Now, hear me out. Last year, after Favre signed with the Vikings, I took the unpopular position in this post that Favre would make the team really good. Just the way he was able to ride in at the last moment to essentially “rescue” a team many thought had stalled made for a very good set up – from a psychological perspective. He and the team were in a great frame of mind heading into the season – on an emotional honeymoon if you will, even if you won’t, they were on an emotional honeymoon. I was immediately convinced he would make the team very good (or at least as good as a Viking team could be…falling just short of championship caliber). In fact, in the above post from last August I wrote: “The Vikes will be very good (with Favre)…now that Favre has signed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see MN make it to the playoffs, maybe even win a game at home, and then get blown out when Favre folds under pressure.” That’s sort of what happened anyway (though the Saints did not blow them out).
But fast forward to this year and I think things have been set up very differently heading into the season. Before this apparent retirement announcement came, I had the Vikings going 7-9 this year. Seriously. The Packers will be good and the Bears will be very good too – surprising a lot of folks. The Lions won’t be bad. (Official predictions coming out in the coming weeks.) But I was sure the Vikings would struggle – just like I was sure they’d be good last year. Here’s why. First of all, lots of people have been expecting Favre to come back. They were expecting him to lead the team to another really good season. There hasn’t been quite the feeling compared to years past that he would opt for retirement – many have felt all along he’d be back in Minnesota at the end of August. Had Favre opted to come back, he would have been facing far more pressure this year than last year because the team played so well last year – and he played as well as he’s played in years. There would have been higher expectations for his performance and for the team in general and Favre has struggled with the weight of expectations in recent years. Throw in there a balky ankle and I can see why the prospect of heading up to Minnesota for another grueling season may not look as good right now as it did last year. Of course, some might argue that he’s making noise about possibly retiring now in an effort to diminish expectations for the team/him so that he can sail back in at the last minute and lead the team in 2010. Who knows?
(I have to admit, there is one other rather big reason I had the Vikes at 7-9 this year, even with Favre – the loss of Chester Taylor. While Toby Gerhart may not be bad, the loss of Taylor will quietly eat at this team all year. Whenever you can hand off or throw to a savvy veteran back-up and not lose much in terms of yards-per-carry and even gain something w/re to receiving skills, you’ve got a high quality back-up. Taylor also managed to pick-up blitzes fairly effectively for Favre last year (except against New Orleans). Taylor is a guy who probably could have been a starter on many teams over the last few years. I’m telling you, we’ll feel the Chester Taylor effect this year when playing against the Bears and the Vikes will feel his absence.)
Again, while nobody is positive re how this will eventually play out, one thing I do know is that if Favre does not play for the Vikings this year, the team will very suddenly feel far less pressure because expectations will drop. I’ve already heard talk show people adjusting their season predictions for the Vikes negatively. I disagree because I already had them playing somewhat poorly with Favre. Less pressure will help this team this year and if Favre truly does not play, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vikes end up .500 or a game better.
But they won’t win the NFC North with or without Favre.