Not much will change – say the masses about the 2021 Vikings.
In 2020, the Vikings finished a weird season with a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs altogether and establishing tell-all stakes for the 2021 season. Head coach Mike Zimmer has led the franchise for seven seasons with almost half of that mark in tandem with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
By the end of the 2021 season, Minnesota’s front office will possess a four-year sample size with Cousins while his cap hit for 2022 astronomically balloons to $45 million. If the Vikings do not get back to the postseason – and probably win a game there – Zimmer and Cosuins will likely be tranisitioned to their next non-Minnesota gigs.
And if the national popular opinion is any indicator, this season indeed may be the last for the Zimmer-Cousins combo for the Vikings.
NFL predictions are dribbling into the national dialogue because the regular season starts in one week. Bleacher Report offered its team-by-team prognostications on Thursday, and Brad Gagnon assigned the Vikings an 8-9 record – one win more than last season.
That ain’t gonna cut it.
Gagnon said about the 2021 Vikings and his 8-9 theory:
“Who knows when we’ll see first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw, and how the pass rush will look as Danielle Hunter comes back from a neck injury with limited support. Cousins puts up solid numbers but has never been consistent, his offensive line remains a question mark and the NFC North should be difficult again with Aaron Rodgers returning to the Packers. Even with a revamped secondary, star back Dalvin Cook and Hunter’s return giving them a slightly higher ceiling than in 2020, it’s hard to get behind a winning record for these Vikes.”
This sentiment was similarly echoed by USA Today, too. Brad Werner forecasted all NFL teams’ records, and Minnesota was an 8-9 ballclub for him as well. He wrote:
“The Minnesota Vikings need a big season to keep Mike Zimmer in place. It doesn’t seem likely as the COVID-19 discussion with Kirk Cousins already has become a distraction. Not good when the leader of your offense swims in controversy… and not because he is fighting Kellen Monds. I just don’t think the Vikes are headed in the correct direction.”
To a degree, this is parroting Vegas odds. Per sportsbooks, the Vikings are a supposed to win between eight and nine games, making these two predictions right in line with gambling probabilities. In terms of personnel, the 2021 Vikings are somewhat comparable to the last year’s team – Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, and Cousins – so the temptation is to believe the Vikings are “running it back.” That’s true for the coach and quarterback – but not the bulk of the roster. Last year for most of the season, the Vikings were without the services of players like Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr, and Eric Kendricks down the stretch. Teams always preach next man up in the face of adversity, but losing that many men on defense is a mammoth deal. And that’s probably why the Vikings defense sunk from fifth-best in the NFL during 2019 to fourth-worst in 2020. Aye caramba.
In addition to players returning from injury, general manager Rick Spielman signed a barrage of new men. Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Sheldon Richardson, Bashaud Breeland, Xavier Woods, Dede Westbrook, and others joined Minnesota, although most are playing under the one-year-deal banner.
The 2021 Vikings are significantly more talented than the 2020 version. In the offseason 18 months ago, the Vikings subtracted players like Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joesph, Everson Griffen, and Trae Waynes. This offseason entailed the opposite trend. Spielman added dudes rather than cutting ties with long-term veterans (other than Kyle Rudolph).
Based on roster talent, the Vikings should win more than eight games. Think closer to 10-12. If they do not, though, the franchise will be fundamentally reconstructed with new leadership.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday along with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).