The NFC Can Be Wide Open if Vikings Want It Badly Enough

Justin Jefferson
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In Year One of Kevin O’Connell’s custody, the Minnesota Vikings fired up an NFC North crown and the best record in team history under a first-year head coach.

Not bad.

The NFC Can Be Wide Open if Vikings Want It Badly Enough

The problem, though, is nobody some Vikings fans included thinks O’Connell can replicate the feat, at least not to the tune of a 13-4 record.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

But here’s the deal: The Vikings don’t necessarily have to finish 13-4 to cause excitement for a playoff push. They, of course, must obtain a respectable record at least 10 wins but after that, the NFC is wide open.

The Philadelphia Eagles, a team that eviscerated Minnesota early in 2022, are darlings to actionize another Super Bowl push. And fair enough. Nick Siranni’s roster is loaded, especially in the trenches, while Jalen Hurts has climbed the NFL’s quarterback pecking order. Yet, recent history suggests the Super Bowl runner-up is often beset by a hangover.

The 2020 49ers (6-10), 2019 Rams (9-7), 2017 Falcons (10-6), and 2016 Panthers (6-10), among others, can tell you all about it. None of those teams reached the Super Bowl in back-to-back years, and none really even got close.

The NFC Can Be Wide
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.

For the sake of argument, assume the Eagles aren’t as dauntingly good as last year. Next on the Vegas odds docket is San Francisco. Year Two with Brock Purdy in the saddle could unfold wonderfully or it could flop as opposing defensive coordinators “figure out” the former 7th-Round draft pick. If Purdy was forced to hand the baton to Sam Darnold because of injury or poor performance, would you fear Darnold against your favorite team in the postseason?

If one believes the Eagles or 49ers aren’t infallible, well, the NFC becomes a vast gulf awaiting seizure from somebody. Maybe it’s the Dallas Cowboys, a franchise that basically has Vikings vibes these days with a “They’ll find a way to mess it up in the playoffs” identity. No one trusts Dallas to create a deep playoff run, perhaps not even Cowboys faithful. Not under Mike McCarthy, anyway.

Cowboys Get Boost before Showdown with Vikings
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Should the Eagles encounter a Super Bowl runner-up hangover, the Purdy + Darnold sandwich tastes rancid, and McCarthy mccarthies his own team in the postseason, it’s these teams with a path to the Super Bowl:

  • Detroit Lions
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New Orleans Saints
  • New York Giants
  • Seattle Seahawks

Doesn’t look too unsolvable, does it?

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

The Vikings 2023 hopes probably boil down to how quickly and how much new defensive coordinator Brian Flores can fix a defense with youngsters in real time. If the experiment lags or flatly stinks, Minnesota is indeed likely trending toward a 9-8 season or so. But if Flores can effectuate change, perhaps dragging the Vikings defense to mere respectability, the NFC field can be wide open.

And don’t you dare examine the AFC because that is the opposite, a murderer’s row of Super Bowl contenders.

But what happens in the AFC isn’t the Vikings problem until February.


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.

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