Is the Lions Defense Hype Discrediting the Vikings?

Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson warms up during training camp at Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park on Monday, July 24, 2023. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

A season ago, the Minnesota Vikings finished atop the NFC North. There is little denying they had a goofy way of getting there and that the defense did them no favors. With the Detroit Lions being clear-cut favorites in the division, though, is their defense getting too much credit?

Is the Lions Defense Hype Discrediting the Vikings?

Last season, Kevin O’Connell made his mark by leading the Minnesota Vikings to a 13-4 record during his first year as a head coach. He did so by utilizing an offense ripe with weapons and putting points on the board in an effort to support a leaky defense.

There were multiple spots throughout the season where it seemed possible that defensive coordinator Ed Donatell may be worthy of a firing. His defense wasn’t working, and worse, it wasn’t developing. In an effort to improve the unit from the top down, he was sent packing following the season, and arguably the best hire was brought in. Brian Flores is a former head coach with serious defensive chops, and like O’Connell, his presence in the union should have an impact in and of itself.

Hype Discrediting
Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell talks to players during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota certainly doesn’t have the additions that Detroit did this offseason. Although they selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs with the 12th overall pick, they took linebacker Jack Campbell at 18, and he is penciled into their starting lineup. They brought in a trio of new cornerbacks and did much of their work in free agency on the defensive side of the ball.

Similar to Minnesota, though, they had to. The Lions represented the worst defense in the NFL a season ago, and figuring out a way to be better is a must. They’ll benefit, as will Minnesota, from Aaron Rodgers not being in the division, but that isn’t enough to simply sit on their hands.

Also similar to the Vikings, Detroit employs a very strong offense. Jared Goff put up some of the best numbers of his career, and he saw Amon-Ra St. Brown truly break out. The offense gets a boost with Gibbs but is now entirely without T.J. Hockenson, and Jameson Williams begins the year suspended.

Mar 1, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell during the NFL Scouting Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

It is probably foolish to suggest that the Vikings, and their need for consistency, are on the same plane as Detroit. A rung down, however, is not nearly where they are being considered, giving them ample opportunity to play underdog.

Minnesota gets a full season of Hockenson on offense, with Jordan Addison presumably taking over for Adam Thielen. Justin Jefferson is the second-best player in the NFL, and Kirk Cousins has been as consistent as they come. For Minnesota, it all will come down to the defense, and that’s why they invested in Flores.

Minnesota will still be raw at the cornerback position, but Byron Murphy brings veteran leadership. Akayleb Evans flashed significant potential last season before getting hurt, and Andrew Booth Jr. was highly sought after as a draft pick. Brian Asamoah could become an absolute weapon being fully unleashed while Danielle Hunter is again playing for a new contract.

Vikings Can Claim
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, a 2nd-Round draft pick. He was welcomed to the Vikings from free agency in March 2023.

Nothing is guaranteed about the Vikings leaping forward this year defensively, but it stands to reason there is a straightforward path for them to do so. The Vikings don’t need to be a top-10 defense, and they don’t even need to be in the top half. A move up near 20 would signify a substantial improvement, though, and make them dangerous with the offense they employ.

It seems to reason that Detroit has been given the division from the get-go heading into the year, and looking at the history of Lions hype, that seems foolish. Maybe they shouldn’t be given the pass they seem to have been.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.