With the NFL regular season just around the corner, it’s time to once again stick my neck out and make some predictions for the Vikings’ up-coming season. Here’s my track record:
Prediction: 10-6. Actual: 11-5. Preseason over/under: 7.5
No prediction after Bridgewater went down. Acutal: 8-8. Preseason over/under: 9.5 (pre-Bridgewater injury).
Prediction: 12-4. Actual: 13-3. Preseason over/under: 8.5
Prediction: 13-3. Actual: 8-7-1. Preseason over/under: 10
Prediction: 11-5. Actual: 10-6. Preseason over/under: 9.
Prediction: 11-5. Actual: 7-9. Preseason over/under: 8.5 (March)
Prediction: 13-4. Actual: 8-9. Preseason over/under: 9.
As you can see, what was once a decent forecasting record from 2015-2019, doesn’t look so good from 2018-2021. Some of the bad forecasting comes from a spike in injuries (2020), and unexpected problems with a new offensive coordinator (2018), and last season injuries once again being well above average (21st in adjusted games lost) and also some bad luck in close games judged to be true ‘coin-flip’ games. Even 2019 was off by a game due to the Vikings resting players the last game of the season.
Nevertheless, and excuses aside, I’ve endeavored to improve my process this year, as my recent track record suggests I need a better methodology. So this year I’ll (hopefully) do a better job of accounting for change in roster/coaching staff, schedule, accounting for outliers from last season, and any other relevant factors to come up with a better prediction.
The 2022-23 Consensus View
First, let’s start with the consensus view of how the Vikings will fare this season from a win-loss standpoint. The Vikings’ over/under win total this season stands at 9.5. I suspect this comes from the view that the new regime will account for a game or two improvement over last season, and not much change with the roster overall. This jives with the consensus view of The Athletic beat writers, as a proxy for the general NFL pundit community, which has the Vikings at 9.7 wins.
This makes perfect sense from a historical perspective, as going with a 9-10 win forecast for the Vikings would leave you not too far off most of the time.
Accounting for Changes from Last Season
Of course when looking at the changes in the Vikings since last season, the first thing that comes to mind is the regime change- new GM, new head coach, entirely new coaching staff except for WR coach Keenan McCardell, and scheme changes big and small on both sides of the ball.
But there are also changes in personnel, in the Vikings’ schedule, and there are some outliers in last season’s performance that may not happen again this season. Let’s take a look and also assess the impact.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of new coaching when it comes to team culture, but the more we’ve learned about the last years of the Zimmer era, the worse it seems to have been. Contrast that with the positivity coming from the team and organization since the new regime took over, and it appears to be a significantly more positive and constructive atmosphere for the Vikings this year compared to the last few years- last year being the worst. What that means from a win-loss perspective is difficult to measure, but for a team that lost eight one-score games last season, an improved team culture could have an outsized impact.
But beyond the more intangible culture effects of the new coaching staff, there are some more tangible ones too. For example, Zimmer’s antipathy for many of his younger players last season, including Cameron Dantzler, caused him to start Bashaud Breeland for most of last season, including two horrible performances in the Vikings’ narrow losses the first two games of the season. The first game against the Bengals, Breeland covered Ja’Marr Chase most of the time, and gave up 107 yards, two TDs, and a costly DPI penalty that game. Cam Dantzler’s claim to fame coming out was that he was the only corner to virtually shut-out Ja’Marr Chase in college.
There was no reason for Zimmer to start Breeland, as Dantzler had graded better the previous season, and was one of the highest rated cornerbacks the last half of the season in 2020. But some dispute arose in the off-season, and Dantzler ended up benched and in Zimmer’s doghouse. Which proved costly for the Vikings.
Breeland had another poor performance against Arizona, although he didn’t give up as many yards. But in the first two Vikings losses against the Bengals and Cardinals, Breeland’s passer rating when targeted was 156.3 - two points short of a perfect passer rating. His passer rating when targeted was 150.9 in week three, but Zimmer continued to defend him.
