During the seven seasons that head coach Mike Zimmer has been in charge of the Minnesota Vikings, the defense has never ranked worse than 11th in the league; Zimmer's first season.
That all changed last year. Minnesota regressed mightily in 2020, finishing 29th out of 32 in points allowed, and 27th in yards. The offense scored the third most amount of points ever recorded in Vikings history, but still finished -45 in point differential.
Despite the positive movement on offense, Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator knows improvements need to happen fast for the Vikings to have a shot in 2021 to win the NFC North. In fact, Zimmer said last year's Vikings defense was, "the worst he had ever coached."
If Minnesota can regroup and return to form on defense, and the offense continues to press onward, this is a Vikings team that will look to return to the postseason, alternating playoff appearances with disappointing seasons the last six years. In Year 7, the trend would tell you that a playoff appearance should be on the horizon.
Minnesota Vikings 2021 Team Outlook
Judging purely on the season-long statistics, Kirk Cousins has been a very good quarterback for the Vikings in his three seasons in Minnesota. In 2020, Cousins threw for a career high 35 TDs to 13 INTs, and completed the highest TD-percentage and yards-gained-per-pass-completion of his career. The year before, Cousins had the lowest interception percentage of his career.
Over three seasons, Cousins averages 31 TDs, 10 INTs, and 4,142 passing yards, which would put him in the top 10 of current starting quarterbacks in the league. The issue for Cousins has always been consistency. While it's unfair to put all the blame on his shoulders for his inability to win outside of early afternoon start times, his combined 12-28 record in afternoon and late games is problematic for a team that has been looking to take the next step.
He has the weapons around him this year to be successful, provided everyone stays healthy. Dalvin Cook returns after another monster season, running for 1557 rushing yards and 16 TDs, to go along with another 44 catches on 361 yards through the air. Cook still missed two games in 2020, but still finished second amongst all running backs in rushing yards.
At receiver, if not for Justin Herbert's record-setting season at quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Jefferson would have garnered massive consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The first-year receiver out of LSU caught 88 passes for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns, teaming up with veteran Adam Thielen for 2,325 total receiving yards, 21 touchdowns and 162 receptions.
At tight end, Kyle Rudolph is gone, paving the way for Irv Smith Jr. to become a potential force in the league. The Viking Age's Adam Patrick discussed Smith's strong finish to 2020, which would have projected to 50 receptions, 575 yards and 13 touchdowns, which would have led all TEs in 2020.
The offensive line, however, could remain a concern. PFF ranks Minnesota 27th in the league, even with RT Brian O'Neill remaining one of the best options in the NFL at the position. The addition of first-rounder Christian Darrisaw at left tackle is encouraging, but he's still a rookie facing off against very tough pass rushers in the NFC North. In the middle, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and some combination of Olisaemeka Udoh, Mason Cole or Wyatt Davis could make up the middle of the line, which could be questionable at best.
On defense, Minnesota should be substantially improved as health and key injuries played a massive role in their demise a season ago. Defensive end Danielle Hunter missed all of 2020 with a neck injury, Anthony Barr only played in two games, Eric Kendricks was out for the remaining several games, and Michael Pierce was a COVID-19 opt out candidate.
Now in 2021, all four return, healthy and ready to make an impact. The Vikings will need to improve on their pass rush that recorded just 23 sacks in 2020, good for 28th in the NFL. The addition of Dalvin Tomlinson will help Hunter and Stephen Weatherly get more opportunities to get to the quarterback.
At linebacker, having Barr and Kendricks healthy and good to go should also make a sizable difference as well. They lost Eric Wilson, their leading tackler last season to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, but add Nick Vigil to the mix from the Chargers.
In the secondary, Patrick Peterson comes to town after many years as a top-tier cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals. Now at age 31, Peterson isn't the island corner he once was in the league, but is still a useful and impactful veteran that should help stabilize a position that got gashed a season ago with two rookie cornerbacks in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler; although Gladney may not return as he faces serious assault allegations.
Minnesota Vikings 2021 NFL Draft
The Vikings traded down out of pick No. 14 with the New York Jets to acquire multiple picks in the third round. They still may have gotten one of the better offensive tackles in the draft in Christian Darrisaw from Virginia Tech, who should start at left tackle right away.
