It’s that time of year again- time for my annual prediction of how the Vikings’ season will unfold. And unlike most prognosticators, I post my track record of previous predictions for all to see. Last year, with the help of a more rigorous process, I once again got back on track- missing by only one game- after a couple years of less than accurate predictions.
I will use the same process as last year, which I also used to project the results of the other NFC North teams earlier this year. Here are my predictions for the Packers, Lions, and Bears this season. So without further ado, here is my track record and prediction for the upcoming Vikings season.
Past Track Record
This will be my eighth prediction over the past nine seasons, having abandoned any prediction in 2016 after Teddy Bridgewater went down just prior to the start of the season. Here are the results:
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.
Prediction: 12-5. Actual: 13-4. Preseason over/under: 9.5.
Overall, I’ve been only a game off on half of my predictions, with the other half pretty far off- 4 or 5 games. A couple of those were due at least in part to a spike in injuries (2020 and 2021) while 2018 was off at least in part due to a bad choice for offensive coordinator in John Defillippo. I’m hoping for another fairly accurate prediction like last year, using the same process, for this season.
The 2023-24 Vikings Consensus View
Before getting into my prediction, let’s start with the consensus view for the Vikings this season. First, the current over/under win total for the Vikings this season is now 8.5. The Athletic model projection this year is 8.6 wins (it was 9.7 wins last year). The trend this off-season has generally been lower, as the over/under win total number has declined a bit over the past few months.
It’s clear that the consensus view of the Vikings last season was that they were extremely fluky, winning all of their eleven one-score games, losing badly otherwise, weren’t as good as their record suggested, and were exposed as frauds with an early exit in the playoffs. During the off-season, the Vikings completed a semi-rebuild, jettisoning many top players such as Dalvin Cook, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, and Adam Thielen. They acquired Jordan Addison, Byron Murphy Jr., and Marcus Davenport, but otherwise nothing to move the needle and probably not enough to account for the losses. There is some acknowledgement that Brian Flores was a good hire as defensive coordinator, but how much difference can he really make if he doesn’t have the talent?
The Lions are the betting favorite to win the NFC North, and clearly have the highest expectations going into the season. The Lions are +140 to win the division, followed by the Vikings at +290, the Bears at +380, and the Packers at +400 according to DraftKings. Last year at this time the Packers were heavy favorites to win the division at -170, while the Vikings were +250, the Lions +900, and the Bears +1300.
Analyzing the Changes from Last Season
In analyzing the changes for the Vikings since last season, I consider the following major components: roster changes, coaching/scheme changes, sustainability factors such as outliers in injuries, turnovers, and other luck factors, and finally strength of schedule. I then assign a positive or negative win factor for each component to arrive at the net change in wins from the previous season.
The Vikings made some significant roster moves this off-season, in most cases moving on from aging and expensive veterans in the back-nine of their careers. Some, like Patrick Peterson, Za’Darius Smith, and Dalvin Tomlinson were good performers last year. Others like Eric Kendricks, Adam Thielen, and Dalvin Cook were not so good overall. There are also expectations for development or regression among existing players, of which there are many, along with new acquisitions this season. Here is a brief +/- better/worse assessment of each of the projected starters or significant contributors on the Vikings’ roster:
QB Kirk Cousins: +. Cousins had a great year in terms of fourth-quarter comebacks and game winning drives, tying the all-time single season record, but statistically it was a down year for him. The new scheme and his expanded role in it were likely contributors to that regression. Having a rare year of total continuity of scheme, coach and play-caller should help Cousins improve statistically over last year.
RB Alexander Mattison & RB Ty Chandler: +. The Vikings new RB committee may not have the house calls that Cook had last year, but the improvement will come in the form of fewer negative plays and a greater percentage of “successful” plays based on down and distance.
FB CJ Ham: =. I don’t expect Ham to be much of a contributor on offense, and not much different from previous years either.
TE TJ Hockenson: +. A full year of TJ Hockenson is better than a half year.
TE Josh Oliver: +. Oliver should be a major improvement as a blocking TE and may have more snaps than KJ Osborn.
WR Justin Jefferson: =. Difficult to match last year’s production, but JJ will remain a primary offensive weapon who will affect defensive schemes.
WR Jordan Addison: +. It may take a short time for Addison to get fully acclimated to the NFL, but his production efficiency will in terms of yards/route run will be better than Thielen’s last season.
WR KJ Osborn: -. I expect Osborn to have fewer snaps than last year as the Vikings move to more 2TE sets, and fewer targets.
LT Christian Darrisaw: +. Darrisaw took a leap forward his second year and I expect him to build on that this season, although a smaller amount of improvement.