Most people remember Dantzler last season for giving up a game-winning TD at Detroit, but he also had an INT in that game and had a better overall game than Breeland, who had a 29.2 overall PFF grade in that game, having given up 95 yards, a TD and another DPI penalty. I believe he might have finally gotten benched in that game as well.
Breeland was released late in the season after a fight in practice. Dantzler finished with the highest overall PFF grade of all Vikings’ cornerbacks last season at 73.5. Breeland finished with an overall PFF grade of 47.2 and was one of the worst cornerbacks in the league last season, just ahead of MacKensie Alexander who finished last.
How many games did the Vikings lose because of Zimmer’s decision to start Breeland last season? You could make a good argument for two or three based on Breeland’s performance in close games and the difference between Breeland and Dantzler’s performance last season.
The new regime appears to have more of a meritocratic approach to personnel management, which was borne out in their decision to trade Jesse Davis, release Armon Watts, Sean Mannion, and Kellen Mond. I can’t point to any player decision so far that doesn’t have merit from a player performance standpoint.
The other thing when it comes to coaching is play-calling and game management. I credit Zimmer last season for taking a more analytics-based approach on whether to go for it on fourth downs last season, which paid off, but I wonder if his defensive play-calling got a bit stale at times. One question in regard to the Vikings’ historically poor performance at the end of halves last season is to what degree Zimmer’s play-calling contributed to it.
the Vikings allowed TDs on 32.4% of opponent drives in the final 4 minutes before halftime or the end of the game— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) April 9, 2022
worst in the NFL
NFL average was 12%
#31 was 20.6%
not only did they rank #32 in the NFL last season...
they ranked #686 of 686 teams since at least 2000
That sort of outlier suggests a systemic error beyond whatever deficiencies in personnel the Vikings may have had last season defensively. While I can’t say definitively, I suspect a prevent-style defense without much of a pass rush contributed to this historically bad metric. The loss to Detroit was one such example, where Zimmer played coverage throughout the Lions’ last drive, even though Lions QB Jared Goff has not done well against the blitz. At some point other teams become aware of the issue, which encourages them to exploit it- and they did. How many games would the Vikings have won if they were league average in this metric? Or even just 31st? They lost eight games by one score last season.
We don’t know how well Kevin O’Connell and Ed Donatell will do in play-calling or game management this season, but in this metric, there is a very low bar to clear.
The other thing that occurs with new play-callers without a recent or any track record, is there is no tape and tendencies for opponents to study. There can also be a learning curve, although Ed Donatell has called plays in the past and has more than a little experience as a defensive coordinator. Kevin O’Connell called plays in Washington on an interim basis the last part of 2019, but also has a few years as an offensive coordinator so while it’s not something he’s done much lately, he’s well versed in the process and decision-making.
But what’s new for the new play-calling coaches is also new for opponents. Not having as much to go by in terms of previous tendencies and play-calls can give the new play-callers some degree of advantage as opposing players and coordinators will have less to go on and be more subject to play-calling surprises. O’Connell’s approach to game management will also be different from his predecessor's, which can also lead to different results, but he seems inclined to an analytics-based approach.
Overall, I expect a net positive from coaching changes in this season’s win total.
Here is my brief +/-/= assessment of personnel changes at every starting position compared to last season:
Left-Tackle: Positive. Christian Darrisaw year two will be better than Rashod Hill and rookie Christian Darrisaw.
Left Guard: Equal. Ezra Cleveland will be about the same as last season. Maybe some improvement.
Center: Equal. Garrett Bradbury will be just as bad. Maybe improvement if he’s replaced.
Right Guard: Positive. Ed Ingram will be a little better than Oli Udoh last season, and without so many penalties.
Right Tackle: Equal. Brian O’Neill will continue to be good.
Quarterback: Equal. Some potential for improvement under Kevin O’Connell, and a slightly better offensive line, but Kirk had a pretty good year last season.
WR1: Equal. Justin Jefferson will be just as good. Hard to be much better than he was last year.
WR2: Equal. Adam Thielen is getting older, but he can sustain last year’s level of production.
