Here’s Why the Vikings’ Would-Be Playoff Push Failed

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from not having quarterback Kirk Cousins for half the season, the Minnesota Vikings [probably] missed the playoff dance for a primary reason.

Of course, Minnesota can still reach the postseason with a Hail Mary chance, but it’s a probability of around 3% entering the regular season’s final week.

Here’s Why the Vikings Would-Be Playoff Push Failed

For curious minds, this must occur for Minnesota to snag a Wildcard berth:

  • MIN over DET -and-
  • CHI over GB -and-
  • ARI over SEA -and-
  • CAR over TB -or- ATL over NO

So, you know — not happening.

Why the Vikings Would
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

And when the Vikings conduct an autopsy — so in one week — one item disqualified postseason hopes after Cousins’ injury. The defense.

In a span of two months, Brian Flores’ blitz-happy defense really got cooking. It started slow, matured fast, and totally flopped in the last three weeks. Had the defense sustained its once-wonderful pace, Minnesota would be galavanting into the postseason, probably on track for a date with the Detroit Lions in Round 1.

No cigar.

The Vikings’ 2023 defense was a story in three parts. The first three games were inefficient, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles Chargers solved Flores’ scheme in the middle of games. After that, however, Minnesota hit its stride, showcasing decent or great defense from Weeks 4 through 14.

Former Minnesota Vikings quarterback and current Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller Jake Browning raged at a cameraman on December 16th, 2023. He yelled that the Vikings “never should have cut him,” when those responsible for his 2021 release have no affiliation with the Vikings. Cincinnati won the game 27-24.

Then, the 4th Quarter at Cincinnati arrived, and the Vikings defense died. It just died. And it hasn’t recovered. Here are the numbers:

Vikings Defense,
Per EPA/Play,
NFL Ranking,

Weeks 1-3 = 26th
Weeks 4-14 = 1st
Weeks 15-17 = 31st

Nobody anywhere could crack Flores’ wizardry in some of October and all of November. Per the aforementioned EPA/Play metric, Minnesota’s defense even climbed to sixth-best in the NFL.

Now it lives at 17th. The group is close to exactly average after morphing into a Top 6 unit.

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.

Accordingly, the Vikings’ winning luck expired. Nick Mullens’ interception train could’ve been nullified — or not really mattered — if Flores’ defense remained a semi-elite bunch. But something happened on December 16th when the Bengals barnstormed the Vikings in the 4th Quarter and overtime. It was as if Zac Taylor and the rest of the NFL’s powers that be broke the case. Flores’ defense was no longer mighty.

It would always be difficult to reach the postseason sans Cousins. Few NFL teams circumvent the loss of a QB1. But a combination of Joshua Dobbs and Nick Mullens, in varying degrees of success, did their damnedest to keep the season afloat. If the Weeks 4-14 Vikings’ defense stayed upright, Minnesota would’ve reached the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-2009.

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

The defense gave out.

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