"Thanks. Can get a lot better."
Some will posit the Vikings' 5-0 start as one of the early-season NFL surprises. The Vikings themselves are not surprised. They have believed, through the entire offseason and after major injuries to their quarterback, star running back and left tackle, that they were built to withstand anything and win a championship. The evidence we've seen so far makes it tough to argue.
Sunday, the Vikings wiped the floor of their new stadium with the Houston Texans, a 2015 playoff team that has its own designs on the postseason. The Vikings are 2½ games ahead of the Packers in the NFC North, and one of their five wins is a head-to-head victory over Green Bay. The Vikings have a pass defense that's allowing just 210 air yards per game and a turnover differential of plus-11 through five games.
This is no mirage. The Vikings traded their first-round pick for Sam Bradford a week before the start of the season because they knew they had a team built to contend for a Super Bowl title. Plenty has happened that has offered them opportunity for doubt -- the Teddy Bridgewater injury that prompted the Bradford trade, the Adrian Peterson and Matt Kalil injuries, the injury that kept top wide receiver Stefon Diggs out of Sunday's game. But people in the Vikings' building say the message from coach Mike Zimmer has been consistent throughout.
Zimmer has consistently told his team it's good enough to dream the biggest dreams even amid dizzying bad luck. And the way the Vikings are performing makes it clear they believe him.
Start with Bradford, who showed up so close to the start of the season that they actually held him out of the first game and started Shaun Hill at quarterback. Since he took over, Bradford has been exactly what the coaches need him to be -- a smart, steady, competent leader of the offense. He has a 70.4 completion percentage with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. The Vikings believed when they acquired Bradford that they could run a play-action game and let him take shots down the field, and he has. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bradford connected on five of his first six throws of 25 or more yards this season, and two of those were touchdowns.
The Vikings thought Bradford could do what they needed him to do, and even though they were crushed to lose Peterson, they had a template in place from two years ago to build a run game around Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. They're pleased with what they've seen from the offensive linemen who have had to step into larger roles. The offense has not turned the ball over once. It is doing its job.
But what makes these Vikings a Super Bowl contender is the defense, especially against the pass. Opposing passers are completing just 55.5 percent of their passes against Minnesota, averaging 209.8 yards per game with four touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Vikings have sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times for a total of 135 lost yards. The quarterbacks they played before they waxed Brock Osweiler on Sunday were Marcus Mariota, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning.
This Vikings start is real, and it's sustainable. No, they aren't going to win all 16 games or go through the season without a turnover. But you can make a strong case that they have already made it through the toughest part of their season -- the one in which their whole offense fell apart thanks to injuries, and they had to face a run of MVP and Super Bowl quarterbacks. Zimmer doesn't have to keep telling his team it's good enough to contend for a title. At this point, they've figured that out for themselves.