Ahead of the 2018 NFL season, we’re bringing you a series outlining which teams are getting too much hype and what rosters are sneakily going under the radar.
Disclaimer: I hate your favourite team, regardless of who they are. Please use this rationale if it makes you feel better after hearing about how your team aren’t half as good as they think they are.
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Minnesota Vikings (10/1 to win the Super Bowl)
Projected Win Total: 10
325 completions on 481 attempts for 3,547 and 22 touchdowns. That was Case Keenum’s statistical passing line for last season. What that is, is conservative but efficient. The Vikings maybe lacked a bit of brilliance from under center, but they very easily could have won a Super Bowl with an average quarterback.
Keenum is inconsistent and is now charged with turning around the fortunes of the Denver Broncos.
Either way, Minnesota had to pay their quarterback, so they may as well have taken the biggest free agent on the market in Kirk Cousins.
In reality, this should be enough to make them Super Bowl favourites and they’re the best-built team in the league.
The only two things stopping that being reflected in their price are the New England Patriots’ eternal association with overachieving and the fact Philadelphia are also welcoming back Carson Wentz following their Super Bowl win.
The thing is, Minnesota got to within a game of the Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback and a franchise running back. Dalvin Cook is a one-cut mean machine that will bowl over defences if he can stay healthy – they’ve improved in the two biggest skill positions which is a rare feat for any team that won 13 games the previous season.
Not only that, but they also came out better from free agency. They got rid of Tramaine Brock who is little more than a fourth-choice corner at pro level. While losing Jerick McKinnon is a blow in terms of change-of-pace in the backfield in passing formations, he is genuinely the only loss.
Latavius Murray can pick up the slack on that front – he’s made 106 career receptions, averaging 7 yards on those catches.
That defensive front is already scary with the likes of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph, yet the front office went and added Sheldon Richardson to further beef up the interior.
Nobody will run against this defence in 2018.
Behind that front, you have the best pure athlete in terms of linebackers in the NFL – Anthony Barr.
Alongside him, another colossus in Eric Kendricks. This means that teams won’t be scheming them out of base defence to try and utilise matchups with running backs and tight ends. This becomes exceptionally important given that Jimmy Graham has landed in Green Bay and that has the potential to be a Brady-Gronk-like axis.
This front seven are set up to beat anything you throw at them, though.
On the back end, they’ve got one of the best secondaries in the NFL with Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes patrolling the sidelines, while Mike Hughes joins from their draft class. The UCF prospect projected as one of the best pure man-coverage cornerbacks in the group and the Vikes will need to go man-to-man to topple Aaron Rodgers in their NFC North clashes this season.
And if all that fails, they’ve got, in my opinion, last year’s regular season MVP in Harrison Smith to tidy up anything in double coverage, or to add an extra blitzer in the box – or, yano – roam in centre field to pick any stray throws.
On the opposite side of the ball, Stefon Diggs’ freak play in the win over the Saints grabbed him the much-deserved national attention he deserves, while Adam Thielen is the most improved offensive player I’ve seen over the last two seasons. We’ve yet to see the best from former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell and they even added Kendall Wright in the off-season.
Just in case those riches weren’t enough, they can always fall back on one of the few franchise players at the tight end position – Kyle Rudolph.
Of course, none of this means anything unless you can protect and block up front. Losing Jeremiah Sirles is a blow to depth, but Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff fill the tackle spots while draftee Brian O’Neill was a second-round steal from Pittsburgh.
Their draft doesn’t excite, but their early selections were very solid and the Sam Bradford trade from a few years back is still hurting them draft-wise.
It’s probably the only poor choice the front office have made in the last five years, but clever moves here and there have got them in this position.
Division-wise, Green Bay will always have a chance because they’ve got the best quarterback, talent-wise (Brady is the greatest), to ever play the game. They’ve also improved their secondary.
But, they’re three wins away from this Vikings roster. The Lions and Bears are cannon fodder. We’ll call that five wins.
Out-of-division opponents include the 49ers, Bills, Rams, Eagles, Cardinals, Jets, Saints, Patriots, Seahawks and the Dolphins.
There’s six comfortable games in there and I’d fancy them to beat the Saints at home. To me, there’s no way they regress by three games.
Bottom line – the Vikings should be Super Bowl favourites and while no teams will ever be projected to win 12/13 games, this is a case of a team that analytically are set up to improve in every regard.
Verdict: Underrated – 13 wins.Touch down your NFL punts over at paddypower.com