Since 2000, the Green Bay Packers have won the NFC North 12 times, more than doubling the success of the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings during that time. However, this upcoming season feels different. After the departure of wide receiver Davante Adams, the Packers don’t look like the same caliber of team that we have come to expect. As Green Bay was turned into a media circus, the Vikings went to work, building a roster that could knock quarterback Aaron Rodgers off his pedestal and bring home their second division title in five years.
After the Vikings’ disappointing 2021 season, Head Coach Kevin O’Connell was brought in to try and steer the ship in the right direction. Minnesota has found its guy, given his recent success with quarterback Matthew Stafford (an NFC North alumni) in Los Angeles.
Before making the move to coaching, O’Connell was a third-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2008, brought in to back up Tom Brady. After his time in New England was done, O’Connell bounced around the league before picking up coaching in 2015. He had brief stints with the Browns and 49ers before finding a home in Washington prior to Ron Rivera’s arrival. He then eventually landed with the Los Angeles Rams, where he mentored the aforementioned Stafford.
It seems O’Connell could be the perfect man to get Minnesota back to the postseason. The Vikings roster will allow him to feature bunches and stacks for his receivers still, and running back Dalvin Cook can excel in a wide-zone scheme.
And the Vikings didn’t just improve their coaching staff this offseason; they also added veteran players like linebackers Jordan Hicks and Za’Darius Smith and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips in free agency. These signings all have the chance to significantly help the team, especially in clutch-time, which Minnesota struggled with last season. Eight of their nine losses were only one-possession games. Also, the signing of Smith from the Packers hurt their rivals’ pass rush depth, which is always a plus – especially for your franchise quarterback.
Along with their new draft picks, safety Lewis Cine and cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., these new defensive additions have placed Minnesota right in the hunt for a potential division title. And with their divisional foes taking hits to their offenses like the Bears’ loss of Allen Robinson and the Green Bay and Adams split, the Viking defense is in prime position to match up well with anybody in the division.
Speaking of quarterback, Kirk Cousins and the team were able to work on a one-year extension, and he must deliver the goods again this season. Cousins was good enough to be a top-ten quarterback, ranking ninth in both yards and touchdowns last season. Armed again with superstar receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, and a budding star in K.J. Osborn, he could outperform those prior numbers this season.
One thing is for sure, though, even though the Vikings have the best talent on paper, all of their success is contingent on O’Connell and Cousins being on the same page. If they are, the NFC North could be in for an era dominated by purple and “Skol” chants.
- Sep 27, 2023
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