3 Overlooked Quirks about the Vikings ‘New’ Rival

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The Minnesota Vikings embark on the 2023 regular season in less than four months, hoping to build on an impressive 13-4 record under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell last year.

Most don’t believe improving on the 13-4 mark is remotely possible, but the Vikings will be damned if they can’t stave off outright regression.

3 Overlooked Quirks about the Vikings ‘New’ Rival

And at the moment, NFC North odds look like this:

  • Detroit Lions: +130
  • Minnesota Vikings: +300
  • Chicago Bears: +325
  • Green Bay Packers: +400

Yes, that’s the Lions in the driver’s seat — according to virtually everyone — with Minnesota evidently ogling second place from afar.

But here are three reasons — quirks, even — why it may be too early to crown Detriot the king.

1. The NFL’s 31st-Ranked Defense

3 Overlooked Quirks
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

Indeed, in 2022, the Lions finished their momentum-building campaign with the NFL’s second-worst defense per EPA/Play.

Aaron Glenn was the defensive coordinator and remains the defensive coordinator heading into 2023. The Vikings finished 18th defensively per the same EPA/Play metric, were rightfully savaged for poor defensive play, and fired their defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Brian Flores took over in February.

Then, this offseason, the Lions added veteran newcomer defenders C.J. Gardner-Johnson (S) and Cameron Sutton (CB) while drafting rookie linebacker Jack Campbell. Is that really enough to fix the league’s 31st-ranked defense with the same defensive coordinator?

Moreover, the Lions defense didn’t turn into gangbusters when their season improved after the halfway point. From Weeks 14 to 18, Detroit ranked 26th per defensive EPA/Play. There’s a temptation to believe that the Lions defense became ultra-efficient down the stretch of 2022, but that narrative is false.

2. Detroit Started the Season 1-6 Last Year

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Meanwhile, fans and pundits became enamored with the Lions 8-2 finish to 2022. But why does no one care about the rotten 1-6 start? Is it merely null and void because the club got better as the season wore on? That’s fine as a caveat to the 2022 conversation about the 2022 Lions, but the beginning of a season is just as important as the end — and the start of 2022 is why Detroit failed to reach the playoffs.

Are the Lions guaranteed not to start slow again in 2023? If so, why? Because they became more fun late in 2022? It’s odd logic.

In the 2023 season’s first seven weeks, Detroit has dates with the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Ravens. Oofta.

3. Jared Goff Is Still QB1

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) huddles with teammates before a first down against Los Angeles Rams during the first half at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Listen, Jared Goff played wonderfully in 2022, diming 4,438 passing yards to 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

But do you fear Goff on Sunday afternoons? Have you ever, outside of the Rams almost-storybook 2018 season? Goff may perform marvelously guiding the ship in 2023 — if the Lions don’t start 1-6 again — but he’s not a killer. Goff is not elite. Statistically, he’s a notch below Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and yes, that same Cousins who is criticized for not dragging his team to a Super Bowl.

Why does Goff get the benefit of the doubt as a non-elite quarterback? It isn’t the money. Goff earns $33.5 million per season, whereas Cousins checks in at $35 million. The variance is teensy.

It’s okay to predict the Lions as a good football team, but with Goff at the helm, they’re not deadly — not by a longshot.

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,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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