The Vikings rode career years from Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson to an NFL Playoff berth in 2022. Unfortunately, the good times are not going to last in Minnesota. Here are three reasons why the franchise will fail to replicate its success this season.
Head coach Kevin O’Connell spent time working under Sean McVay in Los Angeles, serving as the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021. His success as McVay’s protege led to a head coaching opportunity for the then 36-year-old rising assistant.
The Vikings came knocking, and O’Connell quickly accepted an offer to become the leader of the franchise. With much excitement, the Minnesota fan base began dreaming of Justin Jefferson in a Cooper Kupp role — and that is exactly what they got.
The superstar wideout became the sixth player in NFL history to eclipse the 1,800-yard mark in 2022, joining the aforementioned Kupp from the season prior. Jefferson’s success coincided with the best year of Kirk Cousins’ career, as the veteran quarterback witnessed a resurgence under O’Connell.
Somehow, even with a defense that lacks difference-makers, the Vikings found a way into the postseason. Oftentimes, it required a miraculous effort from the offense and special teams to mask the deficiencies on defense, but a win is a win… as the kids say.
Vikings: 3 reasons Minnesota will not return to postseason in 2023
Still, looking back at the 2022 season with greater context explains why Minnesota is unlikely to return to the playoffs. Here are the three most glaring reasons why the Vikings won’t be playing football after Week 18.
No. 1: Regression In One-Score Games
The Vikings won eleven one-score games in 2022. If that sounds absurd, believe me, it is. No team in league history has ever gone 11-0 in games decided by one possession — zero of them. That fact alone makes it difficult to project the same outcome this season.
If Minnesota loses more of these games — which history says will happen — it makes the margin of error infinitely smaller. Cousins exercised many of his demons last year by proving he can win close games, but expect to see a regression to the mean in 2023.
No. 2: Vikings Lost Multiple Starting Defenders
The Vikings already boasted one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but this offseason only further exacerbated the issue. Za’Darius Smith, the team’s top pass rusher, no longer dons the Purple and Gold after Minnesota traded Smith to Cleveland last month.
Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson also found his way to the Browns this offseason, leaving a crater in the middle of the defense. Furthermore, veteran Patrick Peterson followed those two to the AFC North, this time signing with the Steelers. Although the Vikings replaced Peterson with Byron Murphy, the harsh reality is the secondary needs the both of them.
Now, after already having to make up for a lackluster defense last season, Minnesota will be tasked to cover even more blind spots on the roster. As promising as the offense is, this will ultimately prove too steep of a mountain to climb.
No. 3: Kirk Cousins Fall Off?
Last but certainly not least is the potential falloff of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. Rumors swirled all offseason, primarily during the NFL Draft process, regarding the future of the quarterback position in Minnesota. As we know, the Vikings opted not to take a signal-caller early, instead adding pieces to the roster.
While Cousins likely won’t fall off a cliff this season, it is fair to wonder how much the soon-to-be 35-year-old has left in the tank. I’m aware he is coming off a phenomenal age-34 campaign, but this is around the time most average quarterbacks begin declining.
The Vikings need Cousins to continue playing at the level he did in 2022. The offense is contingent on having a signal-caller capable of stretching the defense by keeping drives alive. Without Dalvin Cook behind him and with an even shakier defense to lean on, my gut says the House of Cards collapses in Minnesota… and Cousins will be the scapegoat.