The 2019 Minnesota Vikings had an unimpressive 10-6 regular season. You may ask how a team can win 10 games and be unimpressive. It’s simple. The schedule was soft as a roll of Charmin. They opened at home against a Falcons team that wouldn’t be ready to play for several weeks. Minnesota matched up against the AFC West for its conference crossover. Aside from the Chiefs (who they lost to on a last-second FG in a game that Patrick Mahomes did not play), the Raiders, Broncos, and Chargers were mediocre foes. It actually took a huge comeback at home and referee’s biting their whistles for the Vikings to beat Denver and go 3-1 against that division. They also played four games against the NFC Least…uh East, sweeping the Eagles, Giants, Washington Football Team (hah, you thought I’d forget), and Cowboys. Within their own division the Vikings could only beat the Lions, which honestly isn’t a big deal. Despite no wins against any legitimate teams, the Vikings circled their ships and stunned the Saints in overtime during wild card weekend. They would succumb a week later to eventual NFC Super Bowl representatives, the San Francisco 49ers, ending their season.
So, what can we expect in this strange 2020 season with little-to-no home field advantage for most teams due to COVID restrictions? The Vikings amassed 12 picks in the 2020 draft and made good use of them. They drafted Justin Jefferson in the first round to take over for a disgruntled Stefon Diggs. Jefferson has great hands and can become an excellent partner to Adam Thielen in the receiving corps. With the departures of under-performing cornerbacks, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, the Vikings drafted TCU stand out, Jeff Gladney, and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler to fill their shoes. Dantzler has been a training camp standout and Gladney possesses strong coverage skills, leading his team in pass breakups as a senior and garnering first team all-conference honors. The offensive line issues that have plagued the team in recent years were also addressed with Boise State tackle, Ezra Cleveland, being taken in the second round. The line is young and will remain suspect until we see what they can do but if 2nd year center, Garrett Bradbury, and third year tackle, Brian O’Neill continue to improve, a weakness can become a strength this season.
The Vikings added what could be a key piece on defense when they made a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for defensive end, Yannick Ngakoue. With 37.5 sacks in his first four seasons, Ngakoue pairs nicely with the Vikings other young, standout end, Danielle Hunter. The team also returns defensive stalwarts, Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith making this defense a potential top-five group.
Something to watch for this season is dynamic running back, Dalvin Cook. Cook is on the final year of his rookie contract and has something to prove. He has yet to get through a full season without injury and despite a strong start in 2019, Cook could only muster 144 yards on 47 carries in his final four regular season games. Is he worth a huge contract extension? It would take a monster 2020 for it to even be considered.
The Vikings will need their draft picks to mature quickly if the team wants to contend this season. They play the AFC South as the crossover division this season. With Hopkins gone from Houston, it is possible that the Vikings can win three or four of these matchups. No fans in Seattle gives the Vikings a golden opportunity to get the Albatross…or Seahawk from around their necks. The NFC South will be the Vikings other divisional matchup and it will not be easy. The secondary should be well-tested by the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Teddy Bridgewater. A split of these four games would be considered a success. Dallas comes to U.S. Bank this season and they have revenge on their minds. No crowd at the bank plays well for Dallas in what could be a key matchup. As for the NFC North, Green Bay is still the top dog. With the Bears QB situation in flux as they try to choose which mediocre signal caller will be the opening day starter, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Vikings win four of six within their own division.
So digesting this all, I’m playing it conservatively and giving the Vikings a 9-7 record, just missing the post season. I do this with the disclaimer that it’s football and anything can happen. If the rookies step up and perform better than expected, I can see as many as 12 wins but without preseason games I’m sticking with erring on the low end.
Football is back and we all need it now more than ever. Get that jersey to the dry cleaners, plug in your Beermeister, and let’s kick this thing off.
Editor’s Note: Featured Image from Vikings.com