The State of the State: Iowa

June 27, 2023

The NFC North still runs through Minnesota

Despite the hype surrounding the Lions, it’s the Vikings division to lose

Newsflash: The Minnesota Vikings won 13 games en route to an NFC North division title last season.

Here in July of 2023 – just three months before the new season begins – that sounds like old news. But it’s worth reviewing the headline. How quickly the football world forgets how good Minnesota truly was last season. The Vikings’ unceremonious exit from the first round of the playoffs, a 31-24 home loss to the Giants, left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, but still… thirteen wins? That’s a lot, for any team in any division.

Here’s what else fans and pundits have forgotten: The Detroit Lions won nine games. That’s a nice rebound for a team that’s been down for a long, long time. Often the laughingstock of old “Norris” Division, the Lions are definitely trending upward.

But has Detroit really surpassed the Vikings?

That’s a pretty big stretch, but one that many believe will happen, is happening, or has already happened. It feels like a great time to subtly make a suggestion:

Pump the brakes on the Lions.

Everyone loves the story. Everyone loves the rough and tumble approach of Dan Campbell. And everyone loves an underdog.

Bettors, conversely, should have an appreciation for consistency (the Vikings have finished 1st or 2nd in their division in six of the last eight seasons). Bettors appreciate a reliable quarterback (last season, Kirk Cousins ranked 4th in passing yards and 5th in TD passes and started in all 17 games). Bettors can also appreciate a team that recognizes its weaknesses and address them in the offseason (the Vikings said goodbye to passive defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and brought in Brian Flores who will employee a more aggressive brand of defense).

Keep in mind that Minnesota won 13 games and posted the second-most yardage allowed per game (388.7) last season. Surely, that statistic can be improved upon.

Fundamentally, the Vikings are still built on a solid foundation. If the defense improves – even marginally – they should be a better football team. Perhaps the drop in season win-total (from 13 to 8.5) can be attributed to the schedule, which features the entire AFC West, road trips to Philly and Cincy, and a Week 7 Monday Night thriller against the 49ers. The Lions have a similar schedule minus the Eagles, Bengals and Niners, but they add back road trips to Dallas, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. 

If you don’t like Minnesota’s dangerous schedule, that’s understandable. But for the Vikings to dip four games would mean bigger problems exits. And even if you’re on the Lions bandwagon, expecting the Lions to make a leap to 11 or 12 wins feels like it could be a herculean effort.

Let’s willingly concede that the gap between the Lions and Vikings has been narrowed. But simultaneously, let’s not assume the Lions can easily overtake a team that won 13 games a season ago. For now, go ahead and bet the over on Minnesota’s win total (8.5 at -130). But better yet, put your smart money on the Vikings – who are not the favorite – to win the NFC North again; that pays handsomely at +260.

Steve Quinne’s pick: Minnesota to win NFC North in 2023 +260