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ESPN NFL Analyst Dan Orlovsky Says the Vikings Will Be a Playoff Team in 2022

The Vikings missed some opportunities last season, but they also won several close games.

The Vikings are starting to become a trendy pick as a sleeper team to make the playoffs and potentially do some damage in the NFC.

Another analyst hopped on the bandwagon on Wednesday: ESPN's Dan Orlovsky, a former longtime NFL backup quarterback who does great film breakdowns and was recently promoted to ESPN's No. 2 NFL booth as a color commentator.

"The Vikings will be a playoff team this season," Orlovsky tweeted. He cited several reasons for that prediction, which are listed below:

  • They were 8-9 last season, but had just 1 loss by double digits
  • 5 of those 9 losses were by a total of 13 points
  • New head coach
  • Much improved offensive line
  • If the young secondary plays improved ball, they'll be a very good football team

The tweet sparked some debate, with some agreeing and some pushing back against Orlovsky's reasoning.

The Vikings' remarkable number of close losses is a commonly-referenced point people make when arguing that they'll be a better team in 2022. I get it. They were a questionable Dalvin Cook fumble away from beating the Bengals, lost to the Cardinals on a missed Greg Joseph field goal, had the Ravens on the ropes in OT, and lost to the Lions on the final play of the game.

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But the reverse is also true. Six of the Vikings' eight wins came by eight points or fewer, including walkoff wins over the Lions, Panthers, and Packers. Even the game against the Steelers — in which they led 28-0 at one point — came down to the final play. Just because the Vikings could've won a few more close games doesn't necessarily mean they're a better team than they showed last year. In order to lose close games to Cooper Rush and Jared Goff, you have to first be in close games with Cooper Rush and Jared Goff.

Another point Orlovsky made — that the Vikings have a "much improved OL" — is questionable. They return 4 of 5 starters from last year, with the potential for young players like Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland to take steps forward. But while they added three competitors for the right guard spot in veterans Jesse Davis and Chris Reed and second-round pick Ed Ingram, none of those are huge additions. Davis has been a below-average starter for most of his career, Reed has been a backup for most of his career, and Ingram was seen as a reach by the consensus board late in the second round.

I think it'll be a better offensive line than the one the Vikings had last year, but Darrisaw and Cleveland aren't guaranteed to improve, Garrett Bradbury remains the worst pass-blocking center in the NFL, and right guard is still a question mark until proven otherwise. To call it "much improved" feels like a stretch.

With those two points out of the way, here's where I agree with Orlovsky: the hiring of Kevin O'Connell is going to make a big difference. I've been extremely impressed by O'Connell so far this offseason and think he's going to bring a lot of new ideas to the Vikings, specifically on offense. The rest of the coaching staff — including defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, assistant head coach Mike Pettine, and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips — looks promising as well.

Coaching alone should help the Vikings improve in 2022. And on paper, a talented roster got even better with the additions of players like Za'Darius Smith, Lewis Cine, and Andrew Booth Jr. on defense. If Danielle Hunter can stay healthy, Harrison Phillips and Jordan Hicks can replace Michael Pierce and Anthony Barr effectively, and the rookie defensive backs can step up quickly, this could be a very talented defense. Pair that with O'Connell breathing new life into a Vikings offense that is loaded at the skill positions, and I understand the reasons for optimism.

In summary, I agree with Orlovsky that the Vikings will be a playoff team in 2022, but I think a couple of the reasons he gave for that prediction aren't great.

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