Minnesota Vikings 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Matt Youmans: Oddsmakers are calling for regression in Minnesota and calling for it in a big way. The Vikings went 13-4 and won the division by four games, but they never earned the respect of sharp bettors for several reasons. Despite finishing nine games over .500, Minnesota’s point differential for the season was -3. The defense ranked in the NFL’s bottom five in scoring and yards allowed. The Vikings went 11-0 in one-score games before getting bounced from the playoffs by the Giants. Kevin O’Connell’s first season as coach was a magic trick unlikely to be replicated.
Kirk Cousins has plenty of critics and probably does not rank as a top-10 quarterback in the league, but he limits turnovers and tends to win just enough. Cousins passed for 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns last year. On the downside, he threw a career-high 14 interceptions. The biggest reason for his success was Justin Jefferson, who led the NFL in receptions (128) and yards (1,809). Jefferson, rookie receiver Jordan Addison, a first-round pick from USC, and tight end T.J. Hockenson will be Cousins’ top targets. Fan favorite Adam Thielen, last year’s No. 2 receiver with 70 catches, is gone and the Vikings released leading rusher Dalvin Cook. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw and a solid offensive line should help battering ram Alexander Mattison improve a running attack that averaged only 97.7 ypg and ranked 27th. O’Connell’s offense ranked eighth in scoring (24.9 ppg), mostly due to Jefferson’s explosive playmaking ability.
After a 31-24 loss to the Giants in the wild-card round, the Vikings were forced to look in the mirror and make changes because the 13-win season was due mostly to the offense. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell was sent packing and replaced by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores. Veteran corner Patrick Peterson was among a few starters to depart. Flores will rebuild the defense around edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport and veteran safety Harrison Smith. Minnesota ranked 31st in total defense (388.7 ypg) — ahead of only the Lions — and 28th in scoring (25.1 ppg). Flores has some young talent to work with and should do well, but there’s much work to do, and it seems he could have found a better job than this.
Close-game luck and a weak schedule had a lot to do with the Vikings’ success. Things are about to get tougher. Minnesota will face the AFC (Chiefs, Bengals) and NFC (Eagles, 49ers) finalists as part of a first-place schedule. It should help to face the four teams from the soft NFC South. Still, NFL teams don’t win double-digit games with smoke and mirrors in back-to-back years. The Vikings were exposed in some spots last season — a 40-3 home loss to Dallas and a 41-17 loss at Green Bay, for example. What might best sum up their season was a 39-36 overtime win against the Colts, who blew a 33-0 lead. Cousins, Jefferson and a strong offensive line can help Minnesota win its share of high-scoring shootouts, but the regression monster is coming, and no one should be surprised if this team goes 8-9. The Under is not a best bet because oddsmakers got ahead of the adjustment in the win total.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: The joke on the Lombardi Line is that if Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell tried to walk into any Vegas casino, he would be turned away. Every security officer in every casino has his picture memorized. Why? Because he is lucky. Damn lucky. The Vikings were the best team in the NFL in winning close games and pulling rabbits out of their hat. They were awful on defense all season, yet somehow, some way, they made a play here and there and ended the season with 13 wins. Do you realize how hard winning 13 games is in the NFL? With the 31st-ranked defensive in terms of yards? It takes luck, and O’Connell had a ton. This year, by the law of averages, the luck will run out. It has to. No one, not even Teddy KGB, can have this kind of luck.
The good news for the Vikings is their defense has to be better — fundamentally, scheme-wise and in execution. It cannot get worse. And their offense, despite the loss of running back Dalvin Cook, will still be explosive because of their system and their dynamic wide receiver, Justin Jefferson. Minnesota will move the ball. They might not win 13 games again, but they have a chance to be a better team. Last year, when they played the best teams in the NFC — Dallas and Philadelphia — they were outscored 64-10 and were never in either game. Against great teams, the Vikings looked average and luckless.
Player to Watch: WR Jordan Addison
Skeptics will look at the Vikings' one-score games and schedule and call for regression — and they are right — but regression can be mitigated by being more dynamic around Jefferson on offense and better than the 31st-ranked team in yards against on defense. And overall, their offensive progress rests on the shoulders of rookie Jordan Addison, who shined on a daily basis and appears ready to be a difference maker right away. Addison suffered a concussion that kept him out of action for most of the preseason, but he’s a pro-ready player that turned heads all throughout camp. He should immediately fill the void left by two-time Pro Bowler Adam Thielen. - Matthew Coller, Purple Insider (@MatthewColler)
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