerback Cedric Griffin is in the best shape of his life. The other starting cornerback, Antoine Winfield, is top-10 at his position and nickel back Benny Sapp is playing very well.
This Vikings team is capable of winning 12 or 13 games, capturing the division, and gaining a first-round playoff bye. I will hold off on any postseason predictions because so many variables need to be factored in (injuries, matchups, coaching). This should be noted: we need to see Favre perform in December. Over the last four years in regular season games from Dec. 1 and beyond, he has 13 touchdowns and 31 interceptions.
OK, so this year's Vikings team could be special. We know for a fact that Favre's '96 Super Bowl winning Packers team was special. They led the NFL in points scored and fewest points surrendered becoming the first team since the '72 Dolphins to accomplish both feats. Their take-away, give-away ratio was +15. They had two solid running backs, Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens, who were also great receivers. They had two great tight ends -- Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura. They had good wide receivers -- Robert Brooks until he got hurt, Antonio Freeman, and Don Beebe. Fullback William Henderson was also utilized.
Defensively, Reggie White was a stud. Safeties Leroy Butler and Eugene Robinson, cornerback Doug Evans, and linebacker George Koonce all had career years. D-linemen Santana Dotson and Sean Jones consistently got to the quarterback. The defense also was very fortunate to not suffer any notable injuries.
The Packers' special teams with punt returner Desmond Howard (three TDs) was magnificent. Beebe also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Punter Craig Hentrich was above-average.
Favre also played on a great team in 2007 in Green Bay.
Bottom line: for the first time in his career, Favre is off to a 5-0 start, so his giddiness is understood, but it's too early to suggest that this Vikings team is better than the '96 Packers.