How Competitive Can Vikings Be in 2024?

Vikings Game against Lions Is Terribly Important, and Here's Why.
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

One thing that has always been abundantly clear from the Minnesota Vikings ownership is an expectation always to be competitive. The route expected from a team that fires everybody and appoints a new general manager and head coach is almost formulaic. Clear the decks, get as much draft capital as possible, draft a rookie QB, surround with other young players, have a terrible season or two, more high draft picks, and then hope it all comes good before you have to pay the QB a fortune.

How Competitive Can Vikings Be in 2024?

The Vikings’ strategy of building for the future while remaining competitive was frowned upon and confused many. They did it anyway. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell have a division title and a 20-15 win-loss record from their first two seasons in Minnesota while completely turning the roster over. Harrison Smith and CJ Ham, the long-term veterans, remain on the roster.

The rebuild has been in progress ever since Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell stepped through the doors in Minnesota. Now that Kirk Cousins has gone and the rookie QB is in, we can end any debate anyone wants about that.

Minnesota finished last season with a 7-10 record in a year where they lost their starting QB for the second half of the season and Justin Jefferson for a big chunk in the middle. Three men stepped on Minnesota’s QB carousel as coach O’Connell tried to keep the team competitive. The Vikings went into Week 15 with a winning record and very much still in the playoff picture. An overtime loss in Cincinnati kickstarted a run of four straight losses to end the season. Despite a terrible start and an injury crisis, O’Connell kept the Vikings season interesting until the very end.

Quarterback

The big debate this offseason is who starts the season as the Vikings QB. The Vikings drafted McCarthy to be the franchise’s future, but when does he take the reigns of the offense?

The simple answer is when O’Connell deems him ready. Can McCarthy prove himself ready to start from Week 1, or will Minnesota start the season with Sam Darnold? If Darnold plays well and the Vikings win games, does he get the full season, with McCarthy waiting in the wings until 2025? There are a lot of questions to be answered at the QB position, but it all starts with who starts in Week 1.

Vegas Odds
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The good news is that whoever gets the job has several things in their favor to succeed on the field in 2024. O’Connell has a burgeoning reputation as one of the best young offensive minds in the league. He showed last season he could keep the Vikings offense dangerous, whoever was QB, and with the injuries to skill players mounting up.

Then you get to those skill players, led by Justin Jefferson and including Jordan Addison, TJ Hockenson, and Aaron Jones — with protection from the edge from Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill. The Vikings’ offense’s weakness remains the interior offensive line, and the quarterback’s ability to navigate that issue is going to be important.

Minnesota quarterback J.J. McCarthy at the first day of rookie minicamp on May 10th, 2024, in Eagan, Minnesota. TCO Performance Center. McCarthy was drafted by the Vikings with the 10th overall pick on April 25th, 2024, in Detroit.

We also shouldn’t forget the defense, which has been a major issue in Minnesota in recent seasons. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores managed to scheme up some success last season, especially during the middle portion of the season. His mix of bringing and disguising pressure all the time had teams confused. However, there was still a lack of talent on the defense, and the unit fell away towards the end of the season. Hopefully, the additions of Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, Blake Cashman, and rookies Dallas Turner and Khyree Jackson will give Flores the tools he needs to make his defense more consistent.

Competing in a Tough Division

The NFC North appears to be on the rise, with many highly rated young talent across the division. The Detroit Lions will come into the season on the back of their first division title in 30 years and full of confidence. The Chicago Bears have possibly the most talented offense in franchise history, led by first-overall pick QB Caleb Williams. The Green Bay Packers have been consistently good under head coach Matt LaFleur, with three division titles and four playoff campaigns in five seasons.

It promises to be a closely fought division, with the Vikings considered the rank outsiders as they transition to a new quarterback. Minnesota is believed to be able to compete, and based on the records of teams in 2023, the Vikings are tied for the “16th toughest” schedule.

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The schedule is due to be released on May 15, and one area that doesn’t look as daunting is the teams the Vikings play, thanks to their third-place finish last season. The New York Jets, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons are on the schedule this year, compared to the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, and Cincinnati Bengals last season, thanks to their first-place visit the year before.

The all-important question: What is a reasonable expectation for the Vikings win-loss record in 2024? The first target should be to improve on last season’s seven wins; if the team can do that with McCarthy playing or being readied to play, then the team is moving in the right direction toward a big offseason in 2025 where the Vikings have the cap space to potentially add the players to make the team genuine contenders. Of course, a lot hinges on McCarthy’s progression and how quickly that happens or doesn’t happen.

Making the playoffs this season would be an incredible achievement that I would deem unlikely but not impossible. However, the important thing in 2024 is not the results; instead, a young team is showing progress on both sides of the ball under O’Connell and Flores.


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