Once again, it's May and the Vikings look like they could manage to steal the division. That's how I referred to the Vikings last year; they would storm their way to a 13-3 season and put things on cruise control for the NFC North. Part of that was Aaron Rodgers getting hurt, but Minnesota was a dominant team on both sides of the ball.
Gone is Case Keenum, replaced by Kirk Cousins via one of the biggest free-agency signings in recent years. Pat Shumur left to take the Giants coaching job, and he was replaced by John DeFillipo, the former Eagles quarterbacks coach.
Minnesota was 60 minutes away from playing for a Super Bowl title on its home field. It's hard for a berth in the NFC Championship Game to qualify as a disappointing season, but the Vikings certainly had higher aspirations. This year things are no different, with the Vikings heading into what could be a three-year window to really make a push for a title in the Great North.
It should be no surprise, then, that Vegas jacked the total on Minnesota's wins for the season,.
What will the Vikings offense look like with Kirk Cousins under center? Anthony Broome of 247 Sports joins Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break it down, plus look at the Vikings draft and more. It's a daily dose of football in your podcast app inbox by 6 a.m. to get you right for that commute or gym trip. Subscribe: via iTunes | via Stitcher | via TuneIn | via Google Play
Why They'll Go Over
The Vikings defense is just going to be a top-five unit in the NFL again this year. I can't find any real logic why they would magically fall off a cliff, not with all the talent at the three levels on this roster. They added Sheldon Richardson to Linval Joseph, Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter. That is filthy. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr are excellent linebackers with different skillsets. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are elite talents in the secondary. Trae Waynes might blossom this year if Mike Zimmer's history with defensive backs is any indication, and the team also picked up Mike Hughes just in case. Minnesota's done a really nice job creating a talent pipeline to ensure longevity and depth. On offense, if the offensive line is good and Dalvin Cook stays healthy for a full season, this should be an explosive unit again. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are underrated and Cousins could take things to the next level.
I keep thinking back to the stretch of games after their bye last year when they almost beat the Lions, Falcons and Panthers in back-to-back-to-back weeks ... on the road. This is just a mentally tough team who manages to grind people out with its defense. Zimmer's a great coach who doesn't fully get the recognition he deserves. If Cousins spikes this offense, the Vikings are going to win a lot of games.
Why They'll Go Under
What if Cousins and the offense fail to adjust early? This is a new quarterback and a new coach in a new city with new personnel after all. It's not a given that everything will go smoothly. Thielen talked about working with Cousins and admitted it takes some time to get on the same page with a new quarterback. The same team with a healthy and productive Sam Bradford managed an 8-8 season in 2016 after all. And that was after starting 5-0 out of the gate. The NFL is hard.
It's hard to see this team just totally cratering because of the defense and the coaching, but 10 wins is a ton in the NFL, even for a good team. A few bad breaks, a couple of injuries to key players (or a quarterback) and a disappointing 9-7 season is on you faster than you realize.
Early Schedule Analysis
The Vikings have a couple of trendy teams out of the gate, including the 49ers in Week 1. They're surprisingly only five-point favorites against San Francisco in that game. Road games against the Packers (Week 2), Rams (Week 4) and Eagles (Week 5) are tough sledding early, but 6-3 is a perfectly reasonable record heading into their Week 10 bye considering the schedule. I see them going 5-2 after the bye, with losses at the Patriots and at the Seahawks; that's an 11-5 season that gets the over. So it wouldn't be stunning if they managed to "only" win 10 games, but I think the schedule is pretty favorable considering the teams they have to play and the road games they have to navigate.
What They're Saying
"I'm going to stop short of saying [Kirk Cousins[ he becomes Drew Brees and makes this giant leap with his next team, but I could see elements of that happening. He's in a place he knows he's going to be. He's got great playmakers around him. Everyone's back this year, in terms of the key guys. And you've got one of the best offensive minds in the league in terms of John De Fillipo pulling the strings there.
"The expectations is not just win the division and go to the playoffs anymore. I don't want to say this is the last year of their championship window, but this is the last year everyone's under contract ... all hands are on deck right now."
-- Anthony Broome of 247 Sports on the Pick Six Podcast
Taking the over on 10 wins is a tough sell, but the Vikings are a loaded team on both sides of the ball, capable of locking down any offense and potentially being an explosive offense with the addition of Cousins. I like the schedule, even if it's got those tough road games.