2020 was more of a rebuilding season for the Minnesota Vikings, who saw mass turnover in their defense and drafted a league-high 15 players. It was Minnesota’s first sub-.500 year since head coach Mike Zimmer took over in 2014. On top of letting a couple of major defensive contributors walk in the offseason, the Vikings also had the third-most adjusted games lost on defense due to injury (according to Football Outsiders).
However, quietly, Minnesota transformed into one of the best offenses in the league thanks to a career year for RB Dalvin Cook and an all-time rookie season by WR Justin Jefferson.
Minnesota’s 2021 campaign will sink or swim based on if the defense can stay healthy if defensive whiz Zimmer can implement new pieces into his scheme, and if first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak can continue the strides made by the offense this past season.
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Minnesota Vikings to make the playoffs?
Last year was always going to be a struggle for the Vikings, who were saddled with the sixth-toughest schedule (according to Football Outsiders) and jettisoned defensive mainstays in cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph in the offseason. Furthermore, DT Michael Pierce was a preseason COVID opt-out, the Vikings lost Pro Bowl DE Danielle Hunter a week before the season started with a neck injury, and LB Anthony Barr missed the final 14 games of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. All these players should be ready to go for Week 1.
Minnesota put a lot of faith in Zimmer’s ability to coach the defense up and its amassed draft capital, but the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced practice time, OTAs, etc. for organizations.
Well, the Vikings will have a true offseason to bring the young secondary up to speed as well as mix in key defensive free agents, including DTs Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson and DBs Patrick Peterson and Xavier Woods. Another 2020 variable that hurt Minnesota’s performance that won’t be a factor this season was its reduced home-field advantage due to COVID-19 protocols that forced teams to play in empty stadiums.
From 2014 (Zimmer’s first season as Minnesota’s head coach) to 2019, the Vikings had the best home record against the spread (ATS) and the fourth-best winning percentage. In 2020, Minnesota was 3-5 overall at home and 2-6 ATS. The Vikings have one of the biggest home-field advantages in the NFL, and having their passionate fanbase back in attendance should replenish that strength.
Typically, when “sharps” are shopping for team futures prices during the preseason, they are looking for teams for whom the market is low because of hard-luck indicators that should regress in the following season. The Vikings had several of said hard-luck indicators that suggest they are due for positive regression, including injury luck, turnover margin, strength of schedule, and field goal accuracy.
When you factor in the aforementioned bad injury luck, Minnesota’s strength of schedule going from the sixth-toughest last season to the 14th-toughest this year (according to Warren Sharp), their minus-1 in turnover differential in 2020, and being dead-last in field goal accuracy, then it’s easy to how Minnesota improves.
As for the offense, the Vikings are more or less standing pat with what they had last season, but the offensive line is a huge question mark, especially in pass protection. Minnesota is spending the second-fewest cap dollars in the NFL on the offensive line, which was ranked dead-last in pressure rate last season. That being said, the offensive line had the most adjusted line yards last season (according to Football Outsiders), Dalvin Cook had his best season as a pro even though he missed two games, and Justin Jefferson was a home run draft selection that should be Minnesota’s No. 1 WR for several years.
And, depending on how you filter his numbers, QB Kirk Cousins can be argued anywhere from a top-10 to a top-15 quarterback, so let’s settle on Cousins being slightly above-average. Either way, the 2021 Minnesota Vikings figure to have much more balance on all sides of the ball, and they’ve alternated between making and missing the playoffs every year Zimmer has been in charge.
With all the uncertainty surrounding the NFC North teams and this being the second year of three Wild Card playoff berths, I love the value for the Minnesota Vikings to make the postseason.
Pick: Minnesota Vikings will make the playoffs (+128)
Indianapolis Colts to make the playoffs?
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