The Skol Debate: Are the Vikings a Top 3 NFL Team?
Are the Minnesota Vikings a top 3 team in the NFL? Their record certainly suggests that they are. After all, they sit atop the standings, tied with the Eagles at 8-1 (though, in fairness, are in second place due to the tiebreaker).
As per usual, we take on this topic by venturing into a debate. The usual debaters are back to offer some competing perspectives. To be clear, neither side thinks Minnesota is a bad football team. Rather, the focus rests on whether this team is truly elite. Take a peak at where the debaters stand:
The Purple Corner: Josh Frey (I’m thinking they are)
The Gold Corner: K. Joudry (I’m still nervous about this one)
With that brief word out of the way, let’s jump into the debate.
Are The Vikings a Top 3 Team?
KJ: Words that describe the recent win over the Bills: stunning, sensational, jaw-dropping, disorienting, marvelous, whiplash, and rollercoaster. I could include several more, but you get it.
We saw a heck of a game. Defeating the Bills on their own field when they had their QB1 under center was impressive, especially when we consider the 17-point deficit late in the 3rd quarter. Oh, and there may have been a couple poor calls from the refs that could have drastically altered the outcome of the game.
Despite this success, I still find myself having a difficult time fully believing. I’m now convinced that they’re the best team in the NFC North and, perhaps, among the best teams in the conference. The entire NFL, though, may be a different matter.
Much of my hesitation when it comes to the league’s podium simply rests in Vikings history. After all, we’re writing for a website called PurplePTSD. The alliterative title underscores an important aspect of cheering for this team: there has been a lot of heartbreak. Oftentimes, that heartbreak has arrived in exceedingly excruciating fashion. I – like many others – have a hard time believing (but, like Mulder, I want to believe).
Hit me with your opinion: are the Vikings a top 3 team? If so, can you offer me some balm (persuasive arguments) to soothe my weary purple soul?
JF: I think the argument for this one is fairly simple. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best. The Vikings have done just that.
Going into Week 10, the Buffalo Bills were widely considered to be the Super Bowl favorites.
This was for good reason, too. Their offense led by Josh Allen has been a top five group in total yards and points scored. Even after allowing 33 points to the Vikings this weekend, their defense has still allowed the second fewest points in the NFL as well.
After the Eagles lost on Monday night, Minnesota is now tied for the NFL’s best record, and their seven-game winning streak is the longest in the league.
Throughout this winning streak, Minnesota has displayed multiple ways to win as well. They aren’t simply relying on their offense to score massive amounts of points, nor do they need their defense to bail them out on a weekly basis.
It’s been a very happy medium, and heading into Week 11, the Vikings are one of three teams to rank among the top 12 in both points scored and points allowed. The other two are the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.
Trust me, I’m very hesitant to crown the Vikings too early, as well. At this point, though, I’m having a difficult time finding teams that have consistently proven throughout the year to be superior to this purple team.
Do you have anyone in mind that you would put above this Vikings team?
KJ: Admittedly, it’d be challenging to put together a long list of teams that are definitively better than Minnesota. The Vikings have earned their 8-1 record, so they deserve respect.
Nevertheless, the doubts remain. The Eagles, of course, come to mind since they won quite easily in Week 2. Now, even as I write that, I need to acknowledge that Week 2 was a long time ago. A lot has happened since then; quite a bit more will occur before the playoffs arrive. If the Eagles and Vikings play in the playoffs, I’d still be fairly nervous.
Moreover, I still think there is some merit in the insistence that Kansas City and Buffalo belong at the top of NFL rankings. Perhaps the Vikings should get into the top 3 because they’ve already overcome the Bills.
Even if we just shrink things down to the Vikings, though, we might have some reasons for concern:
- Missed kicks on a regular basis
- Broader issues on special teams (lackluster returns come to mind, though I’ll note that the Bills did a nice job with their kickoff returns)
- Some struggles to protect Kirk Cousins, especially along the interior
- Depth concerns at corner
- Huge reliance on Justin Jefferson
It’s that final point that worries me. Jefferson is currently on pace to clear 2000 yards. He’s such an incredible player, and yet I still wonder if the Vikings are relying on him too much. T.J. Hockenson certainly helps, and so does Dalvin Cook (that 81-yarder against Buffalo kept Minnesota in the game).
