Why the Vikings Vegas Forecast of ‘9 Wins’ Is Too Low

Justin Jefferson / Dalvin Cook
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrate Cook’s touchdown run in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

When win-loss projections were released by oddsmakers proceeding the 2021 NFL Draft, most sportsbooks assessed the Minnesota Vikings as an 8.5-win team. The projection was a head-scratcher for onlookers as the Vikings conducted a robust offseason, filled with upper-echelon defensive additions along with a nationally-praised NFL draft haul.

The win total has climbed by 0.5 since then, lifting the Vikings up modestly to a prediction of 9-8 in 2021. While a 9-8 record would be celebrated by teams like Houston Texans and Detroit Lions this season, such a record would be panned by Vikings loyalists, signaling a structural change of the team’s makeup. Indeed, Minnesota has renewed its “all-in” stakes, an expectation that annually follows the team since the commencement of the 2016 season.

Minnesota does have a handful of roster concerns — the kicker spot is always anxiety-riddled. That will likely be tasked to Greg Joseph, a player that won a Super Bowl ring on the practice squad with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. Then, the defensive end spot on the line opposite Danielle Hunter is concerning, merely because Everson Griffen manned the position for a decade — and he doesn’t play for the Vikings anymore. For now, DE duties will be assigned to Hunter, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and a couple of rookies named Patrick Jones II and Janarius Robinson. The drop-off from Hunter to the next guy — whoever emerges late this summer — is colossal in terms of talent.

Those are the biggies. Aside from that, the Vikings 9-win projection is just a bit too low. Why? Well, head coach Mike Zimmer’s team managed a 7-9 season in 2020, and folks considered that record terrible. It should not be too difficult to drag the team to three more wins with a roster immensely different than 2020 — especially on defense.

A lot of Minnesota’s red meat on defense was charred in 2020. Danielle Hunter missed the entire season. Anthony Barr — a seven-year defensive staple — only played in 1.5 games. New nose tackle Michael Pierce, who replaced Linval Hunter, didn’t play at all. Eric Kendricks regrettably bowed out due to injury when the season was at its pivotal juncture. And then Mike Hughes did not appear in 12 contests, effectively terminating his tenure with the Vikings. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs about a month ago.

Excluding Hughes, all of those men will return in 2021 — with a slew of impactful new players to fortify the Zimmer defense. The Vikings ranked second [best] in points allowed from 2014 to 2019 behind the New England Patriots. In 2020, they plummeted to an odious fourth-worst ranking in points allowed. With the additions of Patrick Peterson (CB), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT), Bashaud Breeland (CB), Sheldon Richardson (DT), Mackensie Alexander (CB), Xavier Woods (S), Stephen Weatherly (DE), and Nick Vigil (LB) — the defensive depth chart is completely rejuvenated.

The top question to ponder when adjudicating the Vikings hopes for 2021? Is it more likely that Mike Zimmer is suddenly inept at coaching defense, indicating he just doesn’t understand how to coach defense any longer? Or — did the inordinate amount of injuries in 2020 actually cause the tumble? Decide the answer to that question, and you have your opinion for the Vikings 2021 defensive prognosis.

On offense, the Vikings were quite stellar last year. Zimmer put forth his best offensive product yet, evidenced by the league’s third-most yards gained and 11th-most points scored. The team lost Kyle Rudolph to the New York Giants and Riley Reiff to the Cincinnati Bengals, but that’s about it for offensive roster turnover. To be sure, a new and familial name is in charge — the son of Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak, takes charge. He was hired to foster continuity.

With Dalvin Cook in his prime, Justin Jefferson ascending to full stardom, Kirk Cousins a shoo-in for 30 touchdowns per season, and an offensive line that added rookies Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis — the 2021 offense is ready to build on the 2020 prosperity, not regress.

Those two elements — the offense and defense — are why the Vikings should be poised to win north of 10 games. The schedule is not easy. Per 2020 win percentage, Minnesota faces the business’ fifth-toughest schedule.

But the Vikings won seven games with no homefield advantage during the pandemic season. Nudging that to upward of 9 nine wins is doable. It would even fulfill the team’s even-year, odd-year prophecy. The Vikings missed the postseason in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020,. Meanwhile, the playoffs were on the docket in 2015, 2017, and 2019.

One is an odd number.