LG Ezra Cleveland: =. Perhaps being in a contract year will motivate Cleveland as it did Bradbury into improved performance, but I’m not counting on it after not having improved in pass protection since his rookie year.
C Garrett Bradbury: =. Bradbury improved last season, enough to keep his job and get a modest extension, but I’m not sure his ceiling is much higher.
RG Ed Ingram: +. It’s common for a second-year offensive lineman to improve over his rookie year, and Ingram showed signs of improvement over the course of last season.
RT Brian O’Neil: =. O’Neill is probably near his ceiling, and has been fairly consistent at this level for the past couple years.
OLB Danielle Hunter: =. Hunter may improve in his second year as a stand-up OLB, but he graded pretty well last year so I’m leaning toward a more equal performance to last year.
DE Harrison Phillips: =. Phillips has likely peaked but probably still at least a year or two before he begins to decline.
NT Khyiris Tonga: =. Tonga had a surprisingly solid season last year, but I’m not sure how much better he can be.
DE Dean Lowry: -. I don’t expect Lowry to be as good as Dalvin Tomlinson last season.
OLB Marcus Davenport: =. Davenport may not have the sack total ZDS had last season, but he’ll be about equal in terms of pass rush productivity and overall performance.
LB Jordan Hicks: =. Hicks may benefit from the scheme change this year, but not expecting a big difference either.
LBs Ivan Pace and Brian Asamoah: +. Comparing these two to Eric Kendricks last season, I expect overall improvement. Kendricks had great instincts and anticipation, and Pace may be close to Kendricks in that regard, but both Pace and Asamoah have at least a step on 30-year-old Kendricks.
CB Byron Murphy Jr.: =. I’m comparing Murphy with Patrick Peterson last year. Peterson had a great season, but also looked better than he was because he wasn’t targeted much with other CBs struggling.
CB Akayleb Evans/Mekhi Blackmon: =. I’m expecting Evans to improve over last season, and Blackmon to be a decent rookie, but not much better than the collection of outside CBs opposite P2 last year. Both Murphy and Evans will be helped by scheme, however.
Nickel DB: +. I expect the collection of safeties playing in the slot to be better than Chandon Sullivan last season, who was the worst CB in the league- the second year in a row the Vikings have had the worst nickelback in the league.
SS: =. I expect Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus to have reps at strong safety and roughly equal performance to last season in coverage, but improvement downhill as run defenders and blitzers.
FS: =. I expect Cam Bynum to get most of the reps at free safety and to be about the same.
K/P/LS: =. I’m not expecting significant change from any of the specialists.
PR: +. I expect Brandon Powell to be a bit better as a punt returner- or at least more reliable- than Jalen Reagor last season.
KR: =. Not expecting much change from last year, despite either Power and/or Ty Chandler handling kick return duties- at least for the first several games.
Overall, these individual assessments result in a slight uptick in overall roster quality this year over last.
The Vikings moved on from Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator and brought in Brian Flores and installed his scheme. This isn’t just change. This is extreme change in philosophy, approach, scheme, and play-calling. In fact, I’m not sure there are two more different defenses in the history of the NFL than that of Ed Donatell last season and that of Brian Flores. Passive vs. aggressive. Bend don’t break vs. feast or famine. Wait for offensive mistakes vs. forcing them. Less tailored vs. more tailored weekly game plans.
But as much as the defensive schemes are different- and they are 180 degrees different- that doesn’t guarantee the results will be 180 degrees different too. However, there are a couple things that are worth noting. First, it was noted by PFF analyst Ben Brown in trying to figure out why the Vikings defense had the 4th highest overall team PFF grade and the 4th highest in team PFF WAR ranking, was nevertheless really bad in basic stats like points and yards allowed last season. It’s also something I talked about in a Brian Flores piece earlier this year.
The reason for the sharp dichotomy may have come down to scheme. It stands to reason that good players, executing their assignments well but with limited success due to a more basic, predictable scheme may be the best explanation. For example, how much do you ding a cornerback asked to play a soft zone with an 8-yard cushion when his receiver makes a reception on a quick slant? Bottom line, Ed Donatell’s scheme put the Vikings’ defensive players in a poor position to succeed, despite their best efforts.
Secondly, Flores’ scheme does have a track record for improvement in Miami. After an injury-riddled 2019 season, Flores’ scheme resulted in dramatic improvement, going from last in points allowed to sixth. And with a defense that had only four players with overall PFF season grades over 70. Overall, the Dolphins defense had only the 15th highest overall team grade, and yet allowed the 6th fewest points. A hidden benefit of Flores’ scheme has been that it adds a degree of difficulty for opposing offenses. There are opportunities for big plays by the offense, but only with excellent execution. For example, the quarterback must recognize the defense, make the right read and potentially protection call, while getting the ball out quickly and accurately in the face of pressure. There aren’t a lot of quarterbacks that can do that consistently, and many struggle to do so. That creates a situation where even if the cornerback gets beat, and therefore getting a negative PFF grade on the play, it may not matter if the offense isn’t able to execute well under that added pressure and degree of difficulty.