My concern, though, is if a team finds a way to really slow down Jefferson, can the team pivot? Is the defense good enough to grind it out? Can the special teams eliminate the mistakes and nail all the kicks? Will the run game and other receivers do enough to carry the offense?
Do these things concern you? Do you see them as legitimate reason(s) to quibble with the insistence that the Vikings are a top 3 team?
JF: I’ll push back on the Justin Jefferson reliance by pointing out that the reigning Super Bowl champions are the Los Angeles Rams, who had Kevin O’Connell as the offensive coordinator. They relied on Cooper Kupp ad nauseam throughout the year, and he won the receiving triple crown by leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
Of course, they had consistent targets around him too, and it continues to seem like the Vikings won’t be part of the OBJ sweepstakes.
However, T.J. Hockenson is as consistent a target in this passing game as the Vikings could have hoped for. I’d also like to see them continue to run the ball with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison to take some pressure off Jefferson.
Assuming Cam Dantzler returns healthy in mid-December, Akayleb Evans should diminish many of our corner concerns. Andrew Booth should continue to get reps, and he’ll progress, too, and Duke Shelley has proven he can make plays when needed. If I’m being completely honest, my concerns with the defense are at a season-low despite the ugly first half on Sunday.
The one concern I do have revolves around Greg Joseph, like you mentioned. It’s largely because of his missed kicks that every win has come down to the wire during this streak. If he doesn’t get it together soon, that could derail a potential playoff run.
However, I will say that while Minnesota is playing with fire because of these missed kicks, it is reassuring to see them consistently find ways to overcome them.
Do you have any pushback for any of these points?
KJ: My main pushback would simply be that LA had a really unique season. Credit to Kupp, Matthew Stafford, and the coaches for making it work, but I do wonder if it’s a sustainable strategy.
Even as I write that, though, I must acknowledge that I don’t believe the Vikings are completely without other offensive weapons. Cook can still get it done; Hockenson is a great TE who is already making huge plays. My concern mostly rests in the understanding that sometimes playoff football comes down to the wire.
During the regular season, we’ve seen Minnesota handle these situations with aplomb, consistently coming out on top. Will that trend continue into the postseason? I certainly hope so.
From there, I’d say that I have more concerns about the secondary than you do, though I’d be thrilled to be wrong. Patrick Peterson has been playing at an excellent level, so that’s certainly a great place to start. If I was an offensive coordinator for the opposing team, I’d look to stay away from Minnesota’s CB1.
In the end, I find myself with the belief that Minnesota belongs in the NFL’s top 5. Their record certainly demands that we give them a ton of respect even if our history watching them causes many of us to expect some heartbreak. It’s the tension between the team’s past and what they’re accomplishing in the present that leaves many people with a sense of unease even as things are proceeding as well as could be hoped.
Moving forward, I’d find some comfort in seeing the kicking become ultra consistent, the offense create explosive plays that don’t go to Jefferson (like the Cook run), and the secondary be able to stifle the opposition’s passing game. In short, some more proof of their elite status would be fine by me.
Perhaps I’ll send it back for the final word. What are the main things you’re looking for to reconfirm your belief that the Vikings are among the NFL’s top 3 teams?
JF: Simply put, if the Vikings go at least 1-1 in this stretch against the Cowboys and Patriots, despite all the injuries that have piled up in recent weeks and on some short rest, it would confirm for me that this team can hang with anyone.
A 2-1 record against the Bills, Cowboys, and Patriots over a 12-day period would arguably be the most impressive thing that any team has done this season. All three of these teams could be playoff teams come January.
In terms of the actual schematics, I agree that I need to see Greg Joseph begin hitting kicks with some consistency. The Vikings next six games are indoors, so if there’s any opportunity to get into a rhythm, this is it.
I mentioned Akayleb Evans earlier as well, but I need to see him consistently play well. If Dantzler comes back healthy in December, and then Patrick Peterson keeps playing at an All-Pro level, it will be a huge luxury for Minnesota to have another talented outside corner with starting experience.
Finally, T.J. Hockenson’s role so far has exceeded any and all expectations. He’s been as reliable a target as any we’ve seen in the Kirk Cousins era with the Vikings. If that continues to be the case throughout the rest of the season, this Vikings offense will be extremely difficult to stop.
Overall, this win in Buffalo is not a game that the Vikings should have won, nor is it one that they would have won in recent years. This group just feels extraordinary, and I can’t wait to see them back in action on Sunday.