WR3: Positive. KJ Osborn will be better this year than last, and Jalen Reagor could add to production.
TE: Positive. Getting Irv Smith Jr. back will help production here.
RB: Positive. Dalvin Cook & Co. may not have much better yards/carry or total yards than last season, maybe a little better, but I expect they’ll be more productive in the passing game.
EDGE1: Positive. I expect Danielle Hunter to play in more games than last year and be more productive than Hunter plus backups last season.
EDGE2: Positive. I expect Za’Darius Smith to be more productive than DJ Wonnum and others last season, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith has some limits on playing time- at least initially- given his back injury. Not sure he’ll play every game either, but still a positive.
NT: Positive. I expect Harrison Phillips to be about as good as Michael Pierce last season, but play a lot more than eight games.
DT: Equal. I expect Dalvin Tomlinson to be about the same, maybe slightly improved based on positive comments from coaches.
DT2: Equal. This is more of a comparison to base linebacker from last year, so a bit different comparison, but expecting about the same level of run defense- not as good as desired.
MLB: Equal. I expect Eric Kendricks to be about the same as last season.
WLB: Equal. I expect Jordan Hicks to perform about the same as the non-Kendricks, non-base linebacker for the Vikings last season. Perhaps a bit better.
CB1: Equal. I expect roughly the same level of performance from Patrick Peterson as last year.
CB2: Positive. I expect Cameron Dantzler to be better than Bashaud Breeland and Cam Dantzler last year.
SS: Equal. I expect Harrison Smith to perform about the same as last season.
FS: Positive. I expect second-year Cam Bynum to be a little better than Xavier Woods and rookie Cam Bynum last season.
Slot Corner: Positive. I expect Chandon Sullivan and potentially a third safety (Lewis Cine) to be better than MacKensie Alexander last season (worst CB in the league).
Kicker: Equal. Coaches expect Greg Joseph to have his best season, but he made 86.8% of his field goals last season and 90% of his extra points, and I don’t expect significant improvement over that. Could be a little better, but I’ll stay with equal.
Punter/Holder: Positive. Ryan Wright has a bigger leg than Jordan Berry, and from what we saw in preseason was pretty good trapping teams inside their ten-yard line too. May be premature, but Jordan Berry was about average last season, and I expect Wright to be an improvement.
Long-snapper: Equal. No reason to think Andrew De Paola will be much different this year.
Kick Returner: Equal. Kene Nwangwu was pretty good last year, and no reason to think his production will differ much this year.
Punt Returner: Positive. I’m going with Jalen Reagor as punt returner and expecting he’ll do better than the 7.9 average last season between KJ Osborn and Dede Westbrook. My concern is that he’ll have more than the one muff the Vikings had last season, but if so, he may also make up for it with some big returns too.
Special Teams Units: Equal. The Vikings had pretty good special teams units last season and there will be more turnover on special teams this year. None of the core special teamers played more than a handful of snaps on special teams in the preseason- most that did were cut- so hopefully that’s not an issue. Overall not much to go on for a change either direction, so equal but more potential for decline than improvement.
Overall, this adds up to slight improvement on offense, but a bigger improvement on defense. The key defensively is having two good edge rushers. Last year the Vikings had one for seven games, and then none. They got their share of sacks, but many of those were of the ‘clean-up’ or QB holding the ball too long variety, and others from blitzers. Too many times opposing QBs had enough time to deliver the ball without much pressure. And more than sacks, pressure rate has an impact on QB performance. Additionally, having two good edge rushers makes it more difficult for offenses to double-team them. They’ll also help out the secondary, who won’t need to cover for as long.
I also expect an improvement in the secondary, particularly opposite Patrick Peterson and at slot cornerback. These were the weakest two positions among starters most/all of last season, so improvement there will also shore up the Vikings pass defense, which was ranked 28th last season.
The Vikings run defense was ranked 29th last season in rushing yards per attempt (4.7). While it may be better this season, I’m not expecting big improvement. Getting to 4.4 yards per rushing attempt allowed would get them to about league average, but overall I’m not sure the Vikings’ run defense personnel has improved enough to make more significant improvement.
