Minnesota Vikings remain Super Bowl contenders with QB Cousins

Vikings' NFL-best defense could be even better in 2018

Last Updated:

2018 win total: 10

2017 ATS record: 11-4-1

Optimist view

Not to disparage journeyman QB Case Keenum’s career year in leading the Vikings to a 13-3 record in 2017 and the NFC title game, but the addition of Kirk Cousins should be an upgrade for a team whose talent remains among the top five in the NFL. Entering his age-30 season, Cousins is at the top of his game. He’s thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of the previous three seasons and averaged 27 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

Cousins should benefit from the return of elusive, versatile RB Dalvin Cook, who got off to an excellent start as a rookie in 2017 before a torn ACL ended his season after four games. He and big, bruising Latavius Murray should form a productive tandem.

The NFL’s best defense from last year returns almost completely intact and added talented DT Sheldon Richardson, who is looking for a bounce-back season and could make DE Everson Griffen (13 sacks in 2017) even more effective. On the other side, 23-year-old DE Danielle Hunter could be primed for another huge season after getting 19.5 sacks the past two years.

Pessimist view:

2017 offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is now the Giants’ head coach and has been replaced by former Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo, who will be calling plays for the first time. Third-down RB Jerick McKinnon’s dual-threat talents will be missed. He had a combined 991 yards from scrimmage in 2017. A replacement must be found for RG Joe Berger, who retired.

The playoff meltdown of an otherwise stout defense is a concern, and it may take Cousins some time to adapt to a new offense and new teammates. Cook averaged 4.8 yards per carry before he was hurt as a rookie and caught 11 passes, but he may not be 100 percent for at least the first month of the season. Murray is not nearly as talented or explosive, if he needs to be the featured back. Mack Brown could struggle to replace McKinnon as the third-down back.

On schedule:

There are two stretches that include three road games in four weeks. The first features away games vs. the Packers, who are expected to be greatly improved over last year’s 7-9 team, the Rams (10-6) and the Super Bowl-champion Eagles. After the Week 10 bye, the Vikings visit the Bears, the AFC champion Patriots and the Seahawks (9-7) in a four-week stretch.

The Vikings also have four prime-time games, three of them against teams that had winning records last year: the Rams, Saints (11-5), Packers and Seahawks. But they have home games in three of the four weeks before their bye, against the Cardinals (8-8), Saints and Lions (9-7).

Prediction: Over

The guess here is that Cousins will need little time to acclimate himself with an impressive group of skill-position players that include Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, both of whom have WR1 talent. Thielen led the Vikings with 1,276 yards in 2017 and Diggs had eight touchdowns. So did TE Kyle Rudolph, who is an excellent security blanket and red-zone target. The defense is talented at every level and should benefit from playing with a lead much of the time.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Pro Football Weekly