Season grade: Near perfection. A lot of Vikings fans won't see it that way after such a disappointing blowout loss in Philadelphia, but that doesn't discount everything the franchise did to get to this point. There were a number of imperfect moments this season, but Minnesota shattered expectations for its eventual doom after losing its Week 1 starting quarterback and top running back. The Vikings were built for survival because they took care of major needs in the offseason (rebuilding the offensive line, finding a reliable backup quarterback and extending the contracts of several defensive stars a year before they were up) and didn't have to scramble when injuries occurred by forcing a trade or signing free agents.
Season in review: A year after everything possible went awry for the Vikings, things were looking up in 2017. But when Minnesota lost Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook three weeks later, the season didn't spiral out of control. Case Keenum was the de facto starter after Week 2 and once it was determined that Bradford's knee wasn't healthy in his brief Week 5 return, Keenum came in and led the Vikings to a critical road win in Chicago that sparked an eight-game win streak. He finished 12-4 as a starter, including the playoffs. Minnesota won the NFC North for a second time since 2015 and grabbed critical road wins in Washington, Detroit, Atlanta and Green Bay. The defense finished No. 1 in total yards (275.9) and points allowed (15.2) for the first time since 1970 and returned to the playoffs after securing a first-round bye. Minnesota beat New Orleans in thrilling fashion in the divisional round before dropping a heartbreaker at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.
Biggest play of season: The Minneapolis Miracle, of course. No matter what happens from here on out, Keenum and Stefon Diggs will always be revered for the first walk-off touchdown in the fourth quarter of a postseason NFL game. When the Vikings were up against the wall in a clash with the Saints, Keenum proved the the offense didn't need to rely on its defense to win the game. The quarterback launched a 61-yard bomb to Diggs, who made the catch, avoiding a tackle and ran all the way to the end zone.
Defensively, here are a few of the most memorable plays: Anthony Barr's hit on Aaron Rodgers, Everson Griffen's post-sack baby announcement in Detroit, Harrison Smith's game winning interception in Chicago.
He said it: "Being a kid growing up, that's what you do in the backyard. Thirty seconds to go, down by two. Fourth quarter, playoffs. Drew Brees is the QB. That's what you dream about." -- Keenum on the Minneapolis Miracle
Key offseason questions:
Biggest draft need: If veteran guard Joe Berger retires, Minnesota could look for his replacement in the 2018 draft. The Vikings have a pick in the top three rounds of the draft and should be able to find another player with guard/center versatility to fill the role Berger has held down for years.
Free-agency targets: With Cook coming back from injury and Latavius Murray under contract for another two years, it's hard to believe the Vikings will be able to hang onto Jerick McKinnon, who is a free agent in 2018. The Vikings also might need to find defensive tackle depth if they don't re-sign Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen, who are upcoming free agents.
Who's the quarterback of the future? This is the most important question the Vikings will need to answer in the offseason. Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Bradford could become free agents in March. Keenum earned himself a big payday this offseason and will likely be the target of several quarterback-needy teams. The Vikings will need to decide whether they want to hand him a big deal to stay next season or turn to Bridgewater in 2018. With Bradford, though he won't get the mega-deal he was hoping for at the beginning of the year, he could end up back with the Vikings for a reduced price (possibly in a backup role) or head elsewhere.
A new offensive coordinator? Pat Shurmur is reportedly going to be named the Giants' next head coach this week. Before the Vikings decide what their quarterback situation looks like in 2018 (or maybe in conjunction with making that decision), Minnesota needs to hire a new offensive coordinator. If the Vikings look at candidates from within first, some names to consider are quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive line coach Tony Sparano. Former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and ex-Giants coach Ben McAdoo are also reportedly in the conversation to replace Shurmur.