Welcome to the fifth and final installment of our five-post series of questions with the folks from Football Outsiders about the 2022 Minnesota Vikings in celebration of the release of this year’s version of the Football Outsiders Almanac (available in both digital and print versions).
Our questions for this year went to Derrik Klassen, who you can find on the Twitter machine @QBKlass. He wrote the chapter on the Vikings for this year’s Almanac, so he took the time to answer the five queries I posed for this year’s squad. Our final question has to do with the outlook for the 2022 Vikings, as the Football Outsiders projections seem to really like the club.
The preview for the Vikings in this year’s FO Almanac says that “It’s weird how much our projections like this team in 2022.” Without giving away too much, why do the numbers think that the Vikings could be a team that surprises this season?
For this question, Derrik passed the baton to Aaron Schatz (who you can find on the Twitters @FO_ASchatz), who is the man that handles the projections for Football Outsiders and is the Editor-in-Chief of the site.
On offense, a lot of the issue is just the likelihood of rebounding to prior performance. The Vikings had a top-10 offense in both 2019 and 2020. Kirk Cousins probably is the player in the NFL who forces the biggest disagreements between stats people and film people, but the dude is consistently like the 10th best quarterback in the league, statistically. On defense, perhaps we’re giving too much credit for players coming back from injuries. Our system may expect Za’Darius Smith and a healthy Danielle Hunter to be bigger additions than they really will be. It also likes drafting defensive players high up, including Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth. And the Vikings had an above-average defensive DVOA last year on every down/play split except for first-down passes. Overall, the average of the range of projections comes out with a top-10 offense and special teams combined with an average defense and an easy schedule (25th). That’s going to be a pretty good team if it happens, better than people are expecting.
Now, again, without giving away the whole store. . .because the Football Outsiders Almanac is worth the purchase and I’d be a real jerk if I just gave you, like, the entire Vikings chapter or something. . .this year’s projections give the Vikings a nearly 60% chance of being a playoff team in 2022 (59.7%, to be precise). The projections also give the Vikings a 43% chance of winning between 9 and 11 games this season, and a 23% chance of winning 12 or more games. For a team that went 8-9 in 2021 and played in a lot of one-score games, that seems like a pretty significant jump.
I’ll present a couple of paragraphs from the Vikings’ chapter of the almanac, one for the offense and one for the defense. . .and the summarizing paragraph, which is damn near perfect, I think. Offense first:
Minnesota’s offense projects to be a step up from what they were a year ago. Slight improvements along the offensive line on top of whatever offensive flare O’Connell may bring should be enough to get the Vikings jostling for a top-10 ranking again. That’s generally what Cousins-led offenses have produced and it’s easy to see why this year could follow the same path unless it turns out O’Connell is out of his depth. Come January, that same Cousins-led offense will probably fall a little short the way it always has, but at least the Vikings will be playing watchable, even exciting, offense again.
I think the offense will certainly have a much different look with Kevin O’Connell at the switch than we’ve seen over the past few years, that’s for sure. How much different remains to be seen, but I think we’re all expecting something a bit more explosive than what we were used to seeing at the tail end of the Zimmer era.
Now, on to the defense.
Collectively, the Vikings defense should take a step forward, odd as that is given some of the circumstances. Not only is that tough to square when losing someone as sharp as Zimmer, but also when considering first-year defensive coordinators, including veterans of the job, tend to not elevate their unit in the first season. Even Zimmer really didn’t back in 2014. It’s just more difficult to install and tighten the screws on defense than offense because of its nature as a reactive, not proactive, entity. That said, when a team looks to be improved at edge rusher, safety, cornerback, and perhaps linebacker, at least stylistically, then it’s not a stretch to see how the influx of talent outweighs the expected growing pains of a new coaching staff.
There are going to be at least a couple of familiar faces missing from the Minnesota defense this season. But, as the Almanac details, the level of talent, if anything, is higher than it was last season, particularly if Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith can stay healthy and be the pass-rushing terror duo that they’re capable of being. The secondary might take its lumps, particularly early on, but the level of talent there is higher than what the Vikings had in 2021.
And the finale:
We know it’s a little weird how much our computer projection loves the Vikings after two losing seasons. But if the defense is primed for some degree of improvement and the offense returns to its typical top-10ish level, then the 2022 Vikings will be good enough to earn a wild-card bid, or perhaps even vie for the division title depending on how far the Packers fall. It’s a bizarre place to be considering their turnover, but the Vikings have never been a team that functions normally anyway. Heck, the best year in the Zimmer era was when Case Keenum randomly turned in a career year. That didn’t make any sense, but it did feel fitting for the Vikings, as would an oddly successful season following the firing of franchise staples such as Spielman and Zimmer.
“But the Vikings have never been a team that functions normally anyway.” Man, if that doesn’t sum up the entire experience of being a fan of this team, I don’t know what does.
I want to thank Derrik Klassen and Aaron Schatz for taking the time to answer my questions about the 2022 Vikings and the projections that Football Outsiders has for them for the upcoming season. And, again, if you want to get your own copy of the Football Outsiders Almanac for 2022, you can grab them at the links up in the first paragraph.