(WCCO) — Coming out of the NFL Draft, the NFC North remains among the most competitive divisions in the league. And the Minnesota Vikings seem poised to take over control. The Vikings finished 10-6 in 2019, but ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Green Bay Packers at 13-3. They managed to advance out of the Wild Card round, only to fall to the San Francisco 49ers and fail to earn a rematch with the Packers in the NFC Championship.
The Vikings will have another chance this year after filling many of their bigger needs. The Packers even helped a little by once again failing to give Aaron Rodgers the offensive weapons he needs. Instead of drafting a downfield threat from a deep wide receiver class, Green Bay drafted Rodgers’ eventual replacement, Jordan Love. The Chicago Bears should improve on last season’s disappointing 8-8 record as well.
Las Vegas projects the Vikings’ win total at just nine games, which seems a little low for what SportsLine analyst Kenny White describes as “the most talented team in the division.” Minnesota had 15 picks in the recent draft and capably addressed their needs. Former LSU receiver Justin Jefferson will take over for Stefon Diggs. Ex-TCU cornerback Jeff Gladney will occupy one of the starting corner spots. Former Boise St. tackle Ezra Cleveland should boost the offensive line.
And that ignores their other 12 picks in the NFL Draft, not to mention talented units on both sides of the ball. Dalvin Cook led the NFL in rushing for a good part the last season. Adam Thielen remains one of the league’s best receivers when healthy. Kirk Cousins is well established as the team’s leader.
The Vikings defense remains a little more of an unknown with all the turnover and new faces. But the addition of Dom Capers to the defensive coaching staff should help Mike Zimmer improve performance on that side of the ball. And nose tackle Michael Pierce was an important pickup.
“Mike Zimmer does such a great job of overachieving with his players,” said White. “I looked at the last four years of ATS (Against The Spread) records. He’s won 28 games by the spread. The next closest team [is] the Detroit Lions with 24 ATS wins. I think it’s going to be Mike Zimmer. I think Kirk Cousins passed the test last year. He finally won a big game, especially on the road. That gets the monkey off his back.”
Whether Cousins can return the Vikings to the playoffs with a division title in his back pocket remains to be seen. The Packers will be competitive, and the Bears added a proven winner at quarterback in Nick Foles to help solve Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive woes. And the Detroit Lions, well, they’re still in the division.
The Vikings have the talent to win the top-heavy NFC North. But they’ll probably need to top their projected nine wins to take the title and position themselves for a playoff run.