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Something old, something new, something will they do?

Previewing the 2018 Minnesota Vikings

Jacksonville Jaguars v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hi kids, how are we doing?

I love weddings, now that I am no longer on the hook to pay for them. Well, I have one daughter that hasn’t been married, so not quite off the hook. Weddings are a hoot, unless you’re the Dad, that is. Then it’s sinkhole of money and you realize that you’ll have to work three full time jobs into your 80’s to pay off the damn cake and dress, and you wonder why you didn’t get in to that emotional extortion racket years ago.

Until the wedding day, anyways, and you are overcome with so many emotions when you see your little girl in her wedding dress and walk her down the aisle that you can barely speak.

Whew. Still gets to me just thinking about it with my oldest two.

Also, don’t get married during football season. That’s just rude.

Anyway, when a bride to be gets married, there is an old saying that describes what she should have with her on that day: ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ The story goes that if she has those four things on her person, her marraige will be a lasting one, full of love and memories for years to come.

Now that the Minnesota Vikings have hitched their wagon to Kirk Cousins for the forseeable future, let’s see what this union will produce. Your 2018 Vikings preview follows.

Something Old

Mike Zimmer and the Zim Reapers. Defense. It’s been the hallmark of the Minnesota Vikings since they played on the Bloomington prairie and were known as The Purple People Eaters. Much like the identity of those teams from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, the Mike Zimmer-era Vikings are more associated with defense, and probably will be as long as he is the head coach. Taking over in 2014, Zimmer enters his fifth year at the helm of this longboat, and has re-made the defense in his image. In 2013, the Vikings were, literally, the worst defense in the league. With essentially the same personnel a year later, they improved to 14th, then 13th, then third. All the while, Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman were adding players to the roster to fit the scheme Zimmer likes to run, and last year he finally had his vision realized as the Vikings had the top defense in the NFL. They were first in yards, first in points, first in TD passes, and set an NFL record for third down conversions, allowing opposing offenses to convert a only 25.2% of the time.

His Double A Gap based defense creates confusion and mismatches, and he has smart, athletic players at all three levels. The defensive line returns Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Linval Joseph. Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks will see most of the snaps at linebacker, and former defensive backs coach Zimmer boasts what is arguably the deepest and most talented secondary in football. He has former first round picks Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Mike Hughes, Trae Waynes, and Terence Newman, and a second round pick in Macensie Alexander. In the NFC North, having a secondary that can go five and six deep is a must, and the Vikings can match up against any receiver group in the NFL.

Yet, for the last six quarters of the 2017 post season the defense largely disappeared, and a mostly pedestrian QB in Nick Foles carved the Vikings defense up with surgical precision in the NFC Championship. Why? That’s a question Minnesota had better find the answer to, as a repeat in the NFC North and then getting to...and past...the NFC Championship will be a tough hill to climb. Historically, teams that lose in the NFC Championship don’t make it back to the playoffs the following year, so if there’s a hangover the Vikings will need to find a cure, and pretty fast. That cure could very well be a mad, angry defense bent on revenge and redemption.

Something New

Kirk Cousins, John DeFilippo, and (kinda) Dalvin Cook. Last year the Vikings offfense finally held up their end of the bargain in the Zimmer era, ranking 10th in points and 11th in yards. It was a marked contrast to the offenses fielded since 2014, as the Vikings finished no higher than 16th in points and no better than 27th in yards in the three years prior.

So naturally, at the end of the season Minnesota lost their offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur is now the Giants head coach) and three quarterbacks who were all starters within the last three years (ex-franchise and QBOTF Teddy Bridgewater is now in New Orleans, Sam Bradford is in Arizona, and Case Keenum is now a Bronco). Although they aren’t starting from scratch, a new coordinator and a new QB are the two biggest cogs that makes the offense run.

Enter new OC John DeFilippo and QB Kirk Cousins.

