What are reasonable expectations? No, this time I am not talking about your Minnesota Twins. I didn’t feel like consoling nervous Twins fans after experiencing their first three game losing streak of the season and seeing the division lead fall to just four games.
No, this time I am talking about the Minnesota Vikings. In just 48 days, the NFL season will kick off with a Thursday Night affair between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Just three days later, your Vikings will be opening their 2019 campaign against the Falcons at US Bank Stadium.
The last two years have been somewhat of a roller coaster. In a season with very tempered expectations, Minnesota shocked the world, finished 13-3 and had the Minneapolis Miracle. We all know how that ended.
Last year, with a new $84 million dollar quarterback and high expectations, things never seemed quite right and the Vikings stumbled through a 8-7-1 season.
In 2019, Minnesota is bringing back a bulk of the roster and did not lose any significant pieces. The Vikings bring back a tandem of wide receivers who are considered among the best, if not the best, in the entire league. They bring back a dependable tight end and an explosive, albeit injury prone, running back that can transform the offense. They also bring back a career .500 quarterback and a shaky offensive line.
Defensively, 9 of the 11 starters will be the same as last year, only missing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and safety Andrew Sendejo. Even Anthony Barr decided to return after originally accepting an offer with the New York Jets. At least the Vikings are more reliable than one other franchise!
Anyway, so where does that leave us? Well, that offense they are bringing back ranked 20th in overall yards and 19th in points per game last season at 22.5. In 2017, under the tutelage of Case Keenum, Minnesota ranked 11th in yards and 10th in points per game at 23.9.
Defensively, the story is a little greener. In 2018 we saw Minnesota finish 4th in yards given up and 9th in points per game. A small step down from 2017 when the Vikings finished 1st in both categories, but still a very legitimate defense.
What can these trends tell us about the potential of the 2019 season? My first takeaway, and perhaps the most obvious, is that this team will always be a top 10 defense under Mike Zimmer. Their worst year defensively in his tenure was in 2014 where they finished 11th in points per game, which also happened to be his first year at the helm.
The identity of this team will always be defense. As long as the offense is even minorly competent, the Vikings should at least be in the playoff picture.
Now to briefly discuss that hopefully even minorly competent offense. As I alluded to earlier in the piece, the offense relies on two factors. First, how well can the offensive line play? And second, can Kirk Cousins lead a playoff team?
So far, neither of these questions have had positive results. The Vikings offensive line has been a mess for years. Whether it is draft picks that don’t quite pan out or signing guys who are past their prime, Minnesota hasn’t been able to put together a line worth much of anything in recent memory. Hopefully the past three draft picks in Brian O’Neill, Pat Elfein and Garrett Bradbury can be the much needed change.
Lastly, Kirk is a career .500 quarterback. His stats are always decent but not great, which also seems to be the montra of the teams that he leads. If the Vikings are going to go anywhere, Kirk is going to need to take a big step up. Not that I am a football expert, but it is really hard to tell if he will be able to. He shows flashes of brilliance while also showing why he has only made the playoffs one time in his career.
The reality of the NFL is that the stars need to align in order to win a championship. You need to have a great defense and great quarterback play. It is probably safe to say that the floor for this team is about seven wins. The ceiling, however, is a deep playoff run if things go right. I guess that is all you can ask for as a fan – reasonable expectations.