Vikings Tabbed with ‘Most Improved Team’ Label

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Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports.

A 16-1 record? Most improved NFL team in 2022? Same thing — evidently.

Fox Sports‘ Colin Cowherd is all over the board on the 2022 Minnesota Vikings. In June, Cowherd predicted Minnesota would “double its win total,” implying the Vikings would [somehow] finish 16-1 this season. Cowherd may have erroneously believed the Vikings won six-or-so games in 2021 and hence misspoke about the grandiose 16-1 prognostication.

But Cowherd remains high on the Vikings, this week proclaiming Kevin O’Connell’s team the “most improved team” for 2022. Cowherd said, “Half the teams that made the playoffs last year will not make the playoffs this year. I think the Minnesota Vikings will be the most improved team in the league with an offensive head coach.”

His remarks are a departure from the consensus of NFL pundits. Most sportsbooks forecast the Vikings to win eight or nine games in 2022, while a hodgepodge of notable power-ranking entities plops Minnesota around the 20th or 21st spot in the league’s pecking order.

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Kevin O’Connell

In contrast, ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky predicted two months ago that Minnesota would reach the playoffs this season.

ESPN’s Football Power Ranking Index ranks the Vikings roster as 13th-best leaguewide. And this week, CBS Sports echoed the FPI mark for the Vikings, also placing Minnesota’s roster at 13th-best in the NFL.

So the talking heads are all over the board, at least in the summer, for trying to understand the new version of the Vikings. The divide isn’t too surprising either. Minnesota replaced its general manager and head coach in January but kept the roster mostly intact. When some folks peek at the depth chart, they see Kirk Cousins attached and automatically knock the team down a notch. Others envision a season where an offense-first coach unlocks Cousins and his weaponry, which includes Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, K.J. Osborn, and Irv Smith Jr.

The Vikings also addressed recent defensive shortcomings this offseason, onboarding Za’Darius Smith (EDGE), Jordan Hicks (LB), Harrison Phillips (DT), and Chandon Sullivan (CB) in free agency while drafting rookies Lewis Cine (FS), Andrew Booth (CB), and Brian Asamoah (LB) in April.

For Cowherd, that action plain is good enough for somewhere between “most improved” and a 16-1 record.

The Vikings haven’t finished seasons with losing records three years in a row since the team’s inception (1961 to 1963). Between Cowherd’s fancy forecast and Vikings history — something’s gotta give.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. 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).