Heading into the 2021 season, the Vikings are perceived to be right in the middle of the pack in the NFL. Not a good team, not a bad team, but a perfectly average one. At least, that's what's implied by Minnesota's projected win total of 8.5, set by Vegas sportsbook William Hill this week. With a 17-game season, that's right at .500.
It's an understandable projection with the Vikings coming off a 7-9 record and having a 25-22-1 record over the past three regular seasons.
With that said, I'd take the over on 8.5 wins in 2021. The primary reason why I'd lean towards the over is that the defense is going to be significantly better. The return of Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Pierce, plus the addition of Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Woods, and a couple others will make a world of difference for Mike Zimmer's prized unit.
Still, there are questions on the defense, namely in the pass rush department. Hunter is coming off a major neck surgery, Pierce and Tomlinson aren't known for getting after the passer, and the other options on the edge — Stephen Weatherly and D.J. Wonnum — aren't particularly exciting. That's why I wouldn't be surprised to see Rick Spielman draft an edge rusher in the first or second round for the first time ever.
Peterson's age and effectiveness is also an unknown on defense.
Far more concerning is the Vikings' offensive line. It was a major issue last year, although Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and company were still able to finish eighth in offensive DVOA and tenth in offensive EPA per play. But losing Riley Reiff, arguably the team's best lineman last season, could threaten to make the line even worse. The Vikings will almost certainly invest a premium pick or two in the offensive line in the upcoming draft, but how effective will those rookies be right away? Garrett Bradbury hasn't shown much through two seasons, Ezra Cleveland may have to move positions again, and the guard position has been a constant issue in Minnesota.
There's plenty of reason to be worried about this offensive line. There's also the potential for regression from Jefferson with more defensive attention, the loss of a red zone menace in Kyle Rudolph, and the potential for injuries on offense after a year in which the key personnel on that side of the ball stayed very healthy.
Much of that is the pessimistic way of viewing things. But even with all of that in mind, I'd still lean towards over 8.5 wins. If everything comes together on defense and the O-line gets an immediate lift from a rookie or two, I could see the Vikings winning 10-12 games. Even if things don't go well, I think this is an 8 or 9-win team. There's just too much talent on both sides of the ball for them to win fewer than seven games. The coaching staff is a good one too; I like most of the moves they made this offseason in that department.
We can revisit this win total after the draft and see if it shifts at all. If the Vikings do well in the draft and the total is still at 8.5, I'll feel pretty confident in advising you all to bet the over (responsibly, of course).
The win totals for the rest of the NFC North are 11 for the Packers, 7.5 for the Bears, and 5 for the Lions. The reigning champion Buccaneers lead the NFC at 11.5, while the Chiefs lead the NFL at 12. The Vikings' 8.5 total ranks eighth in the NFC and 18th in the NFL.
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