Years ago, Minnesota Vikings fans could have enjoyed their 13-win season in peace.
For better or worse, everyone is now smarter when it comes to analyzing football. We understand that point difference can help predict future performance. Close wins are a bit fluky. Any advanced stat you want is just one click away. We understand that just because a team won 13 games doesn’t mean it was dominant.
Vikings fans were constantly reminded that their team wasn’t as good as the 13-4 record. They were an incredible 11-0 in regular season games decided by eight points or less, including a record-breaking comeback against the Indianapolis Colts when they trailed 33-0 at halftime. They had a minus-3 point difference, which is unfathomable for a team that was over .500 for nine games. No other 12-win team in NFL history was surpassed on the season, let alone a 13-win team. Minnesota ranks 27th in the Football Outsiders DVOA. In FO’s estimated win stats, the Vikings profiled themselves as a team with 6.3 wins.
It had to be exhausting for Vikings fans. The Vikings continued to win games and social media kept reminding them that their team was a scam.
There were many rounds of victory as the Vikings lost at home to the New York Giants in a wild card playoff game. All the talk about the Vikings being lucky seemed justified.
Downgrading the 2022 Vikings and their performance isn’t fair – wins and losses should still matter, and there’s something to be said for the Vikings’ mental toughness to win so many close games – but it’s relevant for the 2023 team. It’s not like we can start with a 13-4 record as a basis for predicting what the Vikings will be this season.
Minnesota didn’t have a great offseason. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, receiver Adam Thielen, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Eric Kendricks were paid free elsewhere. The team traded pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, who had 10 sacks last season, for very little and then retired running back Dalvin Cook. Some of those veterans are nearing the end of their careers, but it’s still a lot to lose in an off-season.
The Vikings still have Justin Jefferson, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Kirk Cousins is a skilled quarterback. Alexander Mattison and rookie Jordan Addison are intriguing replacements for Cook and Thielen. The defense can only get better by hiring new coordinator Brian Flores.
The Vikings can be proud of last season. The wins were exciting. The comeback against the Colts has a place in NFL history. Only one other Vikings team has ever surpassed the 13 wins achieved by the 2022 team. The division title was their first since 2017. Jefferson is one of the most exciting players in the sport and it was good to see him recognized as the best receiver in football. It’s been a fun, historic season for the Vikings.
It’s just going to be hard to do it again this season.
Grade out of season
The Vikings lost more than they gained. The Cleveland Browns thought defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson was worth $57 million in four years. The defense also lost cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Eric Kendricks, a pair of solid veterans. Receiver Adam Thielen is on the decline, but it was a shame his feel-good story with Minnesota ended when he signed with the Carolina Panthers. Passrusher Za’Darius Smith was traded to the Browns and the Vikings got a few late round pick swaps in return. Running Back Dalvin Cook’s strong run with the Vikings ended when he was cut. The big signing was tight Josh Oliver for $21 million over three years, which seemed like a lot. Oliver is a good in-line blocker, and the Vikings thought that was worth $7 million a year. Cornerback Byron Murphy and defensive end Marcus Davenport were signed and were able to pay off. It was wise to draft receiver Jordan Addison in the first round, but he was the only top-100 the team had. It’s hard to believe that the Vikings are better, although there may be something to be said for making the roster younger.
It’s not worth arguing about Kirk Cousins anymore. Those who believe he stinks will never be convinced otherwise unless he wins a Super Bowl. Those who think he’s been pretty good wonder why his comeback wins are ignored and his stats dismissed as something frivolous, like many yards and touchdowns don’t help the Vikings. Whatever you think of Cousins, it won’t change.
Breakdown of BetMGM odds
Sportsbooks are smart and don’t give money away. They have all those advanced stats available too. The Vikings’ total win count is 8.5 at BetMGM, which is 4.5 wins less than their total from last season. Gamblers like the over, which is odds down to -140. However, the Vikings not making the playoffs is -140 (yes on the playoffs is +115). I don’t think it’s fair to pretend that the Vikings had nothing to do with their 13 wins last season, but it’s hard to deny the stats. I lean towards the under at 8.5 wins at odds of +115.
State to remember
Justin Jefferson broke Randy Moss’s NFL record for most 100-yard games during a player’s first four NFL seasons. Moss had 23. Jefferson has 24. Also, Jefferson doesn’t even have started his fourth NFL season. There are plenty of superlatives surrounding Jefferson’s stellar start to his career. Last season, he led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, becoming the youngest player to do so. He broke that record set by legend Don Hutson in 1936. His 4,825 yards in three seasons is the most in NFL history, 662 more than second-placed Moss. The single-season record for receiving yards is 1,964 by Calvin Johnson (Jefferson’s 1,809 last season ranks sixth) and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Jefferson breaks that record.
How much can Brian Flores turn the defense?
Ed Donatell was a constant target of criticism last season, and then the Vikings defense looked terrible in a wild card playoff loss to the Giants. Donatell was unsurprisingly fired and replaced by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Donatell’s plan was passive and static, and Flores promises more flashy and multiple looks.
“I’m aggressive by nature, that’s something I believe in,” Flores said when introduced to the media via Fox 9. “I like to be aggressive, not reckless. There’s a method to the madness, there’s a rhyme and reason… It’s vital to the football championship.”
Flores’ plan should be better and he will help clear up some of the miscommunication and co
nfusion that brought down the Vikings’ pass defense last season. But there is a talent question. The Vikings finished 31st in yards allowed last season, and it wasn’t just coaching. Some design lapses hurt the secondary. Danielle Hunter is a good pass rusher, but the Vikings need more help in the front seven. Don’t expect Flores to be a miracle worker.
In the best case
After all, the Vikings won 13 games. As unpredictable as it was, beating 13 NFL opponents in a season is very hard. Maybe there’s something to be said about being able to win all those close games. Offense should be good as long as Justin Jefferson is healthy, and perhaps Brian Flores is a huge upgrade to defense. It’s not too hard to buy the Vikings to win the NFC North again.
We know regression is coming for the Vikings. Their record in close games won’t repeat, and maybe the luck of injuries won’t last either (Minnesota was one of the healthiest teams in the NFL last season). You can see the gaps in the selection, especially in the defense. The Vikings shouldn’t be so bad as to finish last in the NFC North, but it could happen. Perhaps a very bad season leads to the Vikings making their way out of the Kirk Cousins era.
The crystal ball says…
The Vikings aren’t going 13-4 again. That seems safe to predict. But how far will they slip? A rough off-season doesn’t help. But last season’s Vikings team wasn’t bad. They just weren’t as good as their record. Minnesota will be solid offensively, the defense will be better thanks to Flores, and they will battle in the playoffs for most of the season. Making the playoffs, and maybe even winning the division, will come down to catching a few breaks. The Vikings can only hope they didn’t use up all their luck last season.
32. Arizona Cardinals
31. Houston Texans
30. Chicago Bears
29. Tennessee Titans
28. Los Angeles Rams
27.Tampa Bay Buccaneers
26. Indianapolis Foals
25. Washington Commanders
24.Las Vegas Raiders
23. Carolina panthers
21. Atlanta Falcons
20. Green Bay Packers
19. New England Patriots
18. New York giants