There were times where it didn’t seem likely that we would even have an NFL season this year. Amid bubble concerns, testing questions and travel parties, football has persevered and began last night with the Kansas City Chiefs dominating the Houston Texans 38-14 behind three rushing touchdowns for rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Well, I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, so that is simply an optimistic projection in hopes that I have a good week in fantasy football, but I digress.
The Minnesota Vikings have shaken up things considerably since we last saw the purple and yellow in action. Let’s take a look at the offense, defense and schedule to see where things stand ahead of week one of the NFL season.
Key Additions: DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Jeff Gladney (31st pick), CB Cameron Dantzler (89th pick)
Key Losses: DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph, DT Michael Pierce (opt-out), LB Ben Gedeon, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander
This is far and away the most turnover in the defensive unit since Mike Zimmer has taken over. Defensive staples Griffen, Joseph, Rhodes and Waynes are all out, leaving room for rookies and young veterans to take over some serious playing time. The Vikings don’t roster a corner over the age of 23, although safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris should be around to clean up messes, of which there will be plenty. In a shocking move, Minnesota was able to trade a 2nd round pick along with a conditional 5th for Pro Bowler Ngakoue, who has 37.5 career sacks, 14 forced fumbles and is actually younger than star defensive end Danielle Hunter.
Key Additions: WR Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), T Ezra Cleveland (58th pick) WR Tajae Sharpe (sort-of)
Key Losses: WR Stefon Diggs, C Brett Jones, G Josh Kline, WR Laquon Treadwell (just kidding).
There is really only one major change to report on the offensive side of the ball. The Vikings essentially were able to ship off headcase and perennial complainer Stefon Diggs for Justin Jefferson (22nd pick), a 2020 5th and 6th and a 2021 4th. While it will take some time to get Jefferson up to speed, the offense should perform similarly to last season. The biggest question mark is the offensive line. Thankfully veteran tackle Riley Reiff took a pay cut to stay with the team. Aside from Reiff, the Vikings trot out lineman with less than four years of experience. Hopefully, they can’t be any worse than they were last season.
Let’s take a quick peek at the schedule, classify each game as Favorable, 50/50 or Formidable and examine one key aspect of each game.
Week 1: vs Green Bay Packers. The Pack are the definition of a 50/50 game and no crowd at US Bank Stadium is going to be weird.
Week 2: at Indianapolis Colts. Easy choice for a Favorable for me. Phillip Rivers is over the hill.
Week 3: vs Tennessee Titans. The Titans made the AFC Championship game in shocking fashion and returned most of their team, making this a 50/50 game. Without Linval Joseph or Michael Pierce, will Derrick Henry run roughshod through the Vikings interior?
Week 4: at Houston Texans. I have to go with Favorable, despite it being an away game. I know Deshaun Watson is a great QB, but I just don’t see this offense being very good with the departure of DeAndre Hopkins and addition of David Johnson.
Week 5: at Seattle Seahawks. For what feels like the 18th year in a row, the Vikings travel west for a primetime game (Sunday Night) against the Seahawks. This is a clear cut Formidable game as Mr. Unlimited himself will likely take over and thwart Minnesota’s chances.
Week 6: vs Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have improved, but this is a Favorable game. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley will test the unproven corners early and often, making it an upset candidate.
Week 8: at Green Bay Packers. Any game at Lambeau teeters on the side of Formidable, but I have to stick with 50/50. I don’t love the Packers defense and the offense isn’t anything to cower in fear against.
Week 9: vs Detroit Lions. Although it is no doubt a Favorable game, the Lions could be pesky as they have improved across the board. The homecoming for Adrian Peterson will be emotional.
Week 10: at Chicago Bears. Just as dependable as a primetime game in Seattle is a primetime game in Chicago. The Bears are only one season removed from a 12 win campaign, but at this point it might be QB Nick Foles instead of Mitch Trubisky. 50/50 it is.
Week 11: vs Dallas Cowboys. There is hope that by November, US Bank Stadium will be able to hold fans. If so, I’d imagine longtime Viking Everson Griffen will get quite the standing ovation. The Cowboys stack up as one of the favorites in the NFC, making this a challenging yet winnable 50/50 game.
Week 12: vs Carolina Panthers. Christian McCaffrey is a freak and Teddy “Two-Gloves” Bridgewater returns to Minnesota as a starter… However, the Panthers defense is awful and the offense really only has one weapon, albeit a great one. Favorable.
Week 13: vs Jacksonville Jaguars. QB Gardner Minshew has all the swag in the world, but the team is tanking for Trevor Lawrence. Favorable.
Week 14: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Brady and the retooled Bucs are certainly Formidable. Add in starting safety former Gopher Antoine Winfield Jr. and hopefully soon to be relevant Gopher receiver Tyler Johnson and this will be a fun one to watch.
Week 15: vs Chicago Bears. At this point, the Bears likely have gone from Trubisky to Foles back to Trubisky and back to Foles. Favorable.
Week 16: at New Orleans Saints. A Christmas Day bash on a Friday afternoon at the Superdome is definitely Formidable. The Saints want revenge from last year… and the year before.
Week 17: at Detroit Lions. The Lions are likely to be around .500, but the Vikings should be better. Sorry Stafford. Favorable.
By my count, I tallied eight Favorable matchups, five 50/50 games, and three Formidable games. The Vikes are atop the NFC North with nine projected wins and are tied for 8th in Super Bowl odds at 25/1. Based on the schedule, I’d be comfortable with a 10 win projection, a NFC North division title and a chance to make a playoff run.