My breakdown and feelings of the Vikings before the start of the season. Who is our MVP ; Who is our Underappreciated ; What am I excited about ; What am I worried about ; Where does the team need to be week-to-week before I press the panic button.
The Most Valuable non-QB
For me, it’s Stefon Diggs. The defense might have something to say about that, and while there might be more ‘elite’ players on defense, it boasts enviable depth at almost every position, decreasing their ‘individual’ value. After eliminating the defense, it has to be one of the WRs, as the running backs are deep and the offensive line plays together as one (or so we hope). Diggs gets the nod over Thielen because of his anticipated step forward and already seemingly good chemistry with Cousins. A lack of efficiency from Diggs would be detrimental to the team, and furthermore an injury would thrust some unproven players into premium playing time. A step forward into elite receiver status, and this offense takes the necessary next step.
The Unsung Hero
The opposite of Stefon Diggs: Linval Joseph. At 330 pounds, Joseph hogs the middle and first and foremost stops the run. What he does for the Vikings forces teams into 3rd and long situations, which ultimately gets the defense off the field. He doesn’t get the flashy sacks like Everson Griffen or Danielle Hunter, nor does he have the first-round draft label of Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr or Xavier Rhodes, but Joseph in many ways is the key to the defense and allows the rest of the defense to function at its highest level. I want to campaign for more love for Linval.
The Thing That Excites Me
The additions. The Vikings haven’t had a stable quarterback since Culpepper, and it’s exciting to have that position solidified for what appears to be the near future. As I prepare myself for failure this season, I know stability at quarterback will give this team an opportunity to win year-over-year. Outside of Cousins, Mike Hughes and Sheldon Richardson will bolster an already terrific defense. Richardson was a massive upgrade and I think people will be surprised by his impact. Hughes on the other hand has drawn rave reviews out of practice and hopefully, will silence the critics who wanted an offensive lineman with our first-round pick. Overall, this team is better on paper than last year’s 13-3 squad.
The Thing That Worries Me
In the big picture, it’s this team falling short of expectations and the backlash that would follow. In general, “Super Bowl or Bust” is an expectation almost impossible to live up to. Heck, Dan Marino never won one, so it’s not like championships fall out of the sky even if you have the right QB. Even the 16-0 Patriots couldn’t bring home the Lombardi, but I digress… The kicker and the offensive line are troublesome, but for me, the big worry is the overall newness on the offensive side of the ball. How long will it take Cousins to click with his receivers? And how long will it take him and the rest of the offense to pick up new OC John DeFilippo’s offense? If the schedule did the Vikings any favors early, this would be less of an issue, but the gauntlet at the beginning leaves no room for error. Which brings me to…
Breaking the schedule into 5 parts, and where the Vikings should be at each step of the way to be comfortable with their end of year finish.
The First 5:
vs 49ers ; at Packers ; vs Bills ; at Rams ; at Eagles
This is the aforementioned gauntlet as four of these teams are popular playoff picks for this season, three of which are on the road. Because of that, the Vikes can’t afford to stumble in Week 1. With the offense expected to have some early season growing pains, this is not the ideal schedule to test it on, though the 49ers and Packers strengths are not on defense. With that said, Super Bowl Contenders need to show they belong, and they should be at least 3-2 after this and steal one of the road games, which would put them in great shape (I’ll also take 4-1 or 5-0) 2-3 would not be the end of the world, but 1-4 would cause for great panic. They won’t lose to the Bills so I won’t entertain 0-5. For arguments sake, let’s put them at a cautious 2-3.
The Next 3:
vs Cardinals ; at Jets ; vs Saints
This should be a 3-0 sweep. The Cardinals should not pose a threat at home. The Jets should again. However, we do know that Sam Braford can sling it on occasion, and we don’t know what Sam Darnold is. Productive QB play would make these games closer than anticipated. The Saints are going to want revenge in their first time back in US Bank since the Miracle, but the Vikings should stand tall in their home building.
At the halfway point, a 6-2 record would be huge for this team, proving they could beat playoff contenders. If they slip up in a game and are at 5-3, they’re still in okay shape, but will need to do damage in the division. 4-4 would be a major concern.
vs Lions; at Bears ; vs Packers
This should be another 3-0 sweep at first glance, but winning three straight divisional games is no easy feat. The Lions should always be a win at home. Check. However, the Vikings always have trouble at Soldier Field. Khalil Mack won’t help matters, but they should still get the best of Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears. The Packers will be another battle, but you need to win your home games. We’ll give them a loss somewhere in here and still be in okay shape.
The Super Bowl 49 Road Trip:
at Seahawks ; at Patriots
This would have been a gauntlet a few years ago, but with the Seahawks looking to be a shell of itself, this should be a win. It’s still not easy to take one in Seattle, but the Seahawks roster pales in comparison to the Vikes. As for New England, it will be exciting to see the defense against Tom Brady, in a matchup I actually feel favors Minnesota; however, it’s not wise to bet against Brady. This is one we’ll chalk up as a loss.
The Final 3:
vs Miami ; at Detroit ; vs Chicago
Heading into the final 3 games at 8-5 should be enough for the Vikings. Miami will be a win. Detroit, I don’t see playing for much and is a game that should be won anyways. Week 17, Chicago may be done as well, but with them being a surprise playoff-candidate this could be another dogfight. Either way, this should be a 3-0 stretch for the Vikings to finish their season.
Even with some cautiousness and a difficult schedule, I can still see an 11-5 finish, which would be an impressive follow-up to the 13-3 year due to the difficulty of the road schedule. The point is, even if the Vikings see themselves in a tough spot to begin the season, don’t panic as their schedule sets itself up to finish strong.
This team is built to win and they should demonstrate they can do it. If all clicks correctly, it should be an exciting ride for the purple and gold. With all of that being said, I think the best part of this season is that we see a team that has multiple chances, not a one-year window. You never know how games or injuries are going to break, so the accumulation of talent and stable coaching staff set the Vikings up for success not only in 2018, but beyond.