By, Faux John Madden (Special to OddsUSA.com)
Just two seasons ago, the Vikings were on the doorstep of playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl which happened to be played on their home field.
Instead, Minnesota would head into Philadelphia and promptly get blown out of the water after a miraculous win over the New Orleans Saints the week before, and the magical run by journeyman backup quarterback Case Keenum came to a close.
The Vikings looked at that situation and felt that they were just an upgrade at quarterback away from being a potential Super Bowl winning team, and as fate would have it, that very offseason Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was about to finally become a free agent.
One $84 million fully guaranteed contract later, and Cousins was the new quarterback in the Twin Cities. The Vikings elected to mortgage the future and go for broke, and while Minnesota would go on to upset the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs a season ago, the past two seasons for the Vikings have largely been disappointing as their attempt to swing for the fences wound up being the equivalent of an infield single.
As a result of their spending spree to create a Super Bowl contender, GM Rick Spielman and the Vikings entered the 2020 offseason with the budget of a poor college student.
However, despite the financial challenges the Vikings faced heading into the offseason, they were able to make shrewd trades and elected to turn to the 2020 NFL Draft with an eye-popping 15 picks as the means to quickly replenish the talent on their roster.
Minnesota looks to have the talent in place to contend in 2020 and beyond, but once again it will be on their polarizing starting quarterback to ensure that happens.
Vikings 2019 Season Review
Minnesota entered the 2019 campaign after a supremely disappointing 8-7-1 2018 season that saw the Vikings fail to reach the playoffs the season after losing in the NFC Championship, and the lightning rod for all of the Vikings issues eventually fell on the shoulders of their prized free-agent acquisition from the season before.
To make the 2019 season easier on their $84 million man, Mike Zimmer completely overhauled the offensive staff, firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after just one season with the team.
Zimmer and DeFilippo worked together about as well as pouring a barrel of oil into one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, and the veteran head coach would look towards the coaching duo of Kevin Stefanski and Greg Kubiak to completely revamp the offensive philosophy, going from a team that would air it out to the team that would play ball-control offense, pound the football, and beat teams in the passing game through bootlegs and play-action.
After two rocky games to start the season, the Vikings offense began to come together, and Kirk Cousins would quietly put together the best season of his career, as the veteran quarterback would throw for 3603 yards, 26 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. Even more impressive than that, following that fateful Week 2 loss to the hated Packers, Cousins would only throw four interceptions in the next 13 starts and post a quarterback rating of 107.4.
The Vikings would go on to start the season with a 2-2 record, but they would then rattle off six wins in their next seven games to take them to an 8-3 record at their Week 12 Bye Week. The Vikings would come out of the bye with a crucial Monday Night road game against the Seattle Seahawks, but they would fall 37-30, all but ending any chances they had at catching Green Bay in the NFC North standings.
Minnesota would win their next two games and lock up a Wild Card spot, before falling to Green Bay yet again in Week 16, and then would lose a Week 17 game against Chicago that meant nothing to their season and allowed starters to rest before their playoff game against New Orleans the following week.
The rest seemed to help the Vikings out, as Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook would lead Minnesota to a shocking first-round upset over the Saints, before bowing out the following weekend to the eventual NFC Champion 49ers, marking the second time in three seasons that the Vikings would knock the Saints out of the playoffs and then ultimately lose to the team that would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The 49ers exposed the Vikings vanilla offensive scheme behind their smothering defense and would hold Minnesota to just 147 yards of total offense, with 41 of those yards coming on the Vikings lone touchdown on the day.
It was at that moment that Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer knew they would have to have a mini-rebuild in the 2020 offseason and would arm up on draft picks to get the party started.
