The Minnesota Vikings defense is recovered and rebuilt.
Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce and Anthony Barr are back. The Vikings devoted $32.2 million in guarantees to veteran free agents in defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, cornerback Patrick Peterson, safety Xavier Woods, linebacker Nick Vigil, defensive end Stephen Weatherly and cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
Boasting eight new starters (who weren’t active after the 2020 bye week) on defense from the unit that ranked 27th in 2020, the Vikings defense has been projected as high as a top-five unit in the league by ESPN analyst Mike Clay.
The hype is real, but NFL.com’s Cynthia Frelund isn’t buying.
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NFL.com Projects Vikings as the 6th Worst Team in NFC
Frelund projected every team in the NFC’s 2021 season following the release of the schedule.
Before we reveal her projected record, her justification is oddly optimistic from a national outlet:
Should Aaron Rodgers leave the Packers and the NFC North, this total would increase considerably. The Vikings are one team I have an eye on as a sleeper to overperform offseason expectations. The schedule looks kind enough to Minnesota, with no exceptionally difficult back-to-backs, relatively favorable travel and a lack of daunting matchups; if the defense and offensive line outpace projections, we could see this group reach the playoffs.
Her total wins for the Vikings in 2021? 8.4 wins… Good for the sixth-worst record in the NFC despite boasting a projected top-10 offense and defense by most major outlets.
Frelund’s relative optimism in her write-up yet bearish record contradict each other. It’s puzzling for several reasons:
- The schedule does not look kind, nor is it ever for the Vikings playing in the NFC North: Minnesota has the fifth-toughest strength of schedule in 2021:
- No difficult back-to-backs? The Vikings have three back-to-backs with top 10 teams, per NFL.com’s power rankings: Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 2-3; Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 11-12; Los Angeles Rams and Packers Weeks 16-17.
- Travel is far from favorable in many of these back-to-backs, including primetime matchups, short weeks and bi-coastal travel. The Vikings play six of their final 10 games on the road — two of which are in primetime against the Packers and Chicago Bears.
Frelund’s roster analysis and schedule projection don’t add up.
While the Vikings schedule presents its challenges, the team is one of the league’s most improved when considering the players that actually played throughout the 7-9 2020 campaign.
The Vikings should improve upon their 2020 record by more than a single win by barring major injuries or other circumstances.
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Offense Only Needs Consistency in 2021
Last season, Minnesota’s offense had a troubling start that coincided with Kirk Cousins throwing 11 interceptions in the first six games.
But coming out of the bye week, the Vikings and Cousins found their form. Cousins threw 24 touchdowns and three picks the rest of the season, while Dalvin Cook racked up 1,918 yards from scrimmage despite missing the final game of the regular season. Minnesota gained the fourth-most total yards in the league in 2020.
This was all behind an offensive line that struggled to protect the passer and, at times, made the offense predictable.
The Vikings have worked this offseason to remedy the offensive line that ranked 28th in pass protection and 26th overall by Pro Football Focus. Rookie offensive linemen Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis are projected upgrades over their predecessors.
It’s recklessly naive to say “it couldn’t get much worse” after watching Dru Samia then Dakota Dozier become the worst-graded guards in the league last season following the release of Pat Elflein last season.
However, if the line does not improve in 2021, last season is evidence that the offense can still flourish with sub-par pass protection.
The defense’s turnaround will be the true catalyst in bringing Minnesota back to the postseason.