Mike Zimmer (Bengals @ Vikings)
Mike Zimmer is this week’s Top Dog because he’s built a real program in Minnesota. Every head coach, of course, wants to build a winning team for the season, but you know you’ve arrived when you’ve built a team that can win in every season. And that’s what Zimmer has constructed.
Zimmer has built a team that can win inside and outside. It can score with any team, and it’s defense is as dominant as any other team. He has experienced coaches – OC Pat Shurmur is a former head coach who may get a second chance in 2018, and former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano has rebuilt the offensive line. And he’s nurturing rising young assistants, anonymous now, but you’ll be hearing about coaches such as QB coach Kevin Stefanski and assistant WR coach Drew Petzing in years to come.
Zimmer also has done an impressive job managing much adversity, including his own (numerous eye surgeries). He’s lost key players to knee injuries (Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook), and yet, the program he’s building continues to get better. That’s evidenced by the Vikings’ consistent play and growing resilience. In Week 14, they fell behind by two possessions late in the game at Carolina. Past Vikings teams weren’t built to overcome or challenge that kind of situation, but not anymore. The Vikings fought back, and while they eventually lost the game, they put the game in jeopardy for the Panthers.
Zimmer’s taken the Vikings to new heights, and with a lot of rising young players on the roster (e.g., Stefon Diggs, Anthony Barr, Adam Barr, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes), he’s created expectations. It’s been a long time since there were real expectations of the Vikings, but 2017 could be the year the Vikings claim that elusive Super Bowl title.