NFL Pick: 2023 Minnesota Vikings Over 8.5 Wins (-121) at BetRivers
The 2022 Minnesota Vikings did not win a playoff game, but they were a team for the history books. The 2022 Vikings tied the 2016 Lions for the NFL records with 8 4th-quarter comeback wins and 8 game-winning drives in a season.
Does that mean regression is guaranteed? Not quite. The 2017 Lions finished with the same 9-7 record they had in 2016 (and with better statistics), but that is not always enough to make the playoffs.
Still, there is usually a decline in close games for teams like this. The Vikings were also the first team in NFL history to win more than 11 games despite a negative scoring differential. The team has also parted ways with several veterans on both sides of the ball.
The top online sportsbooks have set their over/under to 8.5 wins, which is basically the Cousins Zone every year outside of last season’s remarkable run of clutch wins.
The Vikings say goodbye to some long-time players and hello to a new defensive coordinator.
Jefferson and Addison: The New Twin Peaks
The Vikings are rolling with a new No. 2 receiver and lead running back this year after letting Adam Thielen (Panthers) and Dalvin Cook (Jets) go to new teams.
Replacing Cook will be Alexander Mattison, a backup who has waited his turn since 2019 when the Vikings took him in the 3rd round. He has had some good games, but he will have to prove he can do it for a full season in a much bigger role.
The more exciting addition to the offense is the 1st-round selection of wide receiver Jordan Addison, who could replace Thielen’s production this year. Thielen was past his prime, but he was a reliable target and not bad in the red zone.
Addison is 2 inches shorter than Thielen (6’2”), but he will hope to draw some single coverage while defenses do their best with Jefferson. This was a nice move with a lot of future potential, but it is hard to break out as a rookie wide receiver, especially when you are not coming in as the No. 1.
Brian Flores Takes Over a Defense Missing Many Pieces
The Vikings were poor on defense last year, especially when it came to stopping the pass. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is out after just 1 year on the job in Minnesota. Replacing him is Brian Flores, a respected defensive mind who has learned from Bill Belichick in New England. Flores spent last year as a defensive assistant to Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.
This is a good hire that should help in the long run, but the Vikings are down a lot of veteran defensive talent, including Za’Darius Smith (Browns), Eric Kendricks (Chargers), Dalvin Tomlinson (Browns), Chandon Sullivan (Steelers), and Patrick Peterson (Steelers). The team also had enough of Cameron Dantzler at corner.
The additions are not nearly as exciting with Marcus Davenport (Saints) being the potential standout at edge rusher. Thanks to trades, the Vikings only drafted one player in the top 100 picks this year, and that was Addison for the offense in the 1st round.
Third-round corner Mekhi Blackmon could be a Week 1 starter to make up for the loss of defensive backs. At least the pass rush still has Danielle Hunter and the secondary will be led by safety Harrison Smith, but Flores has his work cut out for him. His bend-but-don’t-break style of defense could often break this year, leading to more shootouts and comeback opportunities for this team.
2023 Schedule Analysis
The Vikings are certainly good enough to go at least 3-3 in a division they were 4-2 in last year. The 2023 Chicago Bears still have question marks on both sides of the ball, the 2023 Green Bay Packers have a very young group of skill players to go with Jordan Love, and the 2023 Detroit Lions are never one to meet expectations in the last 60 years.
But with that expected regression in close games, you have to think the Vikings are going to revert to that team that sticks around .500 for the entire year. Having 3 division games, including both Detroit matchups, in the final weeks of the season could be the right push the team needs for a division title with 9 or 10 wins should no one take a huge step forward in this NFC North.
The scariest part of the season for Minnesota could be Weeks 7-11. If you predict a 3-3 start going into that stretch, they will face the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers, the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, and the Denver Broncos. The 49ers are expected to be an elite team, and that game is a Monday night where Cousins is infamously 2-10 in his career. The other teams could potentially all be improved.
If Minnesota can survive that stretch by staying near .500, the Vikings should finish around 9 wins again. The calls for regression may be a little too harsh this year as it is not like anyone should run away with the NFC North, and the Vikings are going to put up offensive numbers to keep them in most games.
Take the over for your NFL best bets, but just expect the season to be less entertaining than last year for the Vikings.
NFL Pick: 2023 Minnesota Vikings Over 8.5 Wins (-121) at BetRivers
2022 Recap: One to Remember
It was almost comical how good the Vikings were in close games last year, the first on the job for rookie coach Kevin O’Connell. He was the same offensive coordinator with the 2021 Rams when they became the first team ever to win 3 straight playoff games by 3 points on their way to a championship.
Even those Rams had a little “win close, lose big” to them, and O’Connell brought that with him to the Vikings last year. The team lost 24-7 in Philadelphia, 40-3 to Dallas, 34-23 to the Lions, and 41-17 to the Packers in the regular season.
But the 8 4th-quarter comebacks were an NFL record. The Vikings also tied an NFL record by winning 7 straight games by no more than 8 points each. The 7th game in that stretch was by far the wildest when the Vikings came back from a 17-point deficit in Buffalo in Week 10.
Justin Jefferson had a fantastic year, but his No. 1 play was a 1-handed catch on 4th-and-18 against Buffalo. However, that drive was stopped at the 1-yard line on a 4th-down stop by Buffalo. It looked like the game was over with Minnesota out of timeouts. Buffalo just had to kneel a couple times and the game was over.
But one of the wildest plays in NFL history happened. Allen fumbled the snap, the Vikings pounced on it at the goal line, and they scored a touchdown to take the lead. It is the biggest fumble mistake in an NFL game since Joe Pisarcik coughed it up in the Miracle at the Meadowlands play in 1978.
The game went to overtime where the Vikings put it away with an interception off Allen, all but ending that quarterback’s MVP campaign. The Vikings were a most improbable 8-1, Kirk Cousins was wearing gold chains on airplanes, and it was all fun and games.
But a week later, a cold dose of reality hit when the Cowboys had that dominating 40-3 win in Minnesota, which was really the coming out party for Tony Pollard as their lead back. But it was not only an elite offense like Dallas that had its way with Minnesota’s defense last year, which is why so many of these games were high scoring and close.
Even Mac Jones of the Patriots threw for a career-high 382 yards on Thanksgiving in a 33-26 loss to the Vikings where the Patriots were hosed a bit on a touchdown call for Hunter Henry. It was little things like that that kept popping up for Minnesota to assist these 1-score wins. Maybe it was a weak 15-yard penalty on Washington to drain clock for a game-winning field goal in Week 9, or Braxton Berrios dropping a touchdown in the end zone on 4th down for the Jets in a 27-22 loss in Week 13.
But the ultimate Minnesota game last year was the record-setting 33-point comeback against the Colts in Week 15. Despite trailing 33-0 at halftime, Minnesota rallied all the way back, stopped the Colts on a crucial 4th down, and ended up winning 39-36 in overtime for the biggest comeback win NFL history.
Does that comeback happen against a real coach instead of interim coach Jeff Saturday? Probably not, but that game was incredible to watch. Things mostly calmed down from there for Minnesota, but it did notch an 8th comeback win over the Giants.
However, when the teams met again in the wild-card round, Daniel Jones outplayed Cousins, and the Vikings were unable to improve on their 8-0 record in comeback opportunities for the season. Down 31-24 late, on a 4th-and-8, Cousins threw well short of the sticks to tight end T.J. Hockenson, and the play only gained 3 yards with no real shot of converting. The season ended with a real dud like that instead of a classic finish.
But Vikings fans will always remember the 2022 season, for better or worse.