How will the Vikings play during their 2023 regular season schedule that begins next Sunday in Minneapolis against the Bucs? After shocking the NFL with a 13-4 record last season, you may need a sleuth to find a pro football authority who thinks that record will be duplicated.
Projected win totals from many knowledgeable sources are under 10 wins. BetMGM has the wagering number at 8.5. Sports Illustrated magazine’s football preview issue is more pessimistic offering possible season records of 6-11 and 7-10. There’s a bandwagon of naysayers who don’t believe the Purple will repeat as NFC North Division champions.
The lack of enthusiasm is based on a couple of major factors. The Vikings, due to their success in 2022, have a challenging schedule that includes six teams who made the playoffs last season and they face five of those clubs in the first seven games. Second, the Vikings had a subpar defense last season and doubts remain despite bringing in new defensive coordinator Brian Flores and shuffling personnel.
A Sports Headliners source, a former front office leader with NFL teams, spoke with cautious optimism about the Vikings. Asking that his name not be published, he said Minnesota could win the division again, with the race likely to be decided in the closing weeks of the season when the Vikings and Lions play twice (weeks 16 and 18). The Lions are a popular choice to win the NFC North after closing 2022 by winning eight of their last 10.
The early part of Minnesota’s schedule has the source’s attention. “I think if they can get off to 4-3, 4-2, 5-3 (record)… then I think they’re in really good shape because then I think the schedule starts to turn a little bit. But It’s not going to be easy. They’ve got that first-place schedule and that’s what you get when you win the division. …”
Vikings fans will like hearing that the authority believes the Lions are “overrated” and receiving more praise than deserved because of their strong finish last season (Detroit didn’t qualify for the playoffs). The Lions will be competitive, though, and the division’s other teams, the Packers and Bears, will be, too, he said. He projects Minnesota’s record at 10-7 and “good enough to win the division.”
The source has concerns about the Minnesota defense, most specifically the pass rush and cornerbacks. Outside linebacker Marcus Davenport, acquired in the offseason as a free agent, must prove capable of being a force along with veteran sack specialist Danielle Hunter. Davenport, going into his sixth NFL season, had nine sacks for the Saints in 2021 but 0.5 last year.
The authority thinks another offseason acquisition, Byron Murphy, could be an “upgrade” over departed veteran Patrick Peterson. The other starting corner, Akayleb Evans, receives a positive nod from the source, too. The “tricky part” he said is the cornerback depth and how things go if Murphy or Evans are injured. Rookie Mekhi Blackmon is inexperienced, and second year corner Andrew Booth has been a disappointment.
“Andrew Booth, I just think he is a guy that just has not played great and he gets hurt a lot and if they have to play him, I think it’s a potential problem,” the source said. “I think that’s why they use a lot of three safety looks because they do have strength at safety with obviously Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, (and Josh) Metellus is a good player. Lewis Cine (second season) seems to have improved, even though he will still give up a play every once in a while. And I like Jay Ward, the rookie safety, a fourth-round pick. I thought he did some really good things in camp, and especially in that last preseason game. …”
Also on the safety roster is second-year player Theo Jackson. The reality is that the hefty number of six safeties indicates a couple of things. Flores likes mixing up his personnel and options by using three safeties on the field at times and the depth at the position may help cover up cornerback issues.
The source admires Flores but has a word of caution, too. Flores is known for taking chances with his schemes and play calls but his aggressive style “can also burn you at times.”
The NFL insider refers to the Viking offense as “excellent.” And why not? Veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins, known for his accuracy and durability, has No. 2 ranked NFL player Justin Jefferson leading a receiver corps that could be better than last season with the development of rookie WR Jordan Addison and a full season with tight end T.J. Hockenson who was acquired last fall from the Lions. The offensive line is led by two of the better pair of tackles in the NFL in Brian O’Neill and Christian Darrisaw.
