Vikes’ 2021 Super Bowl Path Unclear
The Vikings, while deserving of a top 10 ranking among NFL teams, are clearly inferior to the two teams playing in tonight’s Super Bowl—the Chiefs and 49er’s. The question in this town is whether in the next 12 months Minnesota can transition to a Super Bowl quality team.
During the regular season the AFC Champion Chiefs, playing without star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, defeated the Vikings 26-23 in Kansas City. In the playoffs, the 49er’s dominated the Vikings and embarrassed them 27-10 in Santa Clara. The Vikings’ best moment in either the regular season or playoffs was their opening postseason win, 26-10, versus the Saints in New Orleans. Minnesota mostly struggled against quality opposition in a 10-6 regular season.
Whatever the Vikings lack, whether it’s more star power, team speed, work ethic, player development or better coaching, general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and other decision makers better execute on a to-do list in the offseason. There is a truism in football that warns: “Your team either gets better or worse from season to season, but never stays the same.”
The 2018 Vikings failed to make the playoffs, so 2019 was a laudable upgrade. Spielman will be forced to make changes not only based on performance, but salary cap issues. Expensive quarterback Xavier Rhodes, who turns 30 years old in June, seems all but certain to be gone from next season’s roster. Cornerback play was a soft spot last season and needs to be fixed as does the inconsistent offensive line. Those struggling included guard Pat Elflein, who had many difficult moments.
Addressing the offensive line problem feels like the movie “Groundhog Day,” the Bill Murray classic where events keep repeating themselves. As the NFL draft approaches this spring, there will be the usual speculation about the Vikings targeting an early-round offensive lineman.
The draft could give the Vikings a boost as it did in 2019, with promising center Garrett Bradbury. He needs to be one of several players who have break-out performances to help the team improve overall.
A trade of talented but temperamental wide receiver Stefon Diggs seems possible. He and Rhodes led the team in visible temper tantrums in 2019. With wide receiver Adam Thielen fighting off injuries late in the season and playoffs, the front office could be cautious in moving the 26-year-old Diggs.
Minnesota has young star power in 24-year-old running back Dalvin Cook and 25-year-old defensive end Danielle Hunter, but this is an aging team in some starting positions on defense and offense. It will be intriguing to see which way the Vikings trend in the next 12 months.
It wouldn’t be shocking if 31-year-old Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins quit the NFL after next season at the end of his three-year, $84 million contract. NFL stars Rob Gronkowski, Luke Kuechly and Andrew Luck retired before they were 30 years old. Football is a collision sport, Cousins is a great family man, and suitors from the private and public sectors will be lined up at his door when he transitions from football. He is that impressive of a person.
History lesson: not only are the Vikings 0-4 in Super Bowls, their closest loss was by 10 points in the games (losing 16-6 to the Steelers in 1975). Overall, the Vikings were outscored by 61 points in the four games.
Linebacker Damien Wilson can become the first former Gopher to play on a Super Bowl-winning team since 2009 if his Chiefs win today. Ex-Gopher tight end Matt Spaeth played on the 2009 Super Bowl champion Steelers.
A Michael Bloomberg TV commercial on tonight’s Super Bowl telecast cost an estimated $10 million, per the January 17 Wall Street Journal.
Early departures for the NFL by three Wisconsin standouts including running back Jonathan Taylor could make Minnesota the pre-season favorite to win the Big Ten West and advance to a first conference championship game in Indianapolis. January top 25 national rankings for the next season included SI.com’s placement of the Gophers at No. 11, with the Badgers at No. 13.
It’ll be interesting to see what local golf courses new Twins super slugger Josh Donaldson frequents on his days off next summer. Nicknamed “the bringer of rain” for his baseball power, Donaldson appeared on the Golf Channel in 2014 and hit a golf ball an estimated 309 yards in a simulator.
Harvey Mackay, the University of Minnesota alum and former Gophers golfer, signed copies of his new book at Barnes & Noble in Edina last week. The book jacket of You Haven’t Hit Your Peak Yet includes this endorsement from former Gophers football coach Lou Holtz: “Harvey Mackay may be the most talented man I’ve ever met.”
Former pro wrestling “High Flyer” Jim Brunzell is wearing an immobilizing brace this winter after a third surgery on his right knee. Following a career of 5,000 matches over a 25-year career, Brunzell has had both knees replaced, plus a shoulder and hip. The ex-Gopher football receiver has undergone eight total surgeries in the last 10 years.