Reassessing Minnesota's First Six Opponents

Photo credit: Sam Greene (The Enquirer via USA TODAY Sports)

During every bye week, I have too much time to ponder the Minnesota Vikings’ early results. Nothing especially notable happened this week in the NFL, and it was the worst lineup of games this season — but it got me thinking. The Cincinnati Bengals game looked like a fourth preseason game, but Cincinnati is now at the top of the AFC North. The Vikings almost beat the undefeated Arizona Cardinals and almost lost to the winless Detroit Lions. And the Vikings finally beat the Seattle Seahawks, only to see them fall apart afterward.

To borrow from the late, great Denny Green, Minnesota’s first six opponents aren’t who we thought they were.

Cincinnati Bengals 5-2 (27-24 loss)

A loss is a loss, and it hurts even more coming from a team that many people had low expectations for going into the season. Ja’Marr Chase had bricks for hands, and sophomore Joe Burrow was coming off a torn ACL. The Bengals even had a bottom-10 defense last season, according to PFF.

It was a letdown to lose the season opener to a team with no pedigree. But we’ve learned that may not be the whole story given how the season has unfolded. Only the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have beaten Cincinnati.

The Bears loss looks terrible, but every team has an off game here and there. Burrow just didn’t have it in Chicago. I can accept he had some wrinkles to work out in Week 2 after coming off a season-ending injury. The team was still establishing their chemistry, and it wasn’t Chase’s best game either.

I think the new context for this loss bodes well for the Vikings and goes to show a one-possession game against a good team isn’t as bad as getting blown out, which hasn’t happened to the Vikings yet this season.

Arizona Cardinals 7-0 (34-33 loss)

This loss stung, but it wasn’t as surprising as the defeat at the hands of the Bengals. I don’t think anyone expected the Vikings to win in Glendale, let alone to lose again by one possession. The Cardinals looked unstoppable in Week 1, beating the Tennessee Titans 38-13.

The most redeeming part of Week 2 for the Vikings is that they held the Cardinals to only one sack. And that’s after Chandler Jones had five sacks in Nashville.

The Cardinals still have yet to lose a game and are the only NFL team left to do so. However, the Vikings were a 37-yard kick away from winning this game.

Seattle Seahawks 2-5 (30-17 win)

This game will end up being seen as the opposite of the first two. Seattle was viewed as a much better team in Week 3, but now they are flying off the rails. Russell Wilson was healthy when they played the Vikings, but the Seahawks just aren’t the team they’ve been in years past.

The good news is the Vikings blew them out at home. I don’t think it is as impressive looking back, but it still was a solid W for a team that lost two close games going into Week 3. It was a statement win.

The Seahawks are having a similar season to the Vikings, with a slew of close losses and a couple of wins. Losing Wilson to injury always was going to hurt this team. However, it’s good the Vikings got off the scheme with a victory against the Seahawks after having not beaten them in the Mike Zimmer era.

Cleveland Browns 4-3 (14-7 loss)

In hindsight, this game feels complicated. The Browns aren’t bad by any means, but the Vikings game was one of Baker Mayfield’s worst performances, and he was suffering from a torn labrum in his non-throwing arm. It’s the same injury that plagued Odell Beckham Jr. for years.

This game was the start of a downturn in Cleveland’s season, but they are still a good team. Their defense is having its moment, and they have some incredible weapons on offense. In some ways, this was a well-played game by the Vikings because it was another one-score contest. But the Browns had way too many missed opportunities. They could have won by more.

I don’t think I can count the number of missed deep balls on one hand. And there’s no doubt there would be a chance for Beckham Jr. to have taken any number of those to the house. The fact is that Mayfield was off all day, and the game was much closer than it had any right being.

Detroit Lions 0-7 (19-17 win)

I might get heat for this take, but I think this was a good win. The Lions are 0-7, but they’ve played every game close. Hell, the Baltimore Ravens had to break the NFL field goal distance record just to beat them, and they’re 5-2.

Dan Campbell may not have shown he has what it takes to get a win, but his team has shown a lot of fight every week — so much so that the Lions made their game against the 6-1 Los Angeles Rams game entertaining. Hell, we saw a first-half fake punt and onside kick from Detroit.

The Lions are the best 0-7 team I’ve ever seen. They are the only team more cursed than the Vikings this season when it comes to walk-off kicks; none have gone in their favor.

Carolina Panthers 3-4 (34-28 win)

This is a game that seems less impressive in retrospect. The Panthers have lost all momentum and are on a four-game losing streak. It won’t be a surprise if Sam Darnold is the backup to former CFL quarterback P.J. Walker.

What I think the team proved is that the defense is back. Robbie Anderson helped with his drops, but the team had four sacks and held the Panthers to 2/12 on third-down conversions. The game had to be settled in OT, but the Vikings showed flashes of a good team.

Minnesota will play the Dallas Cowboys on Halloween. Both teams are coming off their bye week, and it could get scary if it plays out like any of the past few Vikings-Cowboys showdowns. Right now, it looks like a measuring-stick game. But given how the season has played out for each of Minnesota’s opponents so far, we’ll only know by the end of the year.

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