2023 NFC North Division Preview: Minnesota Vikings To Repeat As Champs Behind Contract-Year Kirk Cousins

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The 2023-24 NFL season kick-off is almost here! OutKick is unveiling its team-by-team preview series. Last week, we covered the AFC and NFC West. This week, we’re tackling the AFC North and NFC North, continuing with last year’s champion in the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings 2022-23 Record: 13-4

Minnesota Vikings 2023-24 Win Total Over/Under: 8.5

I just want to make a quick note here … this is the 15th preview I’ve done this preseason. And of those, no team has a greater negative gap between last year’s win total and this year’s win total over/under. Last year’s 13-win Vikings are expected to regress by 4-5 games. That’s absurd.

Offseason Moves

Free agency was a bit of a mixed bag for the Vikings. They let cornerback Patrick Peterson, interior defender Dalvin Tomlinson and linebacker Eric Kendrick seek other defensive employment opportunities. On offense, running back Dalvin Cook, wide receiver Adam Thielen and tight end Irv Smith departed, as well.

On defense, the team added corner Byron Murphy and edge defender Marcus Davenport. They elected to turn their running game over to Alexander Mattison and make TJ Hockenson the clear #1 tight end.

Alexander Mattison takes over the Minnesota Vikings backfield after five years of Dalvin Cook dominating the touches.
Alexander Mattison takes over the Minnesota Vikings backfield after five years of Dalvin Cook dominating the touches. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The team looked toward the NFL Draft to replace Adam Thielen, grabbing USC wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round. That’s a big pickup for the team. While Thielen served his role, having another field-stretcher opposite Justin Jefferson is a big addition to this offense.

The team did not pick in the second round, thanks to the midseason addition of Hockenson last year. In both rounds three and four, the team attempted to bolster its pass defense — a clear weakness last season — by adding cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon (USC) and Jay Ward (LSU).

Despite a porous defense that let them down in the playoffs, the Vikings did not massively overhaul the unit. Instead, they’re counting on newcomer Davenport to form a strong pass-rush duo with Danielle Hunter. And, that their secondary will … well, play better.

Season Outlook

The Minnesota Vikings are hoping their offense can cover up for their deficiencies on defense. And, quite honestly, I think it can. The Vikings have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Kirk Cousins is much better than most people realize. Swapping in Jordan Addison for Adam Thielen is a big-time upgrade. A full season of TJ Hockenson is a bonus.

I like Cousins as a sleeper NFL MVP candidate (+5000 at DraftKings) because 1. the Vikings offense is terrific and includes the best pass-catcher in the NFL, Justin Jefferson and 2. the defense is going to allow points, which means more opportunities for Cousins to stack up stats.

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins doesn't get the respect he deserves, and he's again the key to the team winning the NFC North and making noise in the playoffs this NFL season.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins doesn’t get the respect he deserves, and he’s again the key to the team winning the NFC North and making noise in the playoffs this NFL season. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

I understand that much of the NFL community believes the Vikings are ripe for regression. That makes sense — they won 13 games last year, but had a lot of close victories that could have gone the other way. But they didn’t. Why? Because Cousins is also much more clutch than he gets credit for being.

He led the NFL in both fourth-quarter comebacks (eight) and game-winning drives (eight). It’s actually the second time in his career leading the league in GWD and he’s had 15 over the past three seasons.

The Vikings also didn’t have great turnover luck, which is usually a sign for regression. But the team projected to win the NFC North, the Detroit Lions, did benefit greatly from turnovers.

Minnesota faces a very tough schedule to start the season, playing the Eagles, Chargers, Chiefs and 49ers within their first seven games. But it lightens up considerably after that. I think this is a 10-win team at minimum and can’t believe their win total is just 8.5.

Minnesota Vikings Predicted Win Total: OVER 8.5

LISTEN: Dan Zaksheske and Geoff Clark Break Down The AFC and NFC North On The Latest Episode of “OutKick Bets”

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Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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