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Skol Scale Vol. 28: The 2018 Vikings Preview Edition

The Minnesota Vikings begin another Super Bowl quest in four days and the Skol Scale likes their chances.

Drew Mahowald’s Skol Scale is a tool to measure the correct amount of optimism Minnesota Vikings fans should feel toward their favorite team. The measurement is calculated on a 1 (WELP THIS SEASON IS OVER. TIME TO TANK.) to 10 (SUPER BOWL HOMEBOY) scale.

Week 1 of the NFL regular season is always the most optimistic time for football fans. This is the year, they all think.

(Insert offseason move here) will take my team to the next level and we’ll contend for a Super Bowl.

We’ve all thought it before about our team, and I can assure you every fan is thinking something similar about their squad in 2018 — except Oakland Raiders fans.

In most cases, though, that optimism has no real support behind it. It’s just emotional bias and excitement that mesh to produce a jaded perspective on the real state of the team.

Minnesota Vikings fans, however, don’t have a jaded perspective when they say their team will contend for a Super Bowl in 2018.

The Vikings are absolutely loaded with talent on both sides of the football. Mike Zimmer’s defense ranked No. 1 in both yards and points allowed in 2017. And you know what? Minnesota returned all of its starters and added another Pro Bowl player in Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line. The top defense in the NFL a season ago is better now.

Offensively, Minnesota made an upgrade at the most important position on the field. You can say what you want about the guaranteed money the Vikings are paying new quarterback Kirk Cousins. But there’s not much of a doubt that he’s objectively a better quarterback than Case Keenum or Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater or any of the possible quarterback Minnesota had to choose from.

And I almost forgot — Dalvin Cook is healthy again. The second-year back from Florida State was on pace for nearly 1,800 scrimmage yards and 4.8 yards per carry before a torn ACL ended his season in Week 4.

The Vikings’ roster is objectively better than it was last season, when they earned a 13-3 record and a berth in the NFC Championship game.

So, what the heck, go crazy Vikings fans. Get your hopes all the way up. What’s the worst that can happen? Another soul-crushing, depression-igniting heartbreak playoff loss? That’s a piece of cake for you.

2018 Preview: Offense

The Vikings were the No. 10 offense in the NFL a season ago without their starting quarterback and one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL. This offense has a new, better starting quarterback and that dynamic ball carrier is healthy. It’s trending upwards.

New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo brings Super Bowl experience to the mix after serving as quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles last season. JDF loves to line his playmakers up in as many different spots as possible to create mismatches. You’ll see Kyle Rudolph line up wide on a small CB in the red zone. You’ll see Dalvin Cook line up in the slot against a slow linebacker. You’ll see all sorts of ways to find mismatches. What you won’t see is Matt Asiata split out wide against a cornerback (ahem, Norv).

This unit has absolutely no issues when it comes to the skill positions. Cousins has his weaknesses, but is a proven Top 15 starter and is playing with the best supporting cast he’s ever played with in his career. I’ve already praised Cook’s dynamic ability at the running back position, but it’s easy to forget Latavius Murray’s steady production in Cook’s absence in 2017. At receiver, Adam Thielen is an All-Pro and he might be the second-best receiver on his own team. He and Stefon Diggs make up the best 1-2 punch at wide receiver in the NFL. Meanwhile, Laquon Treadwell put together a fantastic training camp and preseason and Kyle Rudolph is coming off his most efficient receiving season.

The offensive line is the x-factor that determines just how high this offense can fly. It was always difficult to analyze their performance in camp while battling one of the nastiest front sevens in the NFL. Pat Elflein’s injury status is concerning for sure, but the trade for versatile interior lineman Brett Jones eases some of those concerns. This group is flooded with run maulers that could pave the way for a huge Dalvin Cook sophomore season. However, it appears as if Case Keenum masked some pass protection issues in 2017 with mobility that Cousins doesn’t have. The passing game won’t get off the ground if Cousins’s passes are never cleared for takeoff.

Vikings Offense Skol Scale Rating: 8

2018 Preview: Defense

Mike Zimmer’s defense has improved in each season since he took over in 2014. His unit finished tops in the NFL in both yards and points allowed last season, but that doesn’t mean the unit won’t improve again.

The addition of Sheldon Richardson has transformed this defensive line from dominant to flat-out ridiculous. That makes four Pro-Bowl caliber players starting on Minnesota’s front four. If the NFL was really all about protecting quarterbacks you’d think it would prohibit teams from forming a defensive line group this scary. Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter and Richardson all in the game at the same time is a health hazard to the opposing quarterback. It’s probably more dangerous than letting Anthony Barr tackle and land his body weight on top of the quarterback, wouldn’t you say?

Barr and Eric Kendricks return at linebacker, two studs that can cover the most agile running backs out of the backfield or rush the passer for a sack with the best in the NFL at their position.

And of course, Minnesota’s secondary is still phenomenal. Xavier Rhodes is still directing construction on the outside against opposing No. 1 receivers. Trae Waynes allowed a passer rating of 21 in man coverage last season. Harrison Smith is the best safety in football and it’s not really close. Andrew Sendejo and Mackensie Alexander would be recognized as stars on another less-talented team. Also, Mike Hughes — that guy is good.

The Vikings allowed only 25.2 percent of third-down plays to be converted last season, which is actually unbelievable (You know how people use the word unbelievable to describe something totally believable? This is not one of those times. That is actually an unbelievable number). Is that number repeatable? Probably not. But the addition of Richardson will only create more pressure on quarterbacks and open doors for more big plays for this defense, whether it be sacks or turnovers.

Vikings Defense Skol Scale Rating: 10

2018 Week 1 Skol Scale Rating: 9

The average of the offense and defense Skol Scale ratings results in a cumulative rating of 9 for Week 1 of the 2018 regular season. We know that Vikings have about 90% of the tools necessary to win a freaking Super Bowl — offensive firepower, playmakers at literally every position on defense and an excellent coaching staff.

The one missing piece that I need to see is the offensive line, which is closely related to Cousins’s performance under pressure from the pass rush. Minnesota’s offensive success will ride heavily on how efficient the offensive line can protect Cousins.

In today’s NFL, it takes more than just an all-world defense or the best rushing attack in the NFL to win a title. The past few Super Bowl winners suggest that passing efficiently is a requirement to winning a Super Bowl.

If this offensive line is able to protect Cousins, the Vikings are legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2018.

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Drew Mahowald

Drew Mahowald is the No. 1 Jim Kleinsasser fan and No. 1 Little Caesars pizza enthusiast on planet Earth. That about sums it up.

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