With no second rounder, Minnesota loaded up in the third round, beginning with Texas A&M quarterback Kellon Mond who was a four year starter for the Aggies and could potentially be the quarterback in the wings if Kirk Cousins does not return in 2022. The Vikings had three more third round selections in North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt, Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis, and Pittsburgh DE Patrick Jones II. The Vikings also added a few special teams standouts from the state of Iowa. Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu was a 4th round pick, as well as Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette in the 5th.
Minnesota Vikings Team Odds: Division (+250), Conference (+1400), Super Bowl (+4000)
The Vikings remain the clear-cut second favorite behind the Green Bay Packers at WynnBET Sportsbook (-145) at +250 odds to win the NFC North. The Chicago Bears are set down at +400 odds, with the Lions considered a massive longshot to win the division at +2000.
For the NFC, Minnesota is +1400 for a shot to get to the Super Bowl in 2021, tied with the Dallas Cowboys. The Vikings' odds to win Super Bowl 56 fall down to +4000, sandwiched in between the New England Patriots (+3500) and Arizona Cardinals (+4500).
Minnesota Vikings Regular Season Win Total: 9 WINS | OVER (-115), UNDER (-105)
I'm having a very difficult time evaluating the 2021 Minnesota Vikings.
One one hand, this is a very dangerous team! Judging purely off of the numbers, Kirk Cousins' narrative is not consistent with the types of results he's put up in his three years in Minnesota, and I'm a believer in the playmaking talent that sounds him in Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and now Irv Smith at tight end. The Vikings deterioration on defense last year felt largely a result of a miscalculation by Mike Zimmer, GM Rick Spielman when it came to experience in the secondary, and they've largely overcorrected it with the signing of Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland.
At the same time, for as much optimism as there should be regarding the state of the team, many of the headlines have been dominated by Zimmer's frustration towards Kirk Cousins refusal to get vaccinated, poor play on special teams, and concern over whether the offensive line will be be able to hold up. The Vikings also have the lowest current vaccination rate in the NFL.
These aren't little minuet details, these could be what costs the Vikings a chance at double-digit wins and a trip to the postseason.
While none of their starters played in the preseason, it was fairly embarrassing to see the Vikings get clobbered at home with fans in the stands for the first time in two years, and I can't help but wonder if we're seeing the final seasons for both Cousins and Zimmer in Minnesota if they don't get off to a good start.
I almost always trust the numbers when it comes to predictions, but I'll lean more eye test this season and fade the Vikings to hit their win total. If things don't go well from the beginning, this season could unravel quickly, and I don't get the vibe that this team feels secure in its future.
EXACT WIN TOTAL: 7 WINS (+475)
The Minnesota Vikings aren’t who they used to be. They once had a great roster and were a quarterback away from being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Now, they have great offensive weapons, but can’t find a defense to help at all.
Minnesota had serious issues on defense last season. It allowed the sixth-most yards per game (393.2) and the 4th-most points per game (29.7). The Vikings defense also couldn’t get pressure on the quarterback, averaging 1.4 sacks per game.
The Vikings are going to have to figure out how to get their defense off the field in order to get the ball back to Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and the rest of their offense.
Jefferson had a breakout rookie season in 2020, hauling in 1,400 yards. With Jefferson alongside Adam Thielen, the Vikings have a dynamic duo for Cousins to work with through the air.
The offense is going to be powered by the explosive of Jefferson and Cook -- who amassed 1,500 scrimmage yards last season -- but will be led by Kirk Cousins. This is Cousins’ fourth season with the Vikings and Minnesota hasn’t gotten the exact return on investment it thought it was getting when they signed Cousins.
Even if Cousins isn’t the best quarterback in the league, the Vikings offense will be good enough to lead them to a few wins this season.
The Vikings are going to start this season at a disadvantage playing in the NFC North with Aaron Rodgers. It’s highly unlikely they win the division and will probably be fighting for second with the Chicago Bears. Ultimately, we’ll see another mediocre season from the Vikings.
PREDICTION: UNDER 9 WINS (-105)
EXACT WIN TOTAL: 8 WINS (+400)
The Minnesota Vikings went from a potential division winner with the Aaron Rodgers drama to a borderline playoff team over the past few weeks.
Minnesota was just 7-9 in the 2020 season and finished in third in the NFC North, and I don’t see that changing much in 2021. The Vikings have a tough schedule, where they play nine games against teams that made the postseason in the 2020 campaign, and they have to face the Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys on top of those nine games.