Offensively, some analyzing the Vikings unit raise the question, “how much better can Justin Jefferson/Kirk Cousins/Dalvin Cook/Adam Thielen be this year?” After all it was a pretty good year for them last season. And from a yardage total perspective, there’s probably not a lot more you can expect from Jefferson and Thielen. Some, but not a lot. For Kirk Cousins, who had 4,221 passing yards last season, there is some room for improvement. First, he could play 17 games this year instead of 16, and there is some potential for more production from the supporting cast- guys like Irv Smith Jr., Dalvin Cook and other RBs as receivers, and WR3. That combined could be as much as 500 yards or more over the season.
But where there is more room for improvement is in offensive efficiency, particularly on third down conversions, where they ranked 26th last season. Improving there leads to more scoring drives, better time of possession, less pressure on the defense.
The one area where I would not expect improvement is in offensive turnovers. The Vikings had the fewest turnovers in the league last season with 13. And while I don’t expect that number and ranking to increase dramatically, it’s more likely to go up than down.
But overall, I expect the Vikings offense to be more efficient overall, based primarily on slightly better personnel, and better scheme.
Defensively, the Vikings best stat last year was a hallmark of Mike Zimmer’s defenses, even in recent years: third-down conversion rate allowed. The Vikings ranked 4th last year in that metric, and it remains to be seen if the defense will be as good with new coaches. I’m guessing probably not- some reversion to the mean- although players from the Zimmer era will probably still take pride in that statistic. There is room for improvement in red zone TD % allowed, as the Vikings ranked 14th last season.
Lastly, there is defensive takeaways. The Vikings ranked 13th last season in takeaways with 24. Ed Donatell and Kevin O’Connell have emphasized takeaways as something they want to be good at defensively, and practice it, coach it, etc. And so while the Vikings weren’t bad at takeaways last year- they’ve practiced strips and forcing fumbles for a couple years now- I expect they may actually build on that this year, with potentially more interceptions as well. It may not be a big increase, but as a point of emphasis, I would expect some improvement. Zimmer was not a big believer in interceptions- he thought they happened mostly by luck than defender skill (bad passes, tipped balls, etc.) and he has a point. But I expect Donatell to coach more around interceptions as well in support of his emphasis on taking the ball away.
Overall, looking at my player assessments, there is potential for variance up and down. Some players not expected to improve much may do so, particularly young players, and players that respond better to the new scheme. On the downside, the biggest risk of underperformance I see is in older players, particularly on defense, declining. I haven’t seen evidence of this yet, and most have already shown some decline from their peak, so there aren’t high hurdles for them either. But overall I expect a net positive performance from the Vikings starting roster this year over last year, with more improvement coming on defense, despite needing to adapt to a new scheme.
One of the factors that led to a disappointing performance for the Vikings last season, and really the last two seasons, has been an increase in games lost due to injury. Football Outsiders compiles a statistic called Adjusted Games Lost, which quantifies the number of games lost among starters during the season, and adds estimates of partial injury loss based on weekly injury report status (out, doubtful, questionable, probable) and some weighting based on position.
Here is a list of Vikings’ AGLs and rankings going back to 2015:
2015: 59.0 (12th)
2016: 120.6 (30th)
2017: 47.7 (12th)
2018: 73.9 (12th)
2019: 25.6 (1st)
2020: 83.5 (16th)
2021: 89.8 (21st)
As you can see, the Vikings have suffered the most AGLs the last two seasons since the year Teddy Bridgewater went down (and pretty much the first- and second-string offensive line). It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the loss of starters has a negative effect on a team’s success that season. In fact, the correlation between team success and lack of injuries is pretty strong. No team in the salary cap era, or even earlier, has excellent depth. Some are better than others, but losing even one superstar player can have a big impact on a season for any team.
