Unsung Vikings Things to Be Thankful for in 2021
The Minnesota Vikings are 5-5 with a 59% chance to reach the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. If Minnesota downs the San Francisco 49ers on the road Thanksgiving Week, that probability climbs to 82%. Should they lose in Santa Clara, the percentage tumbles to 43%. Those are the forecasting stakes.
It’s also Thanksgiving, so let’s review some Vikings items to be thankful for in 2021 that perhaps aren’t commonly mentioned.
Here’s the deal: Vikings defensive tackle Armon Watts had a relatively decent season in 2020, but nobody cared because the defense, on the whole, was so dreadful compared to the Zimmerian gold standard.
Watts is playing even better in 2021, upping his 2020 grade from Pro Football Focus of 60.7 — to 67.5 this year. He’s utilized as an undersized nose tackle in Michael Pierce’s absence (elbow), and it’s flat-out working. We are thankful Watts emerged as a suitable replacement for Pierce — and not just a “serviceable body.” He’s making plays and attempting to remedy the Vikings otherwise lousy run defense.
Now, he’ll see even more action for the foreseeable future. The entire starting Vikings defensive line is out versus the 49ers this weekend. Danielle Hunter tore his pectoral muscle on Halloween, the aforementioned Pierce has a bad elbow, Dalvin Tomlinson is a close COVID contact, and Everson Griffen is getting treatment for a mental health matter.
Watts is the anti-Shamar Stephen, and you should be grateful for it.
Oh, it’s true. It’s damn true.
Close games are driving you bonkers week in and week out. We get it. But they’re building character. Every Vikings game is close, a means by which to trim your fingernails down to cuticles each Sunday afternoon.
Plus, Minnesota’s schedule through 11 weeks is laden with playoff-team opposition. Therefore, if the Vikings waltz into the postseason, these sons of guns will be battle-tested. For better or worse, Mike Zimmer’s close-game mettle is vividly defined. He knows close games, his team knows close games, and Vikings fans are subject to squeakers through osmosis.
Indeed, winning a blowout would be peachy — the Lions, Bears, anyone? — but the rollercoaster games serve a purpose. No team is too formidable to scare the Vikings. Fans know matchups against the Arizona Cardinals or Green Bay Packers are preordained to trickle down the final possession.
These are the 2021 Vikings — merchants of tight games. The playoffs are a forum for one-score games, so Zimmer’s men will be ready.
Thankful for a Vikings kicker — who missed a sure-fire game-winner in Week 2 — and close games? What the hell is going on here?
Well, Joseph did drop the turd in the desert two months ago, but who amongst us hasn’t watched a Vikings kicker collapse? The good news is that Joseph got that nonsense out of his system four months before the playoffs. He probably doesn’t want that sorrow associated with his name ever again.
Aside from the Cardinals debacle, Joseph has shown range, drilling a handful of 50+ yard field goals and finishing games versus the Lions and Packers. The man is clutch, even though he experienced purple growing pains.
What’s more, Mike Zimmer — who is notorious for a short temper pertaining to kickers — believes in Joseph. That’s important. Joseph isn’t an All-Pro, but he’s certainly better than the 2020 version of Dan Bailey, and he’s winning games for the Vikings here and there.
The South African is a semi-trustable kicker. And that hyphenated adjective is good for Vikings kicking standards. Hell, he’ll probably be asked to spank a clutch kick this Sunday.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).