Vikings Preview Capsule
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (14-4)
New faces: Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, QB Kirk Cousins, DT Sheldon Richardson, PK Daniel Carlson, CB/KR Mike Hughes, C/G Brett Jones, SS George Iloka, WR Kendall Wright, OL Tom Compton, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Brian O’Neill.
Key losses: Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, QB Case Keenum, QB Sam Bradford, QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Jerick McKinnon, G/C Joe Berger, PK Kai Forbath, WR Jarius Wright, DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, OL Jeremiah Sirles.
Strengths: Defense that led NFL in fewest yards and fewest points allowed per game last season only got stronger with free agent additions Richardson and Iloka. First-round draft pick Hughes, also potential kick returner, provides depth at critical position in mix for nickel package playing time in slot with Mackensie Alexander and Terence Newman. FS Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes headline one of best secondaries in league. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs give newcomer Cousins one of best WR tandems in NFL, with veteran TE Kyle Rudolph viable red zone target. Cousins topped 4,000 passing yards for Washington while playing in every game over each of last three years.
Weaknesses: OL lost Berger to retirement and starting LG Nick Easton in training camp to neck injury. Starting C Pat Elflein has missed entire preseason, recovering from offseason ankle and shoulder surgeries. Second-round draft pick O’Neill is long-term project, with questionable depth at OT spots in case of injury to Riley Reiff and/or Rashod Hill. Sudden death of OL coach Tony Sparano right before training camp was big blow. Special teams bear watching, too, with rookie Carlson taking over high-pressure position for Forbath and P Ryan Quigley coming off so-so 2017. Vikings did not have any kickoff or punt return TDs last year, and coverage units were burned often during preseason.
Fantasy Players To Watch: RB Dalvin Cook. Well on way to stellar rookie year, Cook tore ACL in left knee in fourth game. He averaged 112 yards from scrimmage, 22 total touches and three receptions per game and scored two TDs in abbreviated debut. Latavius Murray, who rushed for 745 yards and eight TDs over last 10 games of regular season, provides proven backup.
Vegas Says: Super Bowl 12-1. Over/under wins 10.
Expectations: After riding Keenum to NFC championship game, fueled by last-second TD pass to Diggs in playoffs against Saints dubbed “Minneapolis Miracle,” Vikings made sure Super Bowl window stayed open. Went all in on three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract to add Cousins to roster that was already one of most stacked in league. With recent big-buck extensions for Diggs, DE Danielle Hunter and LB Eric Kendricks, front office is keeping band together as long as possible under salary cap. Repeating last season’s record will be tough task, though, with OL uncertainty and stiffer schedule that includes road trips to face Rams, Eagles, Patriots and Seahawks. Plus, rival Packers have QB Aaron Rodgers back from injury.