Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez breaks down the Minnesota Vikings, one of the Detroit Lions’ NFC North opponents, and their outlook for the 2021 NFL season.
Predicted record: 9-8.
When they play the Lions: Oct. 10 (Week 5) in Minneapolis and Dec. 5 (Week 13) in Detroit.
Why they’re better than the Lions
Somehow the Vikings have morphed into an offensive-minded team after being known as a defensive powerhouse for so long. Dalvin Cook had a magical season with 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
Rookie receiver Justin Jefferson had his own amazing season with 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. Kirk Cousins threw 35 touchdown passes and the offense finished fourth overall in yards and 11th in scoring. Tight end Irv Smith is likely out for the season with a knee injury and there are some health concerns, but the Vikings have the capability to be an offensive power.
Why they’re not
The defense, which finished 27th overall and 26th in points allowed last season, remains a work in progress. The Vikings are expecting to have several key players back. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce opted out last season and defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr missed most of last year with injuries.
They will have to prove healthy and effective if the Vikings want to approach anything close to top 10 status on defense. Losing safety Anthony Harris in free agency didn’t help and it’ll be interesting to see how much free-agent cornerback Patrick Peterson has left at 31.
According to a recent report by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Vikings have at least 13 players who are either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, including Cook, Cousins, Adam Thielen and safety Harrison Smith.
If these players miss any significant time due to the coronavirus and the Vikings miss the playoffs, coach Mike Zimmer might be looking for a new job.
There’s no question Cook is the key. When he’s not busy haunting the dreams of defensive coordinators, Cook will be burnishing his status as a favorite to win offensive player of the year. Cook is simply electric running or catching out of the backfield. Of course, Lions fans who watched him rush for a career-high 206 yards with two touchdowns in November don’t have to be told this.
The Vikings need their star defensive players to return to form and make game-changing plays. Hunter was sidelined with a weird neck injury in camp last year and the Vikings sorely missed his presence on the edge, as well as his back-to-back 14.5-sack seasons.
Safety Harrison Smith had a good year and finished with five interceptions, but he’s 32. Peterson had three picks for Arizona last year, but he’s 31. The veteran defense needs to stay on the field and play at a high level to match the offense’s output, and that task will only be made more difficult with an extra game on the schedule.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.