The good news for the Vikings this season, and hopefully for seasons to come, is that they hired away Tyler Williams and some of his staff from the Rams, who have taken the science behind sports training to a higher level. You may have heard some reports of load management techniques, players wearing various electronic devices to measure workload, and players doing position-specific training to help avoid more common injuries at a given position, etc. But whatever the science and technique behind this methodology, it has an impressive track record. Compare the Rams’ AGLs and rankings to the Vikings since Tyler Williams began to implement this system:
2015: 80.3 (24th)
2016: 29.0 (1st)
2017: 15.6 (1st)
2018: 39.6 (4th)
2019: 60.6 (10th)
2020: 45.6 (2nd)
2021: 54.3 (5th)
So, for the last six years, the Rams using this program have ranked no worse than 10th in AGLs, with no more than 60.6 AGLs in any one season. Their average ranking was 4th, with 40.8 AGLs per season over that six year span. That average is better than every year in the last six for the Vikings except one. In terms of AGLs, that average is also less than half what the Vikings have suffered the past two seasons.
Bottom line, the results here are pretty clear, and the Vikings adopting this system provides a pretty good basis to expect fewer injuries for the Vikings this year. It’s not foolproof (just ask Bisi Johnson), but clearly it has a positive impact on AGLs, and given the Vikings’ AGL total last year, there is a solid basis for expecting roughly half as many AGLs this year compared to last year.
One other thing in this area regarding Kirk Cousins and Covid. Cousins got Covid during training camp, and typically getting it prevents you from getting it again for somewhere between 3-6 months. Again not with absolute certainty, and there is some differential with new variants, but the likelihood of him getting it again is lower than normal having had it last month.
I would add that while I expect the Vikings use of this new sports science training system to help minimize injuries, the Vikings do have some players that are at an increased risk of missing games due to injury, based on age and history, which should be noted.
For example, Dalvin Cook has yet to have a season where he didn’t miss some games, and I doubt he’ll play all 17+ games this season either. At least I wouldn’t count on it. He’s not played more than 14 games in any one season, so I’d count on him missing at least three games this season as well. Perhaps with better load management he won’t miss as many games, along with other things, but still his injury history should be noted. The good news is if anything the Vikings depth at RB has improved.
Secondly, Adam Thielen has not been as healthy since turning 29, and hasn’t played a full slate of regular season games since 2018. He missed four games last season, which has been about his average over the past three seasons, having missed seven games over the previous two seasons. It would be nice to think he won’t miss any games this year, but given that history I wouldn’t bet on it, even with the new system. But depth at WR is better this year than last.
Next is edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. He missed just about all of last season with a back injury, which he had surgery on. Prior to that, he had two complete seasons so I wouldn’t say he’s injury-prone otherwise. But, the nature of his back injury (believed to be on a herniated/degenerating disc) puts him at increased risk of that flaring up again at some point during the season. This is likely an injury that needs to be managed over time, rather than expecting a full recovery without any future issues.
Danielle Hunter, by contrast, I wouldn’t put at increased risk of injury, even though he’s missed most of the last two seasons due to injury. His injuries have been more unusual and not of the recurring or in need of on-going management type. His neck injury two years ago was a non-football injury. While concerning, it hasn’t been an issue since he returned, and I suspect his missing that season was at least somewhat precautionary. Hunter suffered a torn pectoral injury last season, which once healed, typically is not at risk of recurrence. I suspect Hunter will be better served with the new training staff, and a new workout routine to lessen the chance of a pec injury in the future.
Lastly, there are a few older players that have a higher risk of missing time due to injury. Eric Kendricks has only one complete season since entering the league, and for that reason it would seem unlikely for him not to miss some time again this season. Harrison Smith has been pretty healthy overall the past several years, but he has missed a game here and there, and it wouldn’t be surprising as he turns 34 this season, for him to miss a game or two. And Patrick Peterson, who’s also been extremely healthy during his career- never missing a game until last season due to injury- missed some time last season with a pulled hamstring. I don’t see that as a great risk of recurrence, particularly with a new training staff and PPs nearly injury-free 12-year career, but at age 32, missing a game or two is a distinct possibility.
