How much regression should we expect from the Vikings this year?

Minnesota Vikings, Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) warms up before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Photo credit Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Fraudulent was the word people most commonly used to describe the 13-win Minnesota Vikings during the 2022-23 regular season.

Coming off two .500 seasons, experts projected the Vikings to be a middle-of-the-pack team again last year. But after in the midst of what would become a 13-4 campaign, detractors were looking for signs of a collapse. Fans and analysts alike wondered about the credibility of Minnesota’s 11-0 record in one-score games while having a 22.25 average loss margin in their four regular-season losses.

Ultimately, there were valid concerns about the Vikings’ poorly hidden weakness. Daniel Jones and the New York Giants exposed Minnesota’s struggling defense in the wild card round of the playoffs. New York eliminated the Vikings, 31-24, at U.S Bank Stadium.

Uncertainty has surrounded the organization since the loss. Kirk Cousins’ future with the Vikings is in doubt after they failed to reach a long-term contract and multiple contributors left in free agency. Amidst all of the uncertainty and chaos, we’ve circled back to where we began. Sportsbooks currently have Minnesota’s 2023 win total at 8.5 wins (over/-120, under/+120), one win under the predicted total for the team last year.

With this uncertainty, how can we use historical context to predict regression in a team?

From 2017 to 2022, 40% of 12-plus-win teams who had an SoS (opponent win %) of under .500 followed their dominant seasons up with a record under .500. Like the ‘22 Vikings, the teams had one particularly adept side of the ball, with one subpar grouping.

For example, the 2018 Chicago Bears finished the season with the best scoring defense in the league but a middling offense. They lost genius defensive mind Vic Fangio, suffered injuries, and their general play regressed the next season. The formerly formidable Bears became average, faltering to an 8-8 record.

In 2019, the New England Patriots benefitted from the No. 1 defense and offense. But the Pats placed more responsibility on the defense after Tom Brady departed in the offseason, and the unit struggled to compensate for the loss of the Hall of Famer.

So how can the Vikings avoid this pitfall?

Luckily, they didn’t lose any gold-jacket-caliber players this offseason, and they swiftly moved to counteract the loss of important players like Adam Thielen and Za’Darius Smith by drafting Jordan Addison and signing Marcus Davenport.

They also retained offensive coordinator Wes Phillips and drastically improved the defensive coordinator spot by acquiring Brian Flores. The former Miami Dolphins head coach and Bill Belichick disciple is a distinguished defensive mind who can actualize the upside of the young unit.

The Vikings also will benefit from continuity throughout their offense. Acquired from the Detroit Lions at the deadline last year, T.J. Hockenson finished second in the league in tight end receiving yards last year. Hockenson should flourish in a familiar system with megastar Justin Jefferson and the addition of Jordan Addison. The offensive line should be the same as last year, and a second-year jump from Ed Ingram could turn a promising unit into a top-10 line.

If Flores can create a standard defense out of the pieces the front office has given him to work with, the Vikings will have two complementary sides of the ball for the first time since 2019.

The Vikings also need to take advantage of the less strenuous stretches of their schedule. The opening gauntlet of games includes a trip to Philadelphia against last year’s No. 1-seed in the NFC. They also have a pair of games hosting perennial title contender Kansas City, and an intriguing young team in the Los Angeles Chargers.

With decent injury luck, the Vikings should avoid the regression similar teams have experienced in the past. A few lucky breaks in the schedule, and they could find themselves hovering around their prior win total. I predict the team to finish 11-5-1 and NFC North champions. I expect them to lose to the Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Kansas City Chiefs, and with a tie coming through Detroit.

Ultimately, with the current state of the roster and direction of the team, fans should be elated with such a finish. And with a couple fortuitous bounces of the football, the Vikings may be able to make a playoff push.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports