Don’t Sleep on a Certain Section of the Vikings Schedule in 2023
NOTE: This article first appeared on our sister-site, PurplePTSD.com
The Minnesota Vikings inevitably have ended up with a tougher slate of opponents in 2023 due to the fact that they won the NFC North last season and will play a first-place schedule this year. Combine that with a largely improved NFC North, and this slate of games in 2023 looks like it could be very difficult.
With that said, many fans may be taking solace in the fact that Minnesota gets to play the division that finished with losing records for all four teams: the NFC South. However, especially after some free agency additions this offseason, that group of opponents may not be as much of a cake walk as it seems. Here’s a look at where all four teams stand, and why Vikings fans shouldn’t sleep on this portion of the Vikings schedule.
The Atlanta Falcons were certainly one of the busier teams in the NFL during free agency, making a whopping 14 signings, including six contracts with an annual value of $7 million or more. These moves largely improved the defensive side of the ball, with major additions including safety Jessie Bates, DT David Onyemata, DL Calais Campbell, and OLB Kaden Elliss. There’s a very good chance that they add another top defender in the draft with the eighth overall pick as well.
Atlanta didn’t lose any major contributors from the 2022 season either, other than QB Marcus Mariota. However, the Falcons also have a young QB in Desmond Ridder that they are hoping takes a massive leap forward in his second season. If he does, there is a good chance Atlanta could threaten to be a top 10 scoring offense in the league. They ranked 15th in 2022, just 39 points behind the Jacksonville Jaguars for the 10th spot.
Even if the second NFL season is a struggle for the Cincinnati product, though, they have a backup plan in place. They signed Taylor Heinicke, who has been keeping the Washington Commanders afloat over the past couple seasons. The Falcons went 7-10 in 2022, along with three other teams in the division, and they seem poised to make a run for a winning year in 2023 if they can figure out that QB spot.
Carolina was another very busy team during free agency, but their most notable move of the offseason was their trade to acquire the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft. The Panthers spent 2022 tearing down much of their roster, including their move to send RB Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco. Even still, they went 7-10 despite starting three different quarterbacks.
Presumably, the No. 1 overall pick will be used on a QB that Carolina hopes will be their starter for years to come. The favorite for the Panthers appears to be C.J. Stroud, who is the best pure passer in this class. Many of Carolina’s free agency moves appear to be in preparation for this QB draftee as, unlike the Falcons, they largely focused on the offensive side of the ball by signing WR DJ Chark, TE Hayden Hurst, RB Miles Sanders, and WR Adam Thielen.
On the other side of the ball, Carolina has a strong group as long as they can stay healthy. Both their starting CBs missed extensive time with Jaycee Horn sitting out of four games while Donte Jackson missed eight games. More additions in S Vonn Bell and DT Shy Tuttle along with some better health should make a defense that allowed 22 points per game in 2022 even better.
New Orleans Saints
Once again, the New Orleans Saints have avoided salary cap hell. They went into this offseason with the worst cap situation, and despite that, they spent the third-most money in free agency while also handing out the second-most total guarantees, only ranking behind the New York Giants.
The most notable signing by New Orleans is, of course, QB Derek Carr, who hopes to rejuvenate his career while reuniting with his first NFL head coach, Dennis Allen. They also signed 2022’s rushing TD leader, Jamaal Williams, and will be running it back at least one more year with WR Michael Thomas.
Carr should help keep their offense more consistent this year, especially if Chris Olave takes a leap forward, but some concern should lie on the defensive side of the ball in New Orleans. They lost major starters in Marcus Davenport, who went to Minnesota, of course, as well as the aforementioned Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata, and Shy Tuttle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are the one team in the NFC South that seems likely to take a step backward from their 8-9 record in 2022. Tom Brady retired, and it doesn’t seem like he has any plan to return this time around. That leaves Tampa Bay with either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask to take over under center.
Tampa didn’t do much to improve their roster via free agency, either. They maintained a few players such as LB Lavonte David and CB Jamel Dean on the defensive side of the ball, but the aforementioned Mayfield, RB Chase Edmonds, and K Chase McLaughlin are the only true acquisitions made so far.
We can’t rule out the possibility of the Buccaneers making a big move in the 2023 Draft to snag one of the top four quarterbacks, but even still, this seems like the most vulnerable squad in the division right now.
Overall, it may be easy to look at the NFC South, a division that didn’t have a single winning team in 2022, and assume that it should be easy to stack wins against them. Minnesota certainly should still win the majority of their games against this division, but it may be tougher than it seems on the surface, especially depending on how they land on the official schedule.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.
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