From a depth perspective, an injury to Patrick Peterson may not be as consequential as an injury that causes Za’Darius Smith to lose time. It’s early, but Andrew Booth jr. looks like he can step into a starting job without a big drop in production. The depth behind Za’Darius Smith or Kendricks is more questionable. Having acquired Jalen Reagor in addition to KJ Osborn helps depth at wide receiver.
Bottom line, I expect a positive impact on the Vikings win/loss record from an improvement in injury losses this year over last in part from a reversion to the mean after a season of relatively high losses, but mostly due to a better system for preventing injuries.
In addition to the six NFC North opponent games, the Vikings play the NFC & AFC East divisions this year, as opposed to the AFC North and NFC West last year. They also play the other NFC conference division teams that finished second (like the Vikings) in their division last season (Saints and Cards). The last game is with the AFC South division second place finisher last season, which is the Colts.
The Vikings’ schedule is as follows:
WK1: PACKERS | WK2: @EAGLES | WK3: LIONS | WK4: @SAINTS | WK5: BEARS | WK6: @DOLPHINS | WK7: BYE | WK8: CARDS | WK9: @COMMANDERS | WK10: @BILLS | WK11: COWBOYS | WK12: PATRIOTS | WK13: JETS | WK14: @LIONS | WK15: COLTS | WK16: GIANTS | WK17: @PACKERS | WK18: @BEARS
There are several ways to judge the Vikings strength of schedule- here are a few of them.
Projected Win Totals
Using projected win totals (over/under win number) rather than last season’s team win totals, provides a more forward-looking assessment of the Vikings slate of opponents this season. Compared to last year, the Vikings schedule this year is ranked 6 spots easier, based on projected team win totals. Last year the Vikings had the 22nd easiest schedule by this methodology, and this year they have the 16th easiest.
Overall, only four opponents on the Vikings slate this season have higher projected win totals than the Vikings (Packers x2, Bills, and Cowboys), two teams have the same projected win total (9.5) as the Vikings (Eagles, Colts) and eleven game opponents have worse projected win totals than the Vikings (Lions x2, Bears x2, Saints, Jets, Patriots, Dolphins, Commanders, Giants, Cardinals).
Another strength of schedule measurement is the slate of opposing QBs. Last season the Vikings faced the third best slate of opposing QBs, according to The Athletic rankings, and this season they face the 8th worst slate of opposing QBs. That adds up to the Vikings facing an opposing QB slate ranked 22 spots worse than last season. That helps.
This year the Vikings have just three games against top tier QBs- two against Aaron Rodgers and one against Josh Allen. They also have just three games against second tier QBs as well - Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, and Matt Ryan. Not sure I’d rank Ryan as a second tier QB at this point either, but whatever.
I don’t believe Football Outsiders has released their projected DVOA rankings for the season since February (which is meaningless, given the timing), or strength of schedule based on projected DVOA, but looking at their playoff probabilities for 2022, I count only four teams on the Vikings slate with higher projected DVOA than the Vikings. The Bills, Saints, Eagles, and Cowboys. I also count ten games against teams with negative DVOA projections- the bottom half of the league.
Last year there were a lot more teams on the Vikings slate with higher DVOA than the Vikings - eight overall.
Overall, while this is a bit of a roundabout way to determine it, it appears the Vikings also have an easier schedule in terms of projected DVOA for this season’s slate of opponents compared to last season.
They (Football Outsiders) also have the Vikings as the favorite to win the NFC North (narrowly) with a projected 9.8 mean win total.
Overall, by each of these measures, the Vikings have an easier schedule this season compared to last season. That projects positively to win total for this season.
I touched on some outliers from last season that you wouldn’t expect to be repeated this season- things like leading the league in fewest turnovers, the performance at the end of halves. Also not sure if the defense will be as good on third down as it was under Zimmer. Some reversion to the mean in these areas is likely, but looking at them collectively, if there is reversion to the mean in these areas, they likely cancel each other out to a large degree. So while the offense may give up more turnovers, and the defense may not be as good on third down, the defense may also be significantly better at the end of halves, and so I don’t see a big net change when it comes to outliers and their impact on the Vikings win/loss record.
