The consensus seems to be that the Minnesota Vikings underachieved last year. While the final record wound up being 10-6, a couple of woeful outings in key divisional games critically changed the Vikings’ postseason path. Minnesota’s season ultimately ended in the divisional round with a loss to the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. Overall, it’s a positive season to build on in the quest for a Super Bowl title.
However, sportsbooks have only listed the Vikings’ betting over/under win total at 8.5. How could this be?
The roster overhaul that has taken place during the offseason provides cause for doubt. First and foremost, the loss of star wide receiver Stefon Diggs leaves a huge hole in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak‘s offense. Diggs was one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL last year, finishing the season second in yards per target.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins further solidified himself as one of the most accurate deep ball throwers in the league last season with the help of Diggs. The official NFL social media accounts shared videos of Cousins’ best throw from each game in 2019, and 10 of those were deep connections to Diggs.
This isn’t to say Diggs is the only person deserving credit in each of those plays. However, Diggs clearly separates on deep routes more efficiently than almost anyone else in the league. How will that production be replaced? Can first-round rookie Justin Jefferson fill the hole? Or will Adam Thielen be relied on to play the burner role?
Offensively, the Vikings also chose not to re-sign arguably their best starting guard in Josh Kline. An already-weak offensive line may have become weaker.
Minnesota’s defense, meanwhile, lost several key contributors that have played vital roles in building what has been an elite defense under head coach Mike Zimmer since he took over. The Vikings’ top three cornerbacks (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander) from 2019 all left in free agency. Meanwhile, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, two stars on the defensive line during the duration of Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota, also left in free agency.
Additionally, free-agent acquisition Michael Pierce, regarded as one of the better nose tackles in the sport and was set to replace Joseph, has opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
The result is very little experience on the defensive line and at cornerback heading into 2020. Minnesota made 15 draft selections in the 2020 NFL draft to help fill these holes. With that said, the circumstances caused by COVID-19 have limited the ability for rookies to get acclimated to the league across the entire NFL, and a team relying on rookies as much as Minnesota will be hurt even more.
So, is 8.5 a fair number? Absolutely. When making a decision to bet on a team’s season win total, it’s important to look at the schedule. One important note to look at for the Vikings is the quarterback play Zimmer and company will have to deal with.
Of course, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford (if healthy) are on the schedule twice. That’s the same as any other year. But Minnesota’s schedule also includes games against the likes of Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady and Drew Brees.
The quarterback talent Minnesota had to face last season was pretty low. Twice the Vikings lost to backup quarterbacks (Chase Daniel and Matt Moore) and nearly lost another to Brandon Allen. The 2020 season will be a complete 180 in terms of the quarterbacks on the opposite side of the field.
And of course, the unpredictability of whether fans will or won’t be allowed in the stadium any given week adds another element to consider. The general rule of thumb has been that the home-field advantage impacts the spread each week by roughly three points. But does the home-field advantage swing the spread if no fans are in the stadium?
On a positive note, the rest of the NFC North does not look promising. Chicago and Green Bay are also trending downward after questionable offseason decisions of their own. Detroit had a solid draft and added some nice pieces through free agency, but the franchise still has never won an NFC North title (they last won the division when it was the NFC Central in 1993).
While the list of quarterbacks on Minnesota’s schedule looks scary, Zimmer has a history of keeping a few of them in check when he matches up with them. Namely, Zimmer has been great against Ryan, Brees, and Philip Rivers during his tenure as head coach. It wouldn’t be outlandish to throw Rodgers in that group, either.
On the surface, the Vikings’ expectations should be lower than in 2019. With that said, over 8.5 wins is the better bet. The weaker NFC North will provide a bunch of opportunities for wins, and home games against opponents that struggled last season like Jacksonville and Carolina give a sense of optimism for the Vikings to reach double-digit wins in 2020.
VERDICT: OVER 8.5 WINS