We’ll continue a series of opponent preview posts for the New Orleans Saints opponents in 2018. Next up, the beneficiary of the Minnesota Miracle that went on to get unceremoniously booted in the NFC Championship Game, Minnesota Vikings. Ted Glover of Daily Norseman took some time to give us Saints fans the scoop on our up-and-coming NFC South rival.
Week 8: @ the Minnesota Vikings
What were the biggest additions and/or subtractions (not via the draft) to the team’s roster from last year?
Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, hands down. Cousins will take over for Case Keenum and is considered an upgrade, albeit an expensive one. If you followed the Vikings QB drama at all, fans were split about keeping Keenum, bringing back Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford, or getting Cousins. It’s weird thinking that a guy that was largely responsible for the team going 13-3, was one half of the Minneapolis Miracle (sorry not sorry for mentioning that Saints fans), and helped get the Vikes to the NFC Championship was shown the door, yet here we are. Cousins has an unimpressive W-L record (yeah yeah QB WINZZZZZ) as a starter in Washington, but I truly believe he’s an upgrade. Mike Zimmer has built a great defense in Minnesota, and when they hold an opponent to under 20 points, the Vikes are 38-7 in the Zim era. Cousins, who is only 26-30-1 as a starter with the Redskins, has an impressive 22-9-1 record in Washington when his old team held opponents to 20 points or less. As to whether or not he’s a ‘clutch’ QB or not, according to Pro Football Reference he has 12 career 4th quarter comebacks where a drive has given his team a late lead or win. Aaron Rodgers has 11 for his career (Drew Brees has an incredible 28, if you were wondering).
For Keenum, a lot of folks thought 2017 was kind of a season where he caught lightning in a bottle. If you watch any of the Vikings games last year, you’ll see that Keenum was bailed out of a lot of bad throws (that could have just as easily been intercepted or incomplete) by Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and the rest of his receivers. Heck, even The Walk Off Miracle was a relatively bad throw that Diggs had to adjust for. So were amazing catches by Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen late in that game, as I’m sure some of your readers will recall. I’m honestly not trying to rub it in here, I promise, but those are examples in just one game, where each receiver turned a bad Keenum throw into a highlight reel catch. And that happened 4-5 times a game, every single week. I’m always going to hold a soft spot in my heart for Case and what he accomplished last year, but it’s hard to imagine those throws turning in to catches again at the same rate they did last year. The Vikes made the right move to get some long term stability at the most important position on the team by signing Cousins.
The Sheldon Richardson signing wasn’t as well publicized, but it was almost a big a signing for the defense as Cousins was for the offense. Richardson will step in to replace the only defensive starter the Vikes lost last year, Tom Johnson. Johnson played some good football, but Richardson is a huge upgrade on the interior, and gives the Vikings a deep and talented defensive line. On paper they have, arguably, a top 2-3 DL combo with Richardson and Linval Joseph, and adding a player of his caliber to the number one ranked defense in the NFL (yanno, minus the second half of the Saints playoff game and the NFC Championship) the Vikes defense looks legitimately fierce heading in to the season.
What was the biggest surprise move the team made - or didn’t make - this offseason?
I think Richardson was the biggest surprise move they made. There wasn’t a lot of buzz about him and the VIkings leading up to free agency, and after Cousins signed his big money deal it really felt that the Vikings weren’t going to be able to afford any more big ticket free agents. For the surprise non-signing, I thought not addressing the offensive line more was the biggest story. With the retirement of RG Joe Berger, I thought they needed to make a bigger move to get a guy that can start right now, but they didn’t. They signed OL Tom Compton for line depth in free agency, and the Vikes will either move RT Mike Remmers inside and let Rashod Hill get a crack at RT, or let a competition develop between Compton and Danny Isidora at RG. They drafted T Brian O’Neill at the end of round two in the draft, but most scouting reports tap him as a guy that needs to develop for a year before he can start. I was anticipating an OL like Will Hernandez in the first, or a FA signing of a more experienced G they could plug in right away. C Pat Elflein and LG Nick Easton will be coming back healthy, and overall the line looks okay, regardless of what they do. But whoever the starting RG is week one looks to be a downgrade from Berger right now.
What is the biggest storyline heading into Week 1?
The offensive marriage of OC John DeFilipo, Dalvin Cook, and Cousins. After years of a mediocre, mostly one dimensional offense centered around RB Adrian Peterson, last year the Vikes finally became a top 10 offensive unit, with a really balanced attack between the run and the pass. And then they lost Cook in week four to a torn ACL after a great start, the offensive coordinator (Pat Shurmur took the Giants HC job) and Cousins was signed to replace Keenum. Cook is coming back healthy, DeFilipo is the guy that is largely responsible for the Eagles game plans that ripped the Vikings and Patriots defenses to shreds in the playoffs, and worst case the talent between Cousins and Keenum is a wash, but I think Cousins is an upgrade. If the Vikes offense makes even bigger strides than last year and the defense maintains, and I expect both to happen, the Vikings are going to be a really difficult team to beat.
What is the outlook for the team? Are the playoffs in sight?
Yeah, definitely. The only starter they lost on defense they replaced with Sheldon Richardson; everyone else is back. The new OC is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game, and he has a healthy Dalvin Cook coming back, along with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph to get the ball to. Cousins finally provides stability at the QB position, brings some gaudy passing numbers with him from the Redskins, and has a lot more talent to work with in Minnesota. They have one of the most complete rosters not only in the NFC North, but in the NFL. In a lot of recent years, Vikings fans have had to do a pretty painful ‘if/then’ exercise to try and see a path to the playoffs: ‘If so and so, and so and so, AND so and so all have career years, then they can be in the playoff hunt’ kind of exercise. Not this year. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball, they have quality depth at just about every spot on the roster, they have a really good coaching staff, and one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. Playoffs are not only in sight, they’re expected, and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs is the goal.
Final answer: what’s your prediction for the team’s final record?
I think they have a better team, but they’ll have a worse record than last year’s 13-3, if that makes any sense whatsoever. They have a really tough road schedule, with visits to Green Bay, New England, Philly, Seattle, and the LA Rams. That said, I think they’re better than the Packers, Seahawks, and Rams right now, but weird things happen on the road. Their home schedule looks really favorable, even though the Saints game looks to be their toughest matchup. I’m going to say 12-4, win the division, and they have at least one playoff game at home.
Thanks for having me over, and good luck to the Saints this year. Except, you know...when we play and stuff.
A big thanks to Ted for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you check out his work and the rest of the good folks at Daily Norseman for tons of Vikings content. You can follow Ted on Twitter @PurpleBuckeye, Ted’s Podcast “Roughing the Podcast” @RoughThePodcast, Daily Norseman @DailyNorseman, and of course you can always follow me @dunnellz.
So what says you, you unbiased Saints fans? Do the Saints shake the 2017 demons in 2018? Or is another loss in the cards in Minnesota? Vote in the poll. Explain in the comments. And make sure you also check out DraftDividends.com, a website for a new book I’m writing currently titled Draft Picks and Dividends: A Fantasy Football Player’s Guide to Understanding the Stock Market.
How will the Saints fare against the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota in Week 8?
This poll is closed
Win - a chance for redemption after the Minnesota Miracle
Loss - maybe if it were at home, it’d be different