It’s Prediction (!) Time: Part I – The Offense and Defense

Image Courtesy of the Star Tribune

With the regular season creeping up pretty fast, it’s prime time for some last minute 2018 predictions after an off-season chalked full of predictions and analysis about what the Vikings will be able to do with their brand new quarterback, offensive coordinator and rehabbed running back in second-year man Dalvin Cook, especially when you look at that unit when playing opposite the leagues best defense in 2017. Sites like ESPN have come out with their annual pre-season rankings in and of nearly every conceivable variable, from ranking a team or teams in the pre-season, from doing general power rankings to attempting to predict who the top 100 players will be in the NFL this season. That got me thinking that it’s time that I made some predictions of my own and so with that in mind I decided to write just that, my Top predictions for the 2018 season, Part I, the Top Prediction for the offense and defense.

1. Kirk Cousins Will Be a Top 5 MVP Candidate

If you’ve followed or our podcast, The purpleJOURNAL Podcast, this off-season you’ll know that I was one of the first and loudest proponents for the Vikings signing Kirk Cousins. A fan of his since his time at Michigan State, I felt that not only would Cousins be the best chance this Vikings team has at overcoming the Philadelphia Eagles (or other NFC Powers like the Rams or even 49ers) this upcoming season (to reach the promised land) but that he also wouldn’t handicap the team in terms of the players that they could re-sign or sign in free agency after giving him the record deal he landed by coming here. With basically every young, core Vikings player signed through the next few seasons (outside of Anthony Barr) and players like safety George Iloka and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson joining this off-season, it feels like the latter part of that prediction has come true. That just leaves the whole “promised land” thing and while the Vikings offense has left a lot to be desired so far this pre-season, there’s really no reason to believe that this Vikings team won’t hit the ground running come week 1 against the 49ers.

Outside of the roster considerations, one of the larger criticisms of Cousins from people who didn’t want him to join the Vikings was that his numbers dropped off last season, a year after he was a few yards under 5,000 yards passing. The fact that Cousins had nearly 4,100 yards (and a TD to INT ratio of 27:13, which was an improvement upon his 2016 numbers) with players like Jamison Growder and Terrelle Pryor as his go to, should keep fans of every other NFC North team awake at night. Cousins has a propensity to spread the ball around and one could argue that he has the most stacked roster in the league at his disposal now with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kendall Wright, Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray all salivating at the idea that they’ll be receiving the ball from Cousins this season.

While you’d have to think that the Vikings will keep a decent balance between their passing and running games (especially as they implement more and more RPO plays with DeFilippo calling the shots) and that a 5,000 yard season by Cousins could actually mean bad things for the offense as a whole (as it might imply injury or futility on the ground), it’s pretty safe to say that Cousins should be considered one of the leading contenders for the MVP this upcoming season just based on the stats that he should be able to compile as a guy who has pretty consistently topped 4,000 yards passing and a TD to INT ratio of 2:1. While it can be argued that QB’s get far too much credit for their teams successes, especially on a team that is as balanced and stacked as this Vikings team, it’s also safe to say that should Cousins end up as one of the final players being considered as the MVP it should mean that everything is basically going as we’d all had hoped (as rarely are players from bad or even mediocre teams considered for the MVP). So, I feel confident enough to say that he’ll end up as a top three MVP candidate but because of how invisible Minnesota can be nationally, it also wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up not getting the credit he deserves (all to himself, apparently) with stats somewhere in the arena of 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns to 15 interceptions.

2. The Defense Will Allow < 14 Points Per Game

At the end of the regular season last year the Vikings lead the league in a couple of defensive categories, namely in regard to the amount of yards per game (and total) they allowed (275.9 yards per game for a total of 4415, a whole 150 yards better than their first competitor, the Jacksonville Jaguars) and also the average points per game allowed (15.8 a whole 1 point better than their first competitor, which was again, the Jags (who allowed 16.8 points per game)). The Jags did best them in regards to the amount of passing yards per game allowed (169.9 vs. 192.4, which made them number one and number two, respectively), although the Vikings did best Jacksonville in regards to it’s rushing yards allowed per game with 83.6 (vs. Jacksonvilles 116.3), although they did trail the Philadelphia Eagles by about four and a half rushing yards per game, on average. While the Vikings offense has gotten the lions share of attention this off-season thanks to the changes under center and to the coaching staff, the defense could end up being the reason that this Vikings team surpasses the successes of the 2017 season, here’s why.

This is a Vikings defense that was the best unit in the NFL last season, clearly, as the numbers show that they were neck and neck with Jacksonville but because of their much better rush defense. One could argue that the biggest weak spot on last years defense was on the defensive line in the position vacated by Sharrif Floyd, whose career was cut down in his prime thanks to nerve damage he suffered while undergoing routine knee surgery. The Vikings not only filled that spot but hit a homerun by signing free agent stud defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson this off-season, a player that is leaps and bounds better than who the Vikings had at the position last year and even than Sharrif Floyd at his best. Beyond that, the remaining starters will all be the same with a few depth changes that will make this defense younger and more agile by offering limited drop off while switching in players to keep the unit fresh, assuming they need that with all the three-and-outs they’ll be wracking up this year.
The Vikes spent their first draft pick on Mike Hughes, a physical corner who will provide an immediate upgrade over second-round pick Mackenzie Alexander. Ageless wonder Terrance Newman will also help fill-in at that slot position, which’ll compensate for any continued struggles Alexander has this year. On the outside you have Xavier Rhodes, arguably the leagues best corner, and Trae Waynes, perhaps the most underrated player on the Vikings roster. People still seem to be holding a few rookie (or even rookie pre-season) penalty flags against Waynes, a player who has come into his own and who is one of the most talented at the position and who will come into the season with the time under his belt and confidence he needed to really start to make a name for himself outside of Minnesota. The Vikings also added former Bengal George Iloka as a safety/hybrid linebacker, something that really seemed like the cherry on top of a… bowl of cherries as he’ll be able to provide leadership and depth at both the safety position (playing behind Andrew Sendejo) and flexibility at the linebacker position, another weak point in 2017.

Add the growth of players like Ben Gedeon to the mix and the fact that the Vikings offense should be able to put up a ton of sustained drives both through the air and on the ground and it’s not hard to see why this team should improve on the numbers from last season. It’s safe to say that this is the most talented roster the Vikings has ever had as a whole but definitely on defense and because of that and the time that this unit has had to continue to improve upon it’s excellent standards, it’s not hard to see how this team could only give up between 10 and 14 points per week.