We posed five burning questions as the 3-12 Vikings head into their final game before an offseason full of questions:
PFW: Are you buying the Vikings' stance that Adrian Peterson, especially given the way he plays, can return early next season?
TP: The first game will fall right around the eight-month mark after surgery. So, it's possible he could be on the field. But the Vikings are bracing for the possibility he won't be ready for Week One and won't be the same guy at all in 2012. By 2013, he'll be 28. He has a lot of mileage already and his game is built around lower-body explosion. This isn't Wes Welker. The better the athlete, the longer it takes to get back to 100 percent. They just gave Peterson a contract with $36 million in guarantees, so they'll see this process through, but they have to be careful to manage expectations for him next season.
PFW: Has Toby Gerhart shown enough in recent weeks that the Vikings don't need to draft an insurance back too high?
TP: I remember what an NFL general manager told me about Gerhart right after the draft: You have to feed him — he needs 20 to 25 carries to do his thing. Gerhart breaks a lot of tackles and can wear people down, and I expect he'll get the opportunity to do that. It's worth pointing out the Vikings signed Caleb King for a $5,000 bonus after he wasn't taken in the supplemental draft, and they plucked Jordan Todman off San Diego's practice squad this week. It makes a lot more sense to go that route than using another high pick on a position you've already got a lot invested in.
PFW: Is E.J. Henderson likely an ex-Viking next season? If so, is his replacement on the roster?
TP: My gut says he's gone. He'll be 32 next season. He still can play downhill, but the knee has been a problem and he just doesn't move all that well in space anymore. A lot of questions about the defense remain up in the air because there is a strong possibility of schematic changes. The most drastic would be a switch to a 3-4 defense in which E.J. Henderson, Erin Henderson (another free agent) and Jasper Brinkley (spent this season on injured reserve) all would be candidates to play inside while Chad Greenway runs around on the weak side. E.J. Henderson might have value to someone, but he's not a three-down player anymore.
PFW: Do you like what you have seen from Mistral Raymond? Do you think he could be a starter next season?
TP: Raymond needs to get his body right in the offseason. He has dropped out twice with cramps. He went to the locker room with a shoulder issue last week at Washington. He's wiry and sometimes shies from contact. The Vikings like him, but I think he needs to pack on about 10 of muscle — which you can do in your first NFL offseason through the strength-and-conditioning program. This also could depend in part on what happens with Husain Abdullah. The Vikings approached him about a contract extension in October but shut off talks once he went on I.R. with another concussion.
PFW: Other than cornerback, what position concerns you the most defensively heading toward the offseason?
TP: They need to fix the nose tackle situation. They did a deal with Remi Ayodele in the offseason, but coaches seemed to sour on him when they couldn't get him to play a tilt technique and there have been games where he plays fewer than 10 snaps. Some in the organization still like him a lot. Again, some of this will come down to scheme. He's more suited to two-gapping out of the shade than shooting gaps as Pat Williams did here for so many years. Fred Evans is so athletic but inconsistent. Letroy Guion, who is more of a three-technique, pretty much flopped.
PFW correspondent Tom Pelissero is the senior editor of 1500ESPN.com in Minneapolis. He is prolific on Twitter (@TomPelissero).