DeFilippo was the Philadelphia Eagles QB coach, and had one year as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland before that. He seems to be a guy that can adapt an offense to the players he has, and isn’t the type of guy that tries to makes the players he has run the offense he wants (HI NORV). Last year in Philly when Carson Wentz went down with an ACL tear, ‘Flip’ and OC Frank Reich sat down with Foles, figured out what he was comfortable running in the offense, and then tailored the offense to his skill set. worked, and that’s all we really need to say about that.

In Cousins, the Vikings have, arguably, the most important free agent signing in franchise history, and he will be the fifth different opening day QB in five years for Zimmer. Cousins comes in with a hefty price tag and the Weight of Expectations few players have ever had for this team walking in the door.

He also brings a live arm, durability, and a bona fide QB1 talent the Vikings have been searching for like Captain Ahab searched the ocean for the White Whale. Maybe that’s a bad anaology, because we all know what happened to Captain Ahab (and if you don’t, then read a book Ishmael), so let’s use the ‘virgin in a whorehouse’ analogy instead.

What’s that? That’s even worse than the whale one? How about a white whale in a whor—yeah, never mind. I see your point, although it could make for a fantastic ‘your mom’ joke.

Either way, moving on.

Since the end of the Fran Takenton era (1978), the Vikings have had only two franchise QB’s that played more than two years, Tommy Kramer and Daunte Culpepper. Kramer had maybe 4-5 really good years, and Culpepper had five. That’s it. With Cousins, both the player and the team hope this is a long term answer.

Cousins put up solid numbers in Washington, but was never really embraced by the coaching staff or management, and when the Redskins traded for veteran Alex Smith the Cousins era was over. You can argue as to the reasons why, but when the Vikings saw a guy with his talent hitting the market, they struck quickly and secured his services. They paid a hefty price in giving him a three year, $84 million, fully guaranteed contract, so the expectation is win early, win often, and win big.

The knock on Cousins has been that he hasn’t won, though, and sometimes makes really questionable decisions at critical moments. But he’s also thrown for over 4,000 yards and 25 TD’s each of the last three seasons, something no QB in a Vikings uniform has ever done. The last one to do it in a single season was Zombie Brett Favre in 2009, and as a matter of fact, there have only been three seasons in franchise history where a Vikings QB went over 4,000 yards and 25 TD’s.

For all his knocks on critical turnovers and decision making, Cousins is among active leaders in 4th quarter comeback wins, so to say he isn’t a ‘clutch’ player isn’t completely accurate. I don’t know if that’s because he was trying to win with a genuine talent gap in Washington so he felt the burden to try and do too much, or was a modern version of ‘Two Minute’ Tommy Kramer. Kramer would drive me nuts for 58 minutes with some of his stupid interceptions, and really put the Vikings in a bind. But with the game on the line in those last two minutes, Kramer was magic. The Vikings would usually win, and all was forgiven.

As an aside, if Cousins does a post game interview with a big ol’ dip in his bottom lip while saying ‘we just took what the defense gave us’ while spitting in to a plastic cup, he will tie with Kramer as my favorite QB. Just sayin’...

Cousins will have weapons to throw to in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Not only are they a top two or three WR duo in the NFL, but they’re also guys that can go up and bring in a throw that might otherwise be picked off, so maybe that will help cut down those bad picks Cousins has a reputation for; it worked wonders for Case Keenum last year. Kyle Rudolph is a big red zone target, and Laquon Treadwell has looked good in the preseason as a third wide receiver.

Also (kinda) new this year is running back Dalvin Cook. Cook tore his ACL in the fourth week of the 2017 season, so we only saw a brief glimpse of what he’s capable of. And what he was capable of early on put him in the thick of the Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year discussions. Cook should be really really good, and if he stays healthy the Vikings will have a solid running game that will help take some of the pressure off Cousins as well.

For the first time in his career, Kirk Cousins has a complete team around him loaded with talent. He has weapons to throw and handoff to, and a defense that will give him the ball and opportunities to score. He has a running game he can rely on in Cook and Latavius Murray, and it’s also an offense than can play keep away once they get a decent lead. If Flip, Cousins, and the offense can get in sync early, this offense is going to be really tough to stop.

