Now that we’ve looked back at all of the changes that the Minnesota Vikings made during the 2022 offseason, it’s time to take a shot at predicting how all of those changes will impact the team and shape the 2022 season.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be a pretty interesting season for the Vikings, whose schedule will include a trip overseas and a stretch late in the season that will see them play five home games in six weeks before back-to-back divisional road games to end the season.
Different leadership, different results?
The biggest change that could potentially impact the Vikings this season is the switch from Mike Zimmer to Kevin O’Connell on the Minnesota sideline. Zimmer compiled a solid record for the Vikings in his eight seasons, as he went 72-56-1 in the regular season and never had a year where the team endured double-digit losses. However, a famously strained relationship with quarterback Kirk Cousins and the collapse of his once-vaunted defense over the past couple of seasons are, ultimately, what likely led to his departure.
It isn’t that Zimmer is a bad coach necessarily, and I don’t think you’ll find many people that believe that he is. There just comes a time in the tenure of a lot of NFL coaches that the message simply stops working and the need for a change becomes apparent. We’ve seen that in Minnesota once before with the end of the Dennis Green era, and it appears that the same thing might have happened to Zimmer.
When we asked the folks from Football Outsiders if they expected the coaching change to help the Vikings, they responded in the affirmative.
I think O’Connell can be good, especially if he takes any of what he learned with Cooper Kupp and applies it to Justin Jefferson, but it goes beyond him. I think the Mike Zimmer era had just gotten stale towards the end, be that years of middling success or a quarterback feud or whatever. So any “bounce” they receive I think has more to do with rebounding off the staleness of Zimmer’s run, not necessarily O’Connell being a spark. O’Connell just has to be competent and friendly for that bounce to happen.
If recent trends are any indicator, we can probably expect to see exactly that from the Vikings under O’Connell’s watch. While the Vikings have favored heavier formations and two-back sets over the past couple of seasons, the Rams under O’Connell (and Sean McVay, I guess) ran “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three receivers) more than any team in the NFL. That alone could bring significant changes this season, and one player stands to benefit greatly from it.
Justin Jefferson wants to set records
Justin Jefferson has taken the league by storm in his first two NFL seasons. He’s the only player in NFL history to record 3,000 receiving yards over his first two seasons, and needs just over 1,100 yards this year to set the NFL record for receiving yards in a player’s first three seasons.
If Jefferson finds himself in the same role in the new Vikings offense as Cooper Kupp played with the Rams last year (when he won the NFL’s receiving triple crown by leading the league in receptions, receiving yardage, and receiving touchdowns), it will solidify him at the top of the heap among NFL receivers.
That’s going to lead to something more significant: Jefferson’s second contract. The team can start looking into an extension for Jefferson after this season is over, and with receivers around the NFL...many of whom aren’t as good as Jefferson...receiving astronomical amounts of money over the past few months, one can’t help but wonder how big an armored truck the Vikings are going to have to back up to Jefferson’s house.
He’s stated that he wants to have the first 2,000-yard receiving season in NFL history in 2022, and if there’s anyone that’s capable of it, it’s Justin Jefferson.
A new look on defense
The team will be bringing a different defensive philosophy this season, as they will be switching to a 3-4 alignment as the base under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. That means players like Danielle Hunter, who has spent most of his career with his hand in the dirt at defensive end, will be playing as stand-up outside linebackers, among other things.
Can Donatell restore what was once one of the scariest defenses in the NFL? Hopefully the first place that he’ll look is the team’s two-minute defense, which was historically bad in 2021 in terms of points allowed at the end of a half or end of a game. In fact, it was the worst performance in that category in the entire NFL over the last 20 years. If Donatell can even get the defense to the point where they aren’t historically awful in the two-minute drill, the defense can take a pretty significant step forward even as they make the adjustment from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook have the over/under for the Vikings’ win total this season sitting at 9. I have to be honest ... I’ll be absolutely shocked if the Vikings don’t reach that figure. There are some pretty tough games on the schedule, including a trip to take on one of the AFC’s Super Bowl favorites in the Buffalo Bills in November and the usual late-season trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. But other than that, there are plenty of winnable games on Minnesota’s schedule for this year.
With all of the changes that they’ve made and a fresh perspective on things from a new head coach and a new general manager, we’re looking for the Vikings to break their postseason dry spell and make it back to the playoffs in 2022. I’ve got them finishing with a record of 11-6 this season, which should definitely get them into the postseason and could potentially put them atop the NFC North for the first time since 2017.
That does it for our preview of the 2022 Minnesota Vikings, folks. It’s going to be a fun season around here, I think, or at least a very interesting one. We hope that you’ll join us here for all of it!