Adding It All Up
Going through the list of key changes from last season to this season, and starting from the Vikings’ 8-9 record last season, here is how I add it up for my season prediction this year.
I estimate the impact of the new coaching regime and more positive culture as a +2.0 to the win total, but I also subtract a half game for the transition to new schemes, particularly on defense.
Starting Roster: +0.5
The net changes to the roster, particularly on defense, I expect to add a half game to the Vikings’ win total.
I expect the impact of an easier schedule this year for the Vikings to add another win to the Vikings win total.
The prospect of fewer injuries, given the higher total last season and the implementation of the new sports science program, adds a half game to the Vikings’ win total.
Outliers from last season I expect to largely cancel out, so I don’t expect an impact on the Vikings win/loss record from outliers last season that revert to the mean this season.
Getting to a Whole Number
The result of the above gets the Vikings to 11.5 wins this season, which is not possible and I’m not predicting any tie games. And so the question is which way to go - 11 or 12 wins? I don’t think I was aggressive with assessing the impact of the main change factors above, and with the Vikings a better team this year, and having played so many close games last season, I’m inclined to go with 12 wins rather than 11.
Final Prediction: 12-5
So, with the Vikings over/under at 9.5, and the consensus among pundits closer to 10 wins, I’m adding two wins to that number, from my breakdown of the key change factors. The preseason probability of the Vikings ending the regular season with 12 wins is 17.1%, while the probability for ten wins is 27.4%, and for eleven wins is 21.1%.
NFC North Predictions
Most oddsmakers have the NFC North as essentially a two-tier division this season, with the Packers and Vikings the top tier, and the Lions and Bears the bottom tier. I expect it to play out that way, but with the Lions getting out of the cellar this season and the Bears owning it.
The Bears are clearly in a rebuilding mode and have lost a lot more than they’ve gained this off-season as they’ve shed big contracts on older players to make room for rebuilding over the next 2-3 years. Currently, the Bears have just two starters with PFF grades over 70 from last season. The Vikings have ten and the Packers have eleven, by contrast. The Bears have no playoff aspirations this year, and it will be hard to maintain morale over the long season. 4-13 may even prove optimistic, as even the worst teams on the Bears’ slate this season have even odds of beating them.
The Lions are at least a year ahead of the Bears on the rebuilding schedule, and have three of the five spots on their offensive line solidified, with a top center and two solid bookend tackles. They also have a promising top edge rusher in Aidan Hutchinson, but beyond that there are a lot of question marks and missing pieces yet. The Lions’ defensive secondary is filled with question marks, both linebackers are weak, and the interior defensive line is weak too. Offensively they have a mix of average and above average skill players, but no star power or go-to players. Their other first-round pick, WR Jameson Williams, is recovering from ACL surgery and will miss at least the first four games of the season, including the first matchup against the Vikings. My guess is that if everything goes well, they may begin to work him into the lineup after their bye-week in mid-October. But he’s likely to be more of a factor for the Lions next season rather than this season if he works out.
I’ve done an oppo research piece on the Packers already, and I expect their defense to be improved and maybe one of the best in the league, but their offense is likely to take a step backward after the loss of Davonte Adams. As it stands now, the Packers will be rolling with Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Allen Lazard as their top three receivers, although Lazard is now more of a question mark for the Vikings game after having been held out for undisclosed reasons today. Both the Packers starting tackles, David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, are questionable to start against the Vikings as well. My guess is that at least one of them won’t. But eventually they’ll be available for the Packers early this season. But it will be a different Packers team this season, with the defense likely carrying the load, and the offense not putting up as many points. Still, the Packers schedule, like the Vikings’, is not as difficult as last season, so I expect them to win double-digit games this season- just more low scoring ones.
I expect the Vikings will win a close race for the division crown, with the Packers a close second, followed by the Lions a few games back, and the Bears firmly in the cellar.
What’s your prediction for the Vikings regular season record ?
This poll is closed
6 or fewer wins