Vikings Picked to Reach NFC Championship

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins speaks before a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans in Eagan, Minn., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK.

For most of the 2023 offseason and now most NFL pundits and sportsbooks perceive the Minnesota Vikings as an eight- or nine-win team this season, even after the club finished the 2022 campaign with a 13-4 record.

Vikings Picked to Reach NFC Championship

Pull up any batch of NFC North rankings or predictions, and most will hint at the Detroit Lions as the pace-setter in the division, with the Vikings checking in around second or third place.

Picked to Reach NFC
Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell introduced new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores from the TCO Performance Center on February 15th, 2023. Flores coached for the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers before joining the Vikings in 2023.

In fact, these are the NFC North odds as of September 1st:

  • Detroit Lions = +145
  • Minnesota Vikings = +260
  • Green Bay Packers = +350
  • Chicago Bears = +430

But the Lions enthusiasm isn’t universal; there are some naysayers. One such man is Pat Mayo from DKN, who placed the Vikings ahead of the Lions via 2023 forecast and even has Minnesota reaching the NFC Championship against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What if a Kirk Cousins
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) run onto the field for warmup prior to their game against the Washington Commanders at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Mayo didn’t offer much in the way of analysis, instead listing with his colleagues division winners, playoff participants, and NFC Championship combatants. Three of the four-person panel predicted Minnesota to exceed the Vegas win-loss over-under total of 8.5 wins, and Mayo flagged the Vikings to win the NFC North.

Then, he chose the Eagles over the Vikings in the NFC title game.

Alexander Mattison
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) celebrates after an NFL International Series game against the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Saints 28-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

One of Mayo’s colleagues, Geoff Feinberg, picked the Eagles to oust the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, and the other, Tim Anderson, chose the Lions over the Dallas Cowboys. Strangely, none of the panel picked the San Francisco 49ers, a team usually near the top of the pecking order for NFC prognostication.

The selection of Minnesota in the NFC Championship is noteworthy because of the first-of-its-kind element. Most NFL experts do not have the Vikings tabbed for a deep playoff run, let alone a sprint to the NFC title game. The choice almost feels like a solecism.

Dec 11, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) walks around on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings underwent fundamental change this offseason, severing ties with longtime, aging veterans like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Cook, and Dalvin Tomlinson, among others, in favor of a youth movement that provides speed and affordability. Minnesota’s general manager has coined the strategy a ‘competitive rebuild.’

Minnesota also parted ways with 2022 defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, onboarding Brian Flores from New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers fame to whisk the purple defense from its third-worst-in-the-league points per game standing to something more respectable in 2023.

Effectuating Mayo’s NFC Championship prediction likely relies on Flores’ ability to fix the defense on the fly, as the Vikings already experienced what happens in the postseason if a leaky defense cannot stop a team like the New York Giants a one-and-done.

The Vikings regular season begins in nine days at U.S. Bank Stadium versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a club most pundits place in a bottom-five NFL tier.

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).

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