Ex-GM: Playoffs Toss Up for Vikings
Former Vikings GM Jeff Diamond has seen enough of his old team to predict it’s 50-50 whether Minnesota makes the playoffs.
With a bye on the schedule yesterday, the Vikings sit at 3-3 with 11 games remaining starting with next Sunday night’s game against the 5-2 Cowboys. “When you look at it right now you gotta say, yeah, probably 9-8 or 8-9 is most likely. But if they got hot they could go to 10-7,” Diamond told Sports Headliners.
A St. Louis Park native, Diamond was GM of the 15-1 Vikings in 1998. After leaving the organization he became president of the Titans who played in the 2000 Super Bowl. He has more than 20-years experience as an NFL executive, and is now self-employed.
Vikings fans are focused on a key stretch of the schedule with four upcoming games against the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers. Diamond, though, cautions the 49ers, the opponent after the Packers, are “no slouch.”
“If they can get through that 3-2, or even 2-3, I think they’ll be okay to still make a run at the playoffs,” Diamond said. “If they’re 1-4, or 0-5 (in that stretch of games), it’s going to be tough.”
It will almost certainly require a winning record for the whole season to make the playoffs. Perhaps even 10-7.
Forecasting the outcome of games is often tricky as anyone who has ever wagered on football knows. Diamond recalled how Vikings legendary coach Bud Grant talked about the timing of when an opponent shows up on the schedule and how important that is in determining results. Whether your team, or the foe, has key players injured, weighs heavily on the outcome of games. Other factors are how teams match up physically and in scheme.
Diamond finds plenty to like about the Vikings who he lists between 12 and 15 on his NFL power rankings. Asked what’s right about them, he first mentioned Kirk Cousins. “I think what’s right is, the quarterback is playing great. He’s playing the best he’s ever played.”
Diamond referenced the offense’s “terrific” three wide receivers including Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. “I think K.J. Osborn is probably the surprise guy of the year on the team to me, compared to what the expectation was going into the year after his rookie season (2020),” Diamond said. “…He’s been so impactful as we’ve seen including the winning touchdown in Carolina (October 17).”
At times the offensive line has been shaky in protecting Cousins but overall the unit’s play has surpassed expectations of many close observers. Diamond likes the possibility of rookie Christian Darrisaw replacing veteran Rashod Hill at left tackle.
“I think he’s much more athletic than Rashod Hill,” Diamond said. “He’s a wider body in there. He’s harder to get around. He’s got better feet. …I think he’ll just get better, better and better.”
The Vikings drafted Darrisaw in the first round last spring and he’s a confident rookie. “I never shy away from anything,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who you are, I’ll be ready.”
In the 2021 draft the Vikings selected guard Wyatt Davis in the third round as another potential piece to bolster the ongoing rebuild of the offensive line. Davis has yet to play but he intrigues Diamond.
“One of the things I’d like to see is can he play center, perhaps if they ultimately make the decision that (Garrett) Bradbury is not coming along as they hoped,” Diamond said.
The Vikings used their No. 1 selection on Bradbury in 2019 and his struggles are well documented. “I still have some concerns about Bradbury when he goes against some of those really tough, big, strong nose tackles…and defensive tackles,” Diamond said.
The Vikings have been mixing newcomers with returning players on defense. No doubt that has contributed to inconsistency including the unit faltering at the end of games. A bright spot is the Vikings’ ranking among the sack leaders in the NFL.
While talking about the pass rush, Diamond said the return of potential all-pro defensive end Danielle Hunter (injured last season) makes a “humongous difference.”
The other defensive end opponents sometimes must deal with is 33-year-old Everson Griffen who signed on for a second career stint with the club in August. “Everson Griffen has been a surprise with how well he’s played,” Diamond said.
Another offseason acquisition was talented veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson who will miss the next few games because he is on injured reserve. With a list of who’s who quarterbacks coming up on the immediate schedule, the timing of Peterson’s hamstring injury is unfortunate. Diamond speculated Peterson might be back for the Packers game November 21, after his replacements see gifted passers like Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert.
Replacements Bashaud Breeland and Cameron Dantzler have been inconsistent. Peterson’s absence also impacts cornerback depth. “That’s gotta be a big question mark,” Diamond said about the cornerback situation.
November and December look like a nail-biting time for the Vikings and their fans. There are things to fret about including kicker Greg Joseph who could end up being tasked with pressure field goals that determine whether Minnesota makes the playoffs. In the pressure department he’s been inconsistent so far.
“It’s a little bit up and down with Greg Joseph, and I think he’s still gotta be a question mark as we go forward,” Diamond said.