RandBall: Michael Rand

I’m already on record regarding my concerns about the Vikings’ approach to this year’s draft and how little immediate help they seem to have added — particularly on the offensive line.

But if you’re looking for a doom-and-gloom outlook overall for the 2018 Vikings, you won’t find it here. Before last season, my declaration was that I thought it was more likely the Vikings would go 6-10 than 10-6. As it turned out, neither was true. They won 13 games, and I learned my lesson: Don’t doubt this group.

Sure, plenty of variables went Minnesota’s way last year — most notably not having to face Aaron Rodgers for the bulk of two victories over the Packers.

But the Vikings were a very good team, and if — a significant if — the offensive line holds up, they should be formidable again. Kirk Cousins might not play any better than Case Keenum did last season, but he’s more of a sure thing to at least duplicate that success level. Dalvin Cook’s impending return will add juice to the offense, too.

The defense remains stacked — and motivated, one would presume, after a dismal final six quarters of the season cast a shadow over their excellent work up to that point.

The Vikings drafted a kicker, so with any luck extra points will no longer be an adventure. It adds up to a team that should at least be good enough to get where it was last year — in the NFC title game, with a chance to play in a Super Bowl for the first time in more than 40 years (and maybe, finally, win one).

 

Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.

I arrived here in January, in the middle of Vikingspalooza. I saw the elation after the Minneapolis Miracle and the dejection after the NFC Championship Game loss. Naturally, Minnesota has championship expectations given the defense and the signing of Kirk Cousins.

But allow me to throw some water on your visions of sugarplums and Super Bowl parades. Every year, teams from the prior postseason don’t make it back. I’m not saying the Vikings will be one of those teams, but I am saying they are far from a lock to make the playoffs.

According to a metric called expected win-loss on profootballreference.com, the Vikings’ 13-3 record was considered overperforming in 2017. It’s a metric that uses a team’s points scored and allows in a formula to determine what its record should be. The Vikings, according to that stat, were a 11.7-4.3 team in 2017. In other words, maybe they weren’t as good as their record indicated. The good news for them is the two wild-card teams, Atlanta and Carolina, also outperformed (Carolina by a whopping two games).

But look around the NFC. The Eagles are ready to contend again. The Rams are loaded. The Saints appear poised to make another run. San Francisco with Jimmy Garoppolo is on the rise. Seattle and Russell Wilson aren’t going anywhere, and, oh, Aaron Rodgers is healthy. It’s a delicate situation.

If the O-line struggles, the defense — which stayed healthy last season — suffers injuries and a few close games go the other way, 13-3 could become 8-8 quickly. I tried to warn you now.

 

Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.