It feels like the national media is underrating the Vikings a bit heading into the 2021 season.
We're talking about a team with a good quarterback, an elite trio of skill-position weapons, an interior offensive line that should be better, and a completely reloaded defense coached by one of the smartest defensive minds of this era. Criticisms of the Vikings' defense seem to regularly overlook that only two of their starters from last year — Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks — are still in the starting lineup this year.
Perhaps I'm too high on the Vikings, who I've predicted will go 10-7 and could see winning 11 or 12 games if things really click. There are plenty of valid reasons to be concerned about this team, including the offensive line, the rookie offensive coordinator, the cornerbacks, special teams, Irv Smith Jr.'s injury, the top-heavy nature of the roster (particularly on offense), and the vaccination status of the quarterback and several other star players.
But when it comes down to it, the Vikings have a good head coach and a roster filled with established talent. It's also an odd-numbered year, meaning they're surely headed back to the playoffs. In that context, these power rankings from national analysts, several of which have the Vikings ranked 20th or worse, are a bit surprising to me.
Starting on Sunday in Cincinnati, the 17-game journey begins to find out if the Vikings deserved more respect or if the skepticism was warranted all along.
Here are the pre-Week 1 power rankings from ten major sites.
SI MMQB Staff: No. 20
The Vikings have alternated seasons in and out of the playoffs since Mike Zimmer got there, and the pattern says this year they’d be in. But our poll has them out, which is how it often goes after a down season.
Note: SI's eight voters ranked the Vikings as high as 13th and as low as 24th, which is tied for the fourth-biggest range of any team.
Dan Hanzus, NFL.com: No. 17
The Vikings are confident their defense will vastly improve with better health and upgraded personnel under Mike Zimmer, but is it too much to expect Minnesota's offense to repeat its top-10 finish of a year ago? The loss of tight end Irv Smith Jr. is significant, the offensive line is inexperienced in key spots and first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak will face a challenge filling his dad's shoes. Minnesota needs its core four on offense — Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen — to stay healthy and produce at a Pro Bowl level. The Vikings are built like a Jenga tower on offense.
Mike Clay, ESPN: No. 7
Minnesota stumbled to a 7-9 season in 2020 after three consecutive winning seasons, but there are plenty of reasons to anticipate a bounceback in 2021. The Vikings have an intriguing, high-pedigree offensive line — all five projected starters were picked on Day 1 or 2 of the draft since 2018 — as well as overhauled and upgraded interior defensive line and cornerback units. The defense will also have standouts Barr and Hunter back after the duo missed all but a combined 91 snaps last season due to injury. As if that's not enough, stars Kendricks (who also missed time last season) and Smith are sure to make a big impact. Mike Zimmer is known for elite defense and, following a rough 2020, he now has the team on paper to get back to that in 2021. Kirk Cousins remains a polarizing player, but he played well last season and led Minnesota to the fifth most offensive touchdowns. He has plenty of support in the form of Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Minnesota is on the rise.
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: No. 20
Getting Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back from injuries should give the Vikings a nice boost on defense, as will the bevy of free agent additions and a recent reunion with pass-rusher Everson Griffen. But that group still needs to make a massive jump after finishing last year ranked 26th in weighted DVOA. Offensively, Minnesota boasts a trio of star skill players in Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, and Dalvin Cook, but it’s hard to trust Kirk Cousins to take that group over the top this year.
Bleacher Report: No. 22
On one hand, the Minnesota Vikings are more or less the same team that won 10 games and made the postseason in 2019.Kirk Cousins isn't a superstar quarterback, but he's a capable veteran. Whether it's wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook or edge-rusher Danielle Hunter and linebacker Eric Kendricks, Minnesota has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.But the Vikings are also essentially the same team that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs last year. They don't have a huge margin for error, and Cousins has had his share of struggles in big games.The schedule at least cuts the Vikings a break this year. Beginning with a trip to Cincinnati in Week 1, four of Minnesota's first six games come against teams that failed to make the postseason in 2020.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: No. 16
The defense, which is usually the calling card for Mike Zimmer-coached teams, will be back to playing at a high level after a bad 2020. Couple that with a good offense, and the Vikings should be back in the postseason.
Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: No. 17
The Vikings improved what was Mike Zimmer's worst defense last season. Cincinnati in Week 1 is a great test to see if it's much better.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: No. 21
The Vikings are confident they will go back a more effective Mike Zimmer-style defense in 2021, but there are still some notable holes. The run-heavy offense is status quo with Dalvin Cook setting up Kirk Cousins for more efficient passing to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. They are likely to underachieve based on schedule and losing games they shouldn't.
Nate Davis, USA Today: No. 15
Given the reinforcements to a defense that embarrassed coach Mike Zimmer last year, Minnesota should rebound to postseason form ... assuming Kirk Cousins, who was unvaccinated as of the start of training camp, doesn't become the latest QB shelved by close COVID-19 contacts.
Mike Florio, PFT: No. 18
The defense is a lot better (it couldn’t be much worse), the offense is suddenly a question mark. The return of fans to home games will be an exclamation point.
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