Vikings Have Surprising Spot in ESPN ‘Contender’ Rankings

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

On Monday, the day after the Super Bowl, Sporting News tabbed the Minnesota Vikings as the NFL’s 20th-ranked team heading into next season.

Vinnie Iyer from Sporting News explained, “Everyone knows the Vikings defied the statistics and the odds to be a big-time winning team last season, leading them to be exposed right away in the playoffs.”

“Their defense rebuild is still in progress and might be getting time to veer away from Kirk Cousins’ floor and go for higher upside to boost Justin Jefferson and the rest of their offense,” SN concluded.

Vikings Have Surprising Spot in ESPN ‘Contender’ Rankings

Well, a differing opinion surfaced Tuesday, directly contrasting any ’20th in the NFL’ opinion. ESPN unveiled ‘Stacking all 32 teams from contenders to rebuilds rankings,’ and the Vikings were considered seventh in contender rankings, alongside the Dallas Cowboys in a category ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler titled ‘Need a Postseason Breakthrough.’

Vikings Have Surprising
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Ranked ahead of the Vikings — rightfully so — were the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Francisco 49ers. But then sat Minnesota, next to Dallas, as Fowler elaborated, “Improving the secondary is a key task for Minnesota, which must replace cornerback Patrick Peterson and plan for life without 34-year-old safety Harrison Smith. Getting back injured rookies — safety Lewis Cine and corner Andrew Booth Jr. — will be crucial.”

New defensive coordinator Brian Flores has plenty of firepower up front with Za’Darius SmithDanielle Hunter, and Dalvin Tomlinson. And the offense has its core in place but must shake out the future of running back Dalvin Cook, who has a $14.1 million cap hit vs. $6.2 million in dead money,” he added.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

You, the Vikings fan, will see opinions all over the board this offseason and later in the summer about the future of Kevin O’Connell’s team. Because the club flamed out of the playoffs at home versus the blah New York Giants, various pundits will nominate Minnesota as an obvious regression candidate as the talking heads rush to the press to promote the Detroit Lions as a trendy NFC North winner — or an Aaron Rogders’ revenge tour, depending on the outcome of his darkness isolation retreat.

One theory suggests the Vikings majorly overachieved in 2022 — detractors will call it sheer luck — and will return to earth when the 2023 season begins. The Vikings were 11-0 in one-score games last year, and that stat is nearly guaranteed not to duplicate in 2023.

The other path assumes the 2022 Vikings were rather good but need a defensive overhaul. The franchise hired Brian Flores for the gig, and if anyone can revamp a defense in an offseason, he is an apropos delegate.

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Fowler was unusually low on the Los Angeles Rams, tabbing Sean McVay’s club in a category called ‘Time to Reassess the State of the Franchise.’ The Tennessee Titans earned the title, too.

The Chicago Bears fit in the ‘Major Rebuild in the Works’ section, while the Green Bay Packers joined the Cleveland Browns in ‘In a Comfortable Spout — Despite a Losing Season’ territory.

NFL free agency begins in four weeks.

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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by