Somehow the Vikings Added These Players With $5 of Salary Cap Room
DE Yannick Ngakoue (Jaguars/Trade)
DT Michael Pierce (Ravens)
WR Tajae Sharpe (Titans)
S Steven Parker (Dolphins)
LB Hardy Nickerson (Bengals)
DE Anthony Zettel (49ers)
Forced to Live In Minnesota During the Winter Thanks to the Franchise Tag
S Anthony Harris (Tender signed)
Got Tired of Kirk Cousins Asking Them if They Like That
WR Stefon Diggs (Bills/Trade)
DE Everson Griffen (Cowboys)
CB Trae Waynes (Bengals)
CB Mackensie Alexander (Bengals)
S Andrew Sendejo (Browns)
DT Linval Joseph (Chargers)
CB Xavier Rhodes (Colts)
WR Laquon Treadwell (Falcons)
S Jayron Kearse (Lions)
DE Stephen Weatherly (Panthers)
Vikings 2020 Offensive Preview
The Vikings enter the 2020 season with their third offensive coordinator in three seasons, as Kevin Stefanski left Minnesota to become the head coach in Cleveland (where dreams go to die).
After bringing Gary Kubiak into the fold a season ago under the title of assistant head coach and offensive advisor, Kubiak will slide over into Stefanski’s old role as the team’s offensive coordinator and play-caller, marking the first time he will call plays since he stepped away from the game due to health concerns back in 2016 following his win as Broncos head coach in Super Bowl 50.
Despite the change in coordinators, the Vikings offensive philosophy will remain the same as it was a season ago. Kubiak will once again be running his vaunted zone rushing scheme that has been wildly successful at every stop of Kubiak’s career, and it is the same offense that maximizes the strengths of Kirk Cousins the best.
A season ago, Kubiak and his longtime colleague Rick Dennison did wonders with an offensive line that had struggled mightily in 2018 to protect Kirk Cousins and block for Dalvin Cook. That offensive line returns mostly intact from a year ago, with question marks still present at guard where Dakota Dozier will be the presumptive starter at left guard and Pat Elflein moves over to right guard after being a virtual turnstile on the left side of Minnesota’s line.
And while offensive line play is paramount to the success of every team in football, it’s especially important in this offense as the running game sets up the Vikings aerial attack that utilizes a lot of bootlegs and passing concepts out of play-action to attack defenses vertically.
Minnesota’s rushing game of course depends greatly on the explosive Dalvin Cook, who is one of the best running backs in football when he’s healthy. Cook’s durability has been a major issue for the Vikings to deal with however, as the former 2017 2nd round pick has missed 19 games in his three seasons with the team.
When Cook is healthy, the Vikings offense becomes significantly more imposing, and Cousins’ play becomes dramatically better. Cousins’ accuracy, particularly off of play-action throwing deep, is amongst the best in football, but he’s not exactly Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes back there and needs a clean pocket to take a defense apart.
Unfortunately for Cousins, the Vikings best deep-ball threat wanted to get out of the run-oriented Kubiak offense and go somewhere where he would be featured more in the passing game, so Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman traded Diggs to Buffalo to play with Josh Allen, and we’re not exactly sure if this was done to appease the young wideout or to punish him by sending him to Buffalo.
To replace Diggs in the passing game, Minnesota selected LSU WR Justin Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Jefferson, like the rest of the 2019 LSU Tigers offense, was absolutely sensational in his last collegiate season with 111 receptions, 1540 yards, and 18 touchdowns.
If Jefferson can quickly acclimate to a much different type of offense than the one he played in a year ago, he and Adam Thielen can become quite the dangerous duo in the NFC North. Minnesota also added former Tennessee Titans WR Tajae Sharpe in free agency to round out the Vikings wide receiver corps.
The Vikings offense will also rely heavily on their two tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and 2019 2nd round pick Irv Smith Jr. Rudolph of course had the winning touchdown grab in the NFC Wild Card win over New Orleans, and Smith is a young athletic freak at the position who can stretch the field deep over the middle of the field.
Vikings 2020 Defensive Preview
Entering training camp it looked as though the lone pass rusher on the Vikings roster to fear was that of rising star Danielle Hunter, who is coming off of a 14.5 sack season in 2019.