Minnesota could win some of those games, but it’s certainly a daunting task for a team that missed the playoffs in 2020. Patrick Peterson and the return of Danielle Hunter should help a team that allowed the sixth-most yards in the NFL last season, but I’m not sold on Minnesota being a playoff team.
Coupled with the fact that another COVID-19 outbreak in the quarterback room could leave the Vikings without Kirk Cousins and Kellen Mond, as the team’s top two quarterbacks aren’t vaccinated, has me taking the under on the Vikings projected win total.
PREDICTION: UNDER 9 WINS (-105)
EXACT WIN TOTAL: 7 WINS (+475)
My surprise team of the year is the Minnesota Vikings. Their defense was absolutely atrocious last season, there’s no doubt about that. They ranked 29th in opponent points per game, allowing an average of 29.7. Their defense also ranked 27th in opponent yards per game at 393.2. That is certainly not a recipe for disaster, but I think there’s some signs that the Vikings defense will return to form in 2021.
First of all, let’s start with the obvious. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, and the Vikings best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, suffered a season ending injury in September before even playing a single snap. Linebacker Anthony Barr also suffered a season ending injury in Week 2 of the season. Having those three back in the lineup will make a significant impact that can’t be understated.
I also believe that Mike Zimmer, who many believe is a defensive guru, will help guide this defensive unit back to its former glory.
Then there’s the offense, which may have been one of the most underrated offenses in the league last season. They ranked third in the NFL in yards per game, averaging 393.2. They also ranked fourth in yards per carry (4.9) behind star running back Dalvin Cook, and Justin Jefferson was fourth in the NFL in receiving yards despite being a rookie.
A lot of people are down on the Vikings heading into this year, but if their defense can return to even just an average level of play, their offense is potent enough to carry them to a double-digit win season.
PREDICTION: OVER 9 WINS (-115)
EXACT WIN TOTAL: 11 WINS (+900)
Will the Minnesota Vikings Make the Playoffs? | MISS THE PLAYOFFS (-130), MAKE THE PLAYOFFS (+100)
This is another pick where I could look extremely foolish if the Vikings clean up some of the major concerns heading into the start of the season, but there's an ominous feeling around this team that many of us just can't shake.
I have the Vikings taking another step back in 2021, falling to just seven wins and likely costing Mike Zimmer his gig and Kirk Cousins his future with the team. With so much talent in the NFC West, there won't be room for more than one, possibly two teams to make it out of the NFC North for a postseason birth.
I'll be fading the Vikings to make the playoffs, siding with the heavy juice on "No."
PREDICTION: NO (-130)
The Vikings are going to be a bubble team in the NFC. They finished one game back of the Bears, who made the playoffs, and could’ve made the playoffs if it wasn’t for their defense. This year should be the same story. Minnesota is going to be in the picture until the final 3 weeks and then be eliminated from contention.
The team just doesn’t have the pieces on defense to complement the offense. The Vikings will have to lean on Kirk Cousins to put the team on his back in order to get there, and we all know that’s not happening.
PREDICTION: NO (-130)
Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are some of the best weapons in football, but Minnesota’s defense, which was suspect last year, is going to have to improve greatly if it wants to compete for a playoff spot.
The Packers are going to be the favorite to win the NFC North, and I think there are better teams in the NFC West and South than Minnesota that will nab the wild card spots in the conference.
The Vikings are taking a big gamble on some veterans coming in and playing as well as they have in the past on defense, and that puts a lot of pressure on Cousins and the offense to perform.
Given Cook’s injury history and the fact that they’ve made the postseason just one time in Cousins’ first three seasons has me expecting more of the same for the Vikings in 2021.
PREDICTION: NO (-130)
The Green Bay Packers will likely win the NFC North this season, but as I stated in our Packers season preview, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the Vikings can dethrone them. People continue to forget that the Vikings lost arguably their two best players on defense last year for the entire season, and having them back in the lineup in 2021 will be huge.
Even if the Vikings can’t win the NFC North, a wild card spot is certainly in the cards. I’m willing to die on the hill if I have to, but I’d be surprised if Minnesota doesn’t return to the postseason this year.
PREDICTION: YES (+100)
Every day from the start of NFL Training Camp, the BetSided team of Ben Heisler, Donnavan Smoot, Peter Dewey and Iain MacMillan are breaking down the win totals, playoff and Super Bowl odds for every team in the NFL.
Check back Monday at 1 p.m. EDT when we preview the betting outlook for the Chicago Bears and check out our earlier team-by-team betting previews.
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