In the ever-unpredictable NFL, it’s not uncommon to see teams get off to a good start and fade. It’s also not so rare to see a team stumble out of the gate, catch fire and wind up in the playoffs. The reasons for this turnaround are various. Sometimes it’s a change at head coach and/or personnel. Other times, it’s adapting slowly but surely to a new head coach and system.
Losers of their first three games and off to a 1-5 start this year, Mike Zimmer’s Minnesota Vikings surprised many last week by going into Lambeau Field and knocking off the defending division champions and current NFC North front runners, 28-22. Running back Dalvin Cook had a monster day and now the team hosts the Detroit Lions as the club looks to make the slow crawl back to the .500 mark. At 2-5 and would nine games to play, there’s still plenty of time for the Purple Gang to mount a charge towards the playoffs – a field that will have seven teams per conference this year.
So why the Vikings? It’s a team that has a young defense that has taken its lumps to date. Offensively, there’s Cook and veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has gotten off to a rocky start as the team’s defensive unit. He’s had a pair of three-interception games this season and has already committed 11 turnovers in seven games. But he’s still completing 65.6 percent of his passes and has a pair of quality targets in Adam Thielen and 2020 first-round pick Justin Jefferson. The latter had caught 31 passes for a whopping 563 yards (18.2 average) and three scores.
Of course, there’s that defensive unit. It made the big play last week in holding off a Packers’ rally. But the club has allowed the fourth-most total yards in the league and 22 offensive touchdowns. Minnesota has surrendered 214 points and has come up with just six takeaways.
Starting today, the Vikings play the second of three straight divisional games as they host the Lions and then travel to Chicago. Then comes a three-game home stand vs. the Cowboys, Panthers, and Jaguars. The final four weeks are very intriguing with trips to Tampa Bay (Week 14) and New Orleans (Week 16). Those two teams are very much in playoff contention these days and it gives Zimmer’s crew an opportunity to make up some ground within the conference.
In 2015, the Kansas City Chiefs opened 1-5 and wound up in the wild card round. A season ago, the Tennessee Titans lost four of their first six games and their season didn’t end until the AFC title game. Baby steps, Minnesota.