The Minnesota Vikings have received glowing reviews from many sources for their moves this off-season. After trading, thankfully out of the conference, a locker room problem in Stefon Diggs for a second first round pick, they had a stellar draft, by most accounts at least. They even added Linval Joseph’s replacement in free agency in Michael Pierce. Pierce is a great physical talent who has yet to put it all together, but if anybody can unlock his potential, it’s Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson.
Despite this strong off-season following a 10-6 2019, and a playoff victory, the Vikings still have a tough road ahead of them, this is the NFL after all and it’s never easy. Here’s how the NFC North looks after the draft and free agency.
Green Bay Packers-
The Green Bay Packers have seemingly been the team to beat forever in the North, but they only have two division titles in the last five years with two going to our beloved Vikings and one going to the fluke of Matt Nagy and the Chicago Bears, more on that later. Of course when you have a hall-of-fame quarterback under center for so long and the rules of the game seemingly bends to your will when you play at home, it isn’t exactly hard to steal a game or two on the road and take the division.
A lot of people are laughing at the Packers off-season, and mostly at their decision to take Jordan Love with their first pick in the draft. This is after a year when they were just one win away from a super bowl appearance. They also have lost long time starting tackle Bryan Bulaga, linebacker Blake Martinez, cornerback Tramon Williams, and Jimmy Graham.
Oh and the rest of their draft class was a running back, which they didn’t need, a tight end in a weak tight end class, a linebacker who was probably a bit of a reach, three interior offensive linemen, one cornerback, and a defensive end. Big yikes on that draft class.
They did make a couple of middle of the road signings in tackle Rick Wagner and linebacker Chrstian Kirksey. However, it’s going to be tough for Green Bay to maintain their success from last season. In head coach Matt LaFleur’s second season, he’ll have to find a way to effectively use a not quite prime Aaron Rodgers with a pretty mediocre supporting cast.
Of course, you never count Rodgers out unless he’s literally out. I don’t see the Packers being extremely good on offense, but if their defense continues to grow they could present a problem for the Vikings. We can’t forget that they beat us once in Lambeau with some lucky breaks and then came into US Bank and laid down a whooping on Monday night.
I talked about how Matt Nagy’s success in his first year as head coach of the Bears was a fluke and I stand by that statement. However, we saw them beat the Vikings twice last year, one time with a backup quarterback and one time against the Vikings second stringers. So, I think their great success in 2018 was a bit of a fluke, you simply can’t rely on a turnover differential like they had, but I think they still have the Vikings and Zimmer’s number.
The Bears didn’t have a first round pick this season, but that’s okay because they still have a dominant force in Khalil Mack. They did add a potentially good weapon in tight end Cole Kmet out of Notre Dame, but they have an embarrassment of riches now at that position. Their only other notable draft pick was cornerback Jaylon Johnson out of Utah.
Their free agency moves also leave something to be desired. Instead of snagging a high ceiling guy like Jameis Winston, Chicago decided that it was time to make a big trade for their starting quarterback and ended up with Nick Foles.
Foles, who has had two amazing runs in his career, one where he threw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in a season and one where he came in for an injured Carson Wentz and led Philly to a Super Bowl. The 31 year old journeyman is probably an upgrade of Mitch “I can’t throw left” Trubisky, but the Bears didn’t improve much on offense because of the move.
In addition, the Bears lost veteran guard Kyle Long to retirement and cut receiver Taylor Gabriel. They did make some decent moves on the defensive side of the ball, most notably signing Robert Quinn. Quinn presents a problem for the Vikings specifically because it makes an already dangerous Chicago defensive line that much better. Minnesota has struggled winning in the trenches and especially struggled at Soldier Field.
There’s a good chance that the two games against Chicago become slugfests and wars of attrition. That doesn’t bode well for the Vikings who have a small line, an inexperienced defensive backfield, and a questionable defensive front. You hope that Kirk Cousins and the offense can open things up and lessen that Chicago advantage, but it seems like Chicago has been able to rattle him in their last couple of meetings.
The Lions are always the least likely to be threats to anybody in the division it seems like. After a disastrous 3-12-1 2019, Detroit can really only go up. They had a lackluster free agency period where they landed Desmond Trufant, former Viking Jayron Kearse, and veteran safety Duron Harmon, but traded away Darius Slay and cut Damon Harrison.
Despite these moves, the Lions have some hope after a very strong draft where they landed the best cornerback available in Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah. They also took the best running back in the draft in D’Andre Swift, a very strong pair of guards, and linebacker Julian Okwara, who will be joining his brother Romeo in Detroit.
This is tough because I never want to count an opponent out, especially with a guy like Matthew Stafford at the helm, but it’s hard to see the Vikings dropping either game to Detroit unless they’re behind where I expect them to be. Matt Patricia is going to be coaching for his life in every single game this season after multiple double digit loss seasons in a row. If Detroit can keep it close and give Stafford a chance at winning the game in the last two minutes, it could be problematic. Or the Vikings could blow them out both times.
I feel better after looking at these matchups a bit more in-depth. I think the Bears especially will give the Vikings problems and the Packers always a tough match. However, the Lions should be two slam dunk wins and they should be able to steal a win against Chicago or Green Bay. Of course this is all assuming that the offense is pretty solid after, hopefully, solving the offensive line and the loss of Diggs and that Zimmer whips his new secondary into shape quickly. The fact is, the Vikings should be able to control their own destiny in the North this year, but it’ll all come down to some young players stepping up.