The bottom line here is that defensively, the scheme and coaching change is about as big a change as it can be.
Offensively, the Vikings return the same head coach and coordinator, with Kevin O’Connell continuing to call plays. However, I do expect some more subtle changes to the scheme, in particular running more double tight end sets and fewer three wide receiver sets. There also may be a slight narrowing of the gap between pass and run play percentage, but not much.
Beyond changes to the roster and scheme/coaching staff that can impact a team’s performance year over year, there are also what I call sustainability factors. These are outliers in things like injuries, turnovers, and other on-field luck factors like field goal percentage for and against, fumble recovery percentage, etc. For example, a team that ranks really high or low in the number of takeaways last season, that’s probably unsustainable into the new season, and so an adjustment reflecting some regression to the mean is factored into the win total.
Injuries play a crucial role in team success, and a team that suffered a lot relative to other teams the previous year may not have as many the following year- again regression toward the mean- and vice versa. Football Outsiders, whose website has sadly gone dark, has compiled an Adjusted Games Lost or AGL metric that compiles the number of games lost by players due to injury, and weights them based on position and role on the team. It also factors in some partial injuries based on the weekly injury reports.
Last year, the Vikings ranked 5th in AGLs, meaning they had the 5th fewest injuries. Normally that would merit an adjustment as somewhat of an outlier, with some regression toward the mean expected this year. However, as I mentioned in last season’s prediction, the Vikings hired away Tyler Williams and his training/sports science staff from the Rams. Williams employs a lot of advanced training, monitoring, and sports science programs to help improve player health and help prevent injuries. And this system has a track record when it comes to AGLs. It is as follows:
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)
2022: ??? (5th)
With Football Outsiders having gone dark, I no longer have the actual AGL number for the Vikings last year, only the ranking which I found elsewhere. But as you can see, apart from Tyler Williams’ first year with the Rams in 2015, his team has ranked no worse than 10th in AGLs over a seven-year span. Over a year or two you could consider it good luck, but over seven years that’s not luck. That’s having a better system than other teams. And so while the Vikings ranked 5th in AGLs last year, that’s about average for Tyler Williams’ teams over the years, so there is no injury adjustment to be made for the Vikings this year.
Turnovers are a major factor that is highly correlated to winning and losing a football game. And so a team that is unusually high or low in turnovers/takeaways the previous season may again have some regression to the mean. Last year the Vikings ranked 17th in turnovers with 23, while ranking 9th in takeaways with 25. Had the Vikings had one fewer takeaway, they would’ve been tied for 14th, to give some perspective. So, overall these don’t seem like significant outliers than deserve an adjustment for regression toward the mean.
Other Luck Factors
Lastly, the Vikings ranked fifth in Net Win Probability added in 2022 due to what are considered luck factors- dropped interceptions and passes by opponents, field goals and extra points missed by opponents, and fumble recoveries. Overall, those factors added 0.84 wins for the Vikings last season. Regression toward the mean in this area therefore would result in nearly one less win for the Vikings this season.
Strength of Schedule
How tough a team’s slate of opponents for the season can significantly affect winning percentage for the season. Comparing strength of schedule based on the over/under number for projected wins (rather than last year’s winning %) better takes into account changes from last season as they affect projected winning %. As a first place team last year, the Vikings have a tougher schedule than their division opponents, as reflected in this strength of schedule graph, updated as of 8/31/23:
Last year the Vikings had the 16th easiest strength of schedule prior to the start of the season, and this year they have the 27th easiest strength of schedule. That’s a significantly more difficult schedule that warrants an adjustment to this year’s win total.
One other strength of schedule ranking that’s worth noting is the strength of the slate of quarterbacks the Vikings will face this season. The Athletic ranked the Vikings slate of QBs last year as the 25th most difficult, and this year they rank them as the 20th most difficult. A slightly more difficult slate featuring Mahomes, Hurts, Burrow, and Herbert as the highest ranked ones, but still not too bad relatively speaking overall.