Yes, the Vikings no longer have explosive runner Dalvin Cook but the authority quoted here isn’t that concerned about the running game. Reserve Alexander Mattison moves up to replace Cook with Ty Chandler positioned as his backup. Mattison was better than Cook last year in short yardage. “I think they’ll be okay at running back, honestly, if those guys stay healthy,” the source said.
In another interesting roster move the Vikings have kept four tight ends with Hockenson, Josh Oliver, Johnny Mundt and Nick Muse. Head coach Kevin O’Connell wants to have opponents guessing as to what’s next and while the Vikings have a superb passing game, they will probably frequently use two tight ends, and possibly three when they want to power run, or disguise a pass.
Daniel Jackson’s toe-dragging touchdown catch that allowed Minnesota to tie the score at 10-10 against Nebraska late in the fourth quarter last Thursday night must rank among the most spectacular catches in Gopher football history. The tie positioned Minnesota to later kick a field goal as time ran out and win 13-10 in the opening game for both Big Ten teams.
The Gopher mantra is “the football is the program.” The Gophers lived up to that by making fewer mistakes than Nebraska and because key Minnesota’s playmakers made big plays including Jackson’s heroics. Preseason All-American safety Tyler Nubin intercepted two passes including one that set up the winning drive where Dragan Kesich, who had kicked one previous field goal in his college career, delivered the winning three points. Another playmaker, cornerback Justin Walley, punched the football loose from a Nebraska ball carrier and the recovery gave Minnesota momentum for its drive that tied the game 10-10.
Word is there would have been even more Nebraska fans at the game if many had not chosen to be in Boulder, Colorado September 9 when Big Red plays Deion Sanders’ Buffaloes.
The announced attendance Thursday night was 53,629, the fifth largest crowd in Huntington Bank Stadium history.
As of late last week, Minneapolis native and cornerback Craig McDonald was still awaiting a waiver ruling from the NCAA to be eligible for the Gophers this season. The waiver approval is necessary because McDonald has transferred twice in his college career, having been first at Iowa State and later Auburn. McDonald would have three years of eligibility with the Gophers and can be a contributor in 2023.
Friends are looking for help in locating former Gophers’ basketball assistant coach Jimmy Williams who was most recently known to be living in Texas but not heard from in about 12 months. Williams was an assistant coach at Minnesota for 15 seasons including for the 1972 and 1982 Big Ten title teams.
Darrell Thompson, the Gophers’ radio analyst and former record-setting running back in the late 1980s, heads up the Minneapolis-based Bolder Options nonprofit that benefits youth with a mentor-focused program. The organization celebrates its 30th birthday Friday night at a dinner at Quincy Hall (northeast Minneapolis) featuring a live auction and entertainment. The event will honor the late Mark Sheffert, a prominent Minneapolis businessman and Gopher supporter who served two terms as chair of the Bolder Options board and was highly impactful to the organization’s success. https://www.bolderoptions.org/
Beloved former Golden Gophers athletics trainer Jim Marshall, age 93, is scheduled for a trip to Washington D.C. on September 11 at the invitation of Honor Flight Twin Cities. The non-profit organization flies war veterans to D.C. for a day and provides a tour of various memorials including those for World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Arlington Cemetery and Iwo Jima. Marshall served his country during the Korean War and was assigned to a Navy submarine. https://www.honorflighttwincities.org/
The Twins’ starting pitchers for their key series in Cleveland against the Guardians Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are expected to be Pablo Lopez, Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan. The Guardians are expected to go with Lucas Giolito, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams.
The Twins announced today that utility player Willi Castro (mild left oblique strain) has been reinstated from the 10-day Injured List. To make room for Castro, outfielder Michael Taylor, with a right hamstring strain, has been placed on the 10-day Injured List.
It’s a memorable year for Minikahda Club golf instructor Jeff Sorenson who last week won the Minnesota PGA Professional Championship at The Wilderness at Fortune Bay and earlier in the year was selected for induction into the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame.
Bill Robertson, the Minnesota native whose career accomplishments included commissioner of the WCHA, is making a successful transition after about a month to his new home in South Carolina where activities include diving into about 300 unread sports books he has collected over the years.