Every NFL season brings with it outliers who far exceed expectations or disappoint miserably. With the futures odds set for the 2021-22 NFL season, we examine that broad range of possibilities for the Minnesota Vikings.
When Last We Met
The Minnesota Vikings had high expectations coming into 2020. Preseason, the NFL betting lines listed Minnesota’s O/U win total at nine wins. Additionally, the online sportsbook gave the Vikings the best chance to win the NFC North.
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs departed for the Buffalo Bills and defensive tackle Michael Pierce opted out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, Minnesota still had a talented roster and high-powered offense.
It turned out to be a disappointing season for the Vikings and started off in calamitous fashion. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was ruled out for the season with a neck injury and, as a result, Minnesota’s pass rush was decimated.
The team was injury-plagued from the get-go and limped to an 0-3 start, its worst during head coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure. Kirk Cousins threw six interceptions in the first three games, including three and no touchdowns in a blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2. In Week 3, the Vikings lost a 31-30 heartbreaker to the Tennessee Titans at home.
The Vikings struggled to pressure opposing QBs and gave up 34 points per game through the first three games. In an NFC North with the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota’s season was virtually over before it even got going.
Through six games, the Vikings were 1-5 and Cousins looked out of sorts. He had a league-leading 10 interceptions through six games, which was only three away from matching his career high. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Baltimore Ravens, and the Vikings were left with a completely toothless pass rush.
Just as Cousins was having a rough year, running back Dalvin Cook’s superb performances were going to waste. First-round pick and rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson was also starting to flash his potential with a huge game vs the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. Jefferson caught nine passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-23 loss.
The Vikings were a much better football team after the 1-5 start. Over the next seven games, they allowed just 23.3 points per game and went 5-2.
Cousins made huge strides and threw 16 TDs to just two interceptions during that seven-game stretch. Cook had back-to-back monstrous games vs the Packers and Detroit Lions with 163 and 206 rushing yards and six total touchdowns.
At 6-7, the Vikings still had a chance to make the playoffs with three games left. Minnesota had a crucial game vs the 7-6 Bears in Week 15 and was a 2½-point favorite for betting online.
Had Minnesota won the game, it would have held a tiebreaker over Chicago and had a chance to qualify as the NFC’s seventh and final seed. However, the Bears got out to a 20-10 halftime lead and the Vikings couldn’t close the gap. Minnesota lost 33-27, ending its playoff hopes.
The Bears snuck into the playoffs at 8-8 and the Vikings finished the season at 7-9 after a Week 17 consolation win vs the Lions. Zimmer will be hoping for a better start and more consistent play from a Vikings team that was anything but in 2020.
To Miss the Playoffs (-150)
The Vikings are projected to be the second-best team in the NFC North, with an over-under win total of 8.5. Minnesota’s NFL playoff odds place it squarely on the NFC bubble along with teams like the Arizona Cardinals and Washington.
At -150 to miss the playoffs, the Vikings are likely to miss out for a second straight year, but have a decent chance to reach the postseason. Without a defensive improvement, it’s unlikely the Vikings make it.
Minnesota gave up 29.7 points per game, which was the fourth-most in the league last season. The Vikings need to put significantly more pressure on opposing QBs. Their sack rate was 28th in the league and teams often had field days against the Vikings defense. Ngakoue played just five games with the Vikings and was, unbelievably, still the team leader in sacks with five.
Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo was second, with 3.5 and LB Eric Wilson was third with three. Both of them left the Vikings for NFC East teams and it’s unclear if Minnesota’s pass rush will improve. Wilson also also was second on the Vikings with three interceptions.
Stephen Weatherly is back for a second stint but had an injury-plagued season with the Carolina Panthers last year. If Hunter is healthy, it would be a huge boost, but that’s a big if after missing all of 2020.
Cook and Jefferson are an incredible one-two punch. Adam Thielen is a good receiver who has also given Minnesota a bunch of solid years. There are foundational pieces for a good offense but there are still some holes. The Vikings don’t necessarily have a standout third receiver and tight end Kyle Rudolph left for the New York Giants in the offseason. Left tackle Riley Reiff is now with the Bengals.
Minnesota also made a gutsy move by drafting quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round with Cousins under contract until the end of the 2022 season. If Cousins has another hiccup in the early stages of the season, don’t be shocked if the Vikings hand the reins to Mond and look toward the future.
It certainly appears like there are more questions than answers surrounding Minnesota. It’s easy to envision the Vikings being average and missing out on the playoffs even with some good offensive pieces. Especially since Minnesota has the fifth-toughest schedule in the league this year, based on its opponents’ 2020 win percentages.