But then Minnesota went out and acquired Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville, and Yannick was so excited to get out of Duval County (and honestly, who wouldn’t be excited to leave that part of the world) that he took a $6 million pay cut to make sure the trade would be facilitated.
Considering the Vikings were working with roughly six dollars of salary cap room all offseason, the fact they were able to land Ngakoue is very impressive, and will likely leave the rest of the quarterbacks in the NFC North sleeping a little less comfortably this season.
Joining Hunter and Ngakoue on the Vikings defensive line are defensive tackles Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson, with Ifeadi Odenigbo and Eddie Yarbrough providing depth at defensive end. Odenigbo was a gem for Mike Zimmer’s defensive unit, as the former 2017 7th round pick would notch seven sacks a season ago, this after being cut previously by the Vikings and two other teams before returning to play for Zimmer in 2019.
Minnesota features two of the best linebackers in the game with veterans Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Kendricks is one of the best inside linebackers in the entire league, and Barr has been a steady presence for Mike Zimmer since being drafted by the team in 2014.
In the Vikings secondary, safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris provide one of the best safety tandems in the entire league, while 2018 1st round pick Mike Hughes will become Minnesota’s new top cornerback after the departures of Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Mackensie Alexander.
Hughes will be joined in the Minnesota secondary by the team’s second first-round pick the team had in 2020 with TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney. Gladney will compete for the other starting cornerback spot with Holton Hill, who found his way in Mike Zimmer’s dog house thanks to two separate four-game suspensions a season ago. Minnesota also drafted rookies Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Hand, and Josh Metellus to round out the depth of their secondary.
Vikings 2020 Outlook & Prediction
Since Mike Zimmer was named head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, the team has alternated between finishing around .500 and making the playoffs every season, and that could very well be the Vikings fate once more as the team is depending on an influx of rookies to keep the team as a possible playoff contender in the NFC.
It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact how quickly the 2020 Minnesota draft class can acclimate to the NFL, as the preseason was canceled entirely and offseason preparation isn’t what it typically is for rookies.
Should the Vikings rookies fill the voids left by the salary cap casualties from this offseason, the pieces are there for Minnesota to have back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2009, especially on the defensive side of the ball where Mike Zimmer almost always has one of the best defenses in the league.
We just think there are too many inexperienced pieces to carry the Vikings back to the playoffs, but this could very well be a team you don’t want any part of in the second half of the season. It just may be too little, too late in the loaded NFC. We think the Vikings have a winning season but narrowly miss out on the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Vikings 2020 Projection: 9-7, 2nd place NFC North
Vikings 2020 Betting Preview
The following futures bets on the Minnesota Vikings will have you shouting “SKOL!” all season long:
- Minnesota Vikings to MISS Playoffs — (+112) at DraftKings Sportsbook
The Vikings have interchanged making the playoffs and missing the playoffs in every season since Mike Zimmer was named head coach. That’s not the reason we like this bet however, as we touched upon above, there’s just too much roster churn and reliance on young rookies during a season where rookies may have a steeper learning curve than usual. The Vikings certainly have talent throughout their roster, we just feel that they will miss the playoffs in a loaded NFC this season. Take the plus money here.
- Minnesota Vikings to Finish in 2nd Place NFC North — (+200) at DraftKings Sportsbook
There is a slight risk here as Chicago is capable of surprising if they find a quarterback that won’t ruin the Bears vaunted defense, but we love the value here at +200 on the Vikings finishing behind the Packers once again in the division standings.
- Danielle Hunter to lead NFL in Sacks — (+1300) at DraftKings Sportsbook
Hunter was spectacular in 2019 as he notched 14.5 sacks on the season, and the ascending superstar got a big boost at the end of August when the Vikings acquired Yannick Ngakoue from Jacksonville. Yannick’s presence on the line can only help Hunter’s cause, and we love this 13-to-1 value on one of the league’s best young pass rushers.