Across most of the NFL on Tuesday afternoon, the trade deadline came and went without a whimper. That’s not unheard of in this league, which is known for having a more subtle deadline day than other pro sports leagues across the country. But even among those who expected things to be quiet… some teams seemed unexpectedly inactive. The Minