We have reached the part of the NFL calendar where anything is possible. With roughly six weeks until training camp, fans are desperate for any news about their favorite teams.
In other words, welcome to prediction season.
Prediction season (or SZN as the kids call it) started with a bang last week when Colin Cowherd predicted the Minnesota Vikings would double their win total in 2022. Has Cowherd been chugging purple Kool-Aid? Maybe. But it might not be as outlandish as it sounds.
Last season, the 2022 Vikings had:
- A vaccination rift in the locker room
- Ahead coach who was willing to fight his quarterback
- A cornerback who told his own fans to perform a disgusting act
- An offensive line made of duct tape
- A loss to Cooper Rush on national television
- And nine games that were decided on the final play
With that laundry list of bad juju, the Vikings could have gone 4-13 last season. Somehow, they won eight games. If Cowherd’s math is correct, he believes the Vikings will have a 16-1 season, which is borderline insane.
But what if Cowherd is clairvoyant and knew the Vikings would go 16-1 next year? It starts with Cowherd’s main logic for his prediction.
“I think the Minnesota Vikings, the coach, Mike Zimmer, and Kirk Cousins had a really bad relationship,” Cowherd said. “Now they bring in a [Sean] McVay guy who is supposed to be a taller version of McVay.”
Zimmer and Cousins didn’t have the greatest relationship. It took four years for them to meet to discuss the game plan on a weekly basis. Even then, Zimmer only granted Cousins 45 minutes.
This feud took place behind closed doors until a Week 5 celebration nearly devolved into a street fight. The rest of the season was filled with debates over who can call timeouts and Zimmer’s plea for Cousins to become more aggressive until Zimmer was ran out of town.
But things can change with the arrival of Kevin O’Connell. Working at the McVay altar isn’t a bad way to jump-start your head coaching career, but so is having a prior relationship with your quarterback. Given that O’Connell worked with Cousins in Washington, there’s a good chance they’ll spend more than 45 minutes going over the game plan. There’s an even better chance that O’Connell can put Cousins in a situation to succeed.
A cerebral quarterback, Cousins often committed to his first read. “The Illusion of Complexity” could create multiple wide-open throws, which could help Cousins have the most efficient season of his career.
But the Vikings will need more than a great awakening from their quarterback to win 16 games. They’ll also need a clean bill of health.
The Vikings won 13 games in 2017, mainly because they avoided injuries. All 11 starters on defense from Week 1 were the same players who started in the NFC Championship game. Minnesota also escaped major injuries; no team had more wins with as few man-games lost.
For the Vikings to duplicate this feat, they’ll have to buck some trends.
Dalvin Cook has never played a full season due to injuries. Adam Thielen has missed 10 games over the past three seasons. Danielle Hunter has played in only seven games since the start of the 2020 season. Za’Darius Smith’s bulging disc is basically a time bomb inside his back.
The Vikings would be lucky to avoid all of these traps throughout a full season, but it’s nothing compared to their biggest opponent: Father Time.
Minnesota heads into this season with six projected starters over the age of 30. While Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Jordan Hicks, Smith, and Thielen have all played at a high level, the game eventually takes its toll on everyone.
Zimmer didn’t seem to grasp this concept as he ran his players through rigorous practices – even before playoff games. But Peterson told the media last week that he feels great after minicamp and cited the new staff’s use of sports science to keep his players available for Sundays.
All of this sounds great, but the Vikings still need some help. That’s where a little bit of luck comes into play.
It starts with the NFC North, where each team may have gotten worse this offseason. Ryan Poles is leading the Chicago Bears on a scorched-earth rebuild. Dan Campbell still feels like Homer Simpson running the power plant in Detroit, and the Green Bay Packers lost two of Aaron Rodgers’ top targets in Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
If these three teams can’t get off the ground, the Vikings could get six wins there. Then look at the rest of their schedule.
- The Philadelphia Eagles have built a perfect infrastructure for a quarterback, but Jalen Hurts may not be the one to take advantage of it.
- Nobody knows what the New Orleans Saints will look like without Sean Payton, and the Vikings will get to play that game on a neutral field.
- A trip to play the Miami Dolphins looks like a trap, but Tyreek Hill called Tua Tagovailoa “more accurate than Patrick Mahomes,” which is the first thing you say when you’re not sure if your quarterback is good.
- The Vikings will get the Arizona Cardinals just in time for their annual second-half meltdown, and Cousins gets his return trip to Washington in the middle of “Kirktober.”
- The Buffalo Bills game could be a loss, but it could also become a case of Pro Wrestling 101 where Stefon Diggs is so consumed by defeating his opponent that he becomes a detriment to himself.
- Mike McCarthy is a buffoon, and is anyone afraid of Mac Jones? The New York Giants and New York Jets are basically the same team, and the key to beating the Indianapolis Colts could be to stop Jonathan Taylor.
Sure, there could be a hiccup there, but it’s no wonder Cowherd only sees one loss on the schedule. He might not have gone far enough.
The winters in Minnesota are brutal, so maybe Father Time will head to Tampa and catch up with Tom Brady.
Before the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl, they were the fourth seed in the NFC and people were trying to figure out if they were good.
Kyle Shanahan is a playoff choke artist, and we’ve already dismissed the entire NFC East.
And the AFC? Well, you’re on your own there.
Case in point, there’s a situation where everything can go right for the Vikings. But that scenario probably lives in Imagination Land, leaving everyone to make their own predictions.