Team Capsules: Minnesota Vikings

August 8, 2023

© Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, the Vikings finished 13-4, rolling to the NFC North title. So, it would stand to reason that Minnesota would be the favorite to repeat in 2023. After all, the competition in their division consists of a team that earned the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, a franchise trying to replace a future Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the league’s perennial cellar dwellers.

But that’s not the case. Instead, Kevin O’Connell’s team isn’t getting a lot of hype. The Vikings are sailing squarely under the radar.

People expect the Bears to take a step forward. The Lions are a trendy pick. And the Jordan Love believers aren’t counting out the Packers just yet.

Where does that leave the Vikings? Well, that’s tough to say.

What to like about the Vikings…

  • Justin Jefferson is special. Last year’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year is the best wide receiver in a league full of dynamic playmakers. In 2022, he racked up 1,809 yards. Making a run at 2,000 is a legitimate goal for this season. Minnesota’s offense goes through their fourth-year wideout, especially now that Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook have departed.
  • The Netflix documentary series “Quarterback” seems to have shed a new light on Kirk Cousins. Suddenly, the Minnesota QB is held in higher regard than he was before the show debuted. It’s a classic example of perception suddenly matching up with reality. Because for years Cousins has been a very good quarterback. Last year, he threw for 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns. He’s thrown for more than 37,000 yards and 250 touchdowns during his career. And with a Pro Bowl nod in three of the last four seasons, Cousins is perhaps just hitting his stride heading into his 12th year.
  • Brian Flores takes over for Ed Donatell as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator. It’ll be a welcome change. A season ago, the Vikings defense was ranked 31st in the NFL, giving up an average of 388.7 yards per game. It’s hard to imagine that things won’t be better with the former Dolphins head coach at the helm.

What not to like about the Vikings…

  • Last year’s 13-4 record was a bit of a mirage. On the season, Minnesota had a negative point differential. No other team in NFL history has won 12 or more games while being outscored. The Vikings did it by going a perfect 11-0 in games decided by one score or less. The law of averages suggests that’s going to even out, with a bounce or two going against Minnesota this time around.
  • It seemed like a mass exodus during the offseason from the defending NFC North champs. Cook and Thielen were the big losses on offense. But it didn’t end there. Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson and Za’Darius Smith are departures from the other side of the ball. That’s a lot of talent that has left Minnesota since last season’s playoff loss to the Giants.
  • Cousins puts up really good numbers, but his ability to win games has always been a question mark. Prior to last season, the quarterback was 59-59-2 during his career. That’s the definition of mediocre, which is the No. 1 reason why he’s earned that reputation in Washington and Minnesota. Last season feels like the aberration.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Vikings under 8.5 wins (+110)

A five-game regression would be massive. That’d be the football equivalent of falling off a cliff. But things appear headed that way in Minnesota. In reality, the Vikings should’ve won seven or eight games last season; they were very, very fortunate to amass the win total that they did. Given the fact that this year’s roster isn’t as talented, it’s hard to imagine them pulling another rabbit out of the hat.