Something Borrowed

Sheldon Richardson. When the Vikings signed Cousins, a lot of people thought that was pretty much it for their foray into free agency. $84 million is a hefty price tag, and other than maybe a move or two like the Tom Compton signing, Minnesota was done. But lo and behold, the next day they announced they had signed DT Sheldon Richardson, who seems like a perfect fit for the defense.

He was the 13th overall pick by the New York Jets in the 2013 draft, and was traded to Seattle last season. He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, was an All Pro in 2014, and then missed the first four games of 2015 because of a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He has tantalizing talent, and on a one year ‘prove it’ deal with the Vikings he’ll be looking to maximize that talent and cash in during next year’s free agency period.

If he can replicate 2013-14, he will make the Vikings defensive line every bit as fearsome as the mythical Purple People Eaters, assuming Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, and Linval Joseph don’t drop off a cliff talent-wise. And even if he doesn’t, and is something closer to last season, his worst year is still better than the dependable Tom Johnson’s best year, the player he’s replacing.

Both Richardson and the Vikings appear to be in a ‘wait and see’ mode regarding an extension, so him returning is no guarantee. The Vikings will probably be tight against the cap, but if Richardson fits in to their plan, is productive, and wants to be here, hopefully the Vikings will be able to get an extension done with him and keep him in the fold.

How will they do?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? When you look at their schedule, it’s fairly daunting. Aaron Rodgers is back with a fat new extension, and as long as he’s running the show Green Bay will be dangerous. Besides the annual home and away games against their division foes, they have tough road games with the Rams, Eagles, Patriots, and Seahawks.

All those caveats out of the way...they are more talented on paper than Green Bay and Seattle at every position except QB, and can go toe to toe with the Rams, Philly, and New England. If Cousins is close to the equalizer at QB the Vikings have been missing, they should win those games. The season has to unfold, of course, and injuries always alter the landscape, but the Vikings should be favored in no less than 11-12 games as I’m looking at the schedule right now, and the only team I think they don’t match up well with is Philadelphia, for obvious reasons.

Since Mike Zimmer became coach, they’ve slayed narrative after narrative about the things this team can’t do—can’t win on the road, can’t win outside, can’t beat the Bears in Chicago (like lol what the Hell was that one about seriously), can’t win in primetime, can’t win a big game. And they continued that last year, going 6-2 on the road, beating Atlanta at their place, beating the Bears and Saints on Monday Night, shutting out the Packers at Lambeau in primetime, and winning their first playoff game under Zimmer.

There’s only one ‘can’t’ left with this team, and it’s haunted them since 1969.

Speaking of that era, this is hands down the best Vikings team since the mid 1970’s. We know they’re good, and they know it, too. As a kid growing up back then, it wasn’t a question that the Vikings were going to be good, the question was how good. We haven’t had that feeling around here much since the Purple People Eaters era though, but it seems like itmight be back for awhile.

We thought the 1998 team would be good, but it wasn’t until week four or five that we realized they had something special going on. The 2009 team was a big question mark until we knew whether or not Brett Favre was really healthy, and then Favre and Greg Lewis gave us the Metrodome Miracle in week three. Boom, all in. Last year, most of us felt that as soon as Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook went down the Vikings were playing with house money, and Case Keenum just kept hitting Blackjack. And the Minneapolis Miracle was the dealer sitting on 20, with you sitting on 19 and then drawing a two.

This team, though, has a different vibe entering the season than those other teams did. This team is expected to win big. Anything short of a deep playoff run will be considered a failure, so this version of the Vikings will have to deal with high expectations, something that hasn’t been commonplace for this franchise since the end of the Dennis Green era.

1998, 2009, and 2017 were pleasant surprises, in some respects. Those teams flew under the radar for parts or most of the season, and they weren’t considered serious Super Bowl contenders until the season was well underway. Not so for the 2018 Vikings. They have it all—the top defense, a bona fide QB, the best WR duo in the NFL, and one of the league’s most electric young running backs.

Tha talent is there. So are the expectations.

Just one before I die.