Here is the Vikings regular season schedule:
W1: Tampa Bay
W2: @ Philadelphia
W3: LA Chargers
W4: @ Carolina
W5: Kansas City
W6: @ Chicago
W7: San Francisco
W8: @ Green Bay
W9: @ Atlanta
W10: New Orleans
W11: @ Denver
W13: Bye Week
W14: @ Las Vegas
W15: @ Cincinnati
W17: Green Bay
W18: @ Detroit
It does help that among the tougher opponents in terms of projected win totals (Philly, LA, KC, SF, NO, Cinci, Detroit) the majority (5/8) of those games are at home. It also helps that the Vikings won’t have weather games at Green Bay and Chicago this year, given those road games come earlier in the season, leaving just the Cincinnati game as a potential weather game. Having only two road games in a row is also helpful, including one following a bye-week.
Adding It All Up
Okay, having gone through all the major changes and reviewing outliers and strength of schedule compared to last season, here is how I adjust the Vikings win total compared to last season:
Roster Changes: +0.
I’m not as down about the Vikings moving on from older players on the downside of the career as the consensus view, which tends to look at players like Dalvin Cook more as a Pro Bowler than a back that has declined in recent years. All of the players the Vikings have moved on from are replaceable, and in most cases have been replaced with comparably talented younger players with more upside, if not more accolades. Guys like Josh Oliver, Jordan Addison, and even Ivan Pace may well have better seasons than the players they replaced. I also think Kirk Cousins will have a better season statistically than last year, given it’s his second season in the scheme and a rare year of scheme and coaching continuity. Among existing starters from last season, I expect a net positive overall with more younger players improving compared to older players regressing. But overall not a huge improvement either- not enough to warrant an adjustment.
Scheme/Coaching Changes: +2.0
This is a big adjustment and one that is difficult to translate into wins, but I believe is warranted given the extreme change on the defensive side with the Vikings changing from Ed Donatell and his scheme to Brian Flores and his. There is a lot to suggest that the issues with the Vikings defense last season were largely scheme-related, which proved to be a negative multiplier to the talent the Vikings had on the defensive side of the ball. Flores’ scheme is no panacea for every problem or shortcoming on the Vikings defensive roster this season, but it has a history of not only not being a negative multiplier of talent, but a positive one. In that sense, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a significant jump in the Vikings’ defensive rankings in points and yards allowed, which could go from near the bottom to at least league average.
Offensively, I see more minor changes mostly involving a shift toward more 12 personnel (double TE sets) from 11 personnel (3WR sets) that could improve the Vikings’ offensive efficiency metrics.
Sustainability Factors: -1.0
I don’t see a basis for adjustment for injuries or turnovers last season, as explained above, but the other luck factors warrant a one game reduction, as shown above as well.
Strength of Schedule: -2.0
Going from the 16th to 27th easiest strength of schedule is a significant and also warrants a bigger adjustment to the Vikings’ win total from a season ago. Vegas is not perfect with it’s win total assessment of each team. For example the Chiefs had one of the tougher strength of schedules last year before the season started, but ended up much easier than predicted as teams like the Broncos didn’t pan out as expected. Nevertheless, a two-game reduction seems warranted.
All that adds up to a -1.0 reduction in games won over last season, which puts the prediction at 12-5. But there is another factor to discuss.
What About Going 11-0 in One Score Games?
One common criticism of the Vikings last season was that going 11-0 in one score games is unsustainable. It’s not a typical “unsustainable” factor as it’s really two variables- winning percentage in one score games, and the number of one score games in a season. It’s true the Vikings were an outlier in one-score game winning percentage, and they won’t always go undefeated in one score games, so a reduction should be made to acknowledge a reversion to the mean in the aspect of last season as well. Fair enough. But how many one score games will the Vikings have this season? How will that factor into their overall record (i.e. they could have six one score games and go .500 in them, but still be 12-5 overall for example)? It’s not an easy question and the other factors will have an impact on the number of one score games, and their outcome as well. Nevertheless, it seems prudent to make a reduction over and above the other factors to account for this outlier. With that in mind, I’m adding an additional one game reduction from their win total this season to address it.
Final Prediction: 11-6
Adding in that one game reduction due to the one score game outlier winning percentage last season, in addition to all the more usual factors listed above, gets me to my final prediction of 11-6 for the Vikings regular season record this season.
That’s still well above the 8.5 win consensus view for the Vikings this season, which I attribute to a difference in the impact of Brian Flores and his scheme on the defensive performance this season, which I believe is underappreciated (and difficult to quantify) and a bit of an underappreciation for the acquisitions made by the Vikings this off-season to offset the losses.
Given my predictions for the other teams in the NFC North, that should be good enough for the Vikings to repeat as NFC North division champions for the first time since 2009.
How accurate will I be compared to the consensus view this year? Only time will tell.
How many wins will the Vikings have this regular season?
This poll is closed
6 or less