Earlier this week, Anthony Barr expressed the kind of optimism that all of us should have in our lives. During an interview with Fox 9’s Jim Rich, Barr was asked about his expectations for the upcoming season. His answer would make that one purple-clad relative in our lives ecstatic.
“I really do believe we have a Super Bowl-winning team this year,” Barr said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of steps to get to that point, and I’ve been through good seasons and bad seasons with this team. But every time we’ve had a tough year, we’ve always bounced back. I really feel like this year is going to be special.”
At first glance, it appears that Barr has been drinking too much purple Kool-Aid. But, on closer inspection, there could be a chance that Minnesota is in position to make a run.
During the Mike Zimmer era, the Vikings have rebounded from bad seasons to make the playoffs the following year. While this could be summed up by an easier schedule or “odd-numbered magic,” Minnesota seems to have put together a better roster when coming off a disappointing performance.
In 2017, the Vikings went 13-3 after going 8-8 the year before. They featured the No. 1 defense in the league and an offense that caught lightning in a bottle with Case Keenum. With the emergence of young receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the Vikings made their way to the NFC Championship Game. (There’s no need to mention the result here.)
In 2019, the Vikings were trying to rebound from an 8-7-1 record the year before. Much like 2017, many of the same players returned, and they used an efficient offense and solid defense to go 10-6 and return to the playoffs. They even got a playoff victory in New Orleans before losing in the Divisional round. (Again, there’s no need to talk about that game.)
Heading into this season, the Vikings have the same formula. They will bring back Kirk Cousins, who will be in the same offensive system for the second-straight year. Although Thielen is older, Justin Jefferson’s breakout year should be enough to catapult the offense from 11th in total points and into the top 10.
The defense has undergone a major overhaul, but so did the areas where the Vikings were weakest in 2016 and 2018. Both those years resulted in major additions across the offensive line. With that plus $45 million in defensive spending, the Vikings should be improved enough to bump themselves into playoff contention.
That will mean anything goes in a wide-open NFC where almost every team has a major question.
In the NFC North, the Vikings are wondering whether Aaron Rodgers will show up for Week 1 in Green Bay. They also don’t know when the Chicago Bears will start Justin Fields over Andy Dalton or whether Dan Campbell can be more than the second coming of Mike Tice with the Detroit Lions.
The NFC East is filled with bad teams that could take a step forward or regress. Will Washington get over the hump with Ryan Fitzpatrick? Will the Dallas Cowboys rebound with Dak Prescott under center? Is Joe Judge a good coach? And is Jalen Hurts a legitimate NFL quarterback? We don’t know.
The NFC West is also a giant mystery bag. Is Kliff Kingsbury a legitimate NFL coach? The Seattle Seahawks may or may not let Russ cook, and the Los Angeles Rams just installed 32-year-old Matthew Stafford at quarterback. Even the San Francisco 49ers’ down year may not have been a fluke despite all their injuries. We don’t know.
Even in the NFC South, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return all of their starters, there’s still a question whether Tom Brady can evade Father Time for another year. Are the New Orleans Saints going to miss Drew Brees? Will the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons step up from the bottom of the division?
You guessed it: We don’t know.
All of this leaves a wide-open path to a deep playoff run. A Vikings appearance in the Super Bowl isn’t that far-fetched. Although the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens figure to be heavy favorites, there could be another version of the 2020 Buffalo Bills waiting to take the league by storm. We don’t know!
We do know that the Vikings should be a better team than they were a year ago. While it’s eye-opening to hear Barr’s optimism, the Vikings have the potential to be better than we expect. Then again, we don’t know.