To Make the Playoffs (+120)
Just as it is easy to envision the Vikings missing the playoffs, it’s similarly easy to envision a scenario in which they make it.
The Vikings added All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson to a secondary that desperately needed him. The defensive back corps has been completely revamped, with Mackensie Alexander and Bashaud Breeland joining in the offseason. Minnesota also signed safety Xavier Woods after he spent four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce is back after opting out of the 2020 season and the Vikings gave Dalvin Tomlinson a two-year, $21 million deal. Tomlinson, a fifth-year player, set a career high last season with eight tackles for losses for the Giants. The signing of former Viking Sheldon Richardson rounds out the depth on a revamped interior defensive line.
Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks missed a significant chunk of time in 2020 and getting them both healthy would be a big boost to the playoff chances. The Vikings also took North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt in the third round to add depth.
An improved defense would be a huge stepping stone toward a playoff berth.
Through the draft, the Vikings found an impact starter in the first round. Trading down from No. 14 to No. 23 and receiving the 66th and 86th picks in the process, Minnesota took left tackle Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw from Virginia Tech, was one of the most highly touted offensive linemen in the draft.
Even with Darrisaw, the offensive line may be a weak point. However, the Vikings can overcome that with how much offensive talent they have. If Cousins plays the way he did in the second half of the season, the Vikings have a great shot of making a fourth playoff berth during Zimmer’s eight-year tenure.
Jefferson set a rookie record with a ridiculous 1,400 receiving yards and was the only rookie to reach 1,000 in 2020. He was the fifth receiver taken in the 2020 draft and has made the four teams that passed on him look silly. Jefferson finished fourth in the league in receiving yards and also caught seven TD passes.
Thielen was the team leader in receiving touchdowns with a career-high 14. That was good for third in the NFL. The two time Pro-Bowler had another fine season with 925 yards on 74 receptions.
Cook didn’t quite match the breakneck pace that Derrick Henry set in 2020, but was the NFL’s second-leading rusher. That feat is all the more impressive given that he missed two games. Cook was also second among all players in rushing TDs with 16.
The offensive trio of Jefferson, Thielen and Cook is one of the league’s best and could propel the Vikings into the playoffs. Young tight end Irv Smith Jr. could also have a breakout season with the departure of Rudolph.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings roster as the ninth-most talented in the league. NFL projections suggest that if Minnesota plays up to its potential, a playoff berth hangs in the balance.
To Win the NFC North (+250)
The Vikings have better than average NFL divisional round odds, with a 28.6 percent implied chance to win the NFC North. That puts Minnesota in the position of being a potential value bet to win the division. With Rodgers expected to play for Green Bay, the Packers are the division favorites.
Recall that Minnesota was favored over the Packers to win the division last season and could match up well with Green Bay with a revamped and healthy roster. Cousins and the defense will be the two biggest factors which determine if Minnesota wins the division or not.
Cousins has played like a borderline elite quarterback for stretches of his career and he can still reach those heights. The pass rush, secondary and interior line could be much improved with the significant offseason additions and a healthy roster. The Vikings went 4-2 in the division last season, including a win vs the Packers at Lambeau, in which Cook scored all four Vikings TDs.
Minnesota has the pieces in place to give the Packers a run for their money. It’s the execution that’s the question.
To Win the NFC (+1800)
The Vikings are an interesting dark-horse pick to win the NFC. Their NFL conference odds suggest just a 5.3 percent chance of advancing to the Super Bowl.
Outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the conference looks to be somewhat wide open. The Vikings have the offensive talent to compete with anyone and could win a few playoff games.
Zimmer has made the NFC Championship game before and the Vikings have also finished 13-3 during his tenure, with Case Keenum at QB. Zimmer has earned the benefit of the doubt even after a disappointing 2020.
A motivated Minnesota squad could make this a reality, even if it is unlikely.
To Win the Super Bowl (+4000)
At 40-to-1, the Vikings have middle-of-the-road Super Bowl Odds. It wouldn’t be completely shocking if this were to occur but Minnesota has a tragic history in the Super Bowl. Minnesota has lost all four of its Super Bowl appearances, which all came in the 1970s.
While it would take a huge defensive leap for this to be a consideration, the Vikings have completely revamped large parts of the defense. The questions on the offensive line will need to be answered as well.
But, the talent is there with the core of Cousins, Cook, Jefferson and Thielen. If Peterson can perform at an All-Pro level again and a few of the depth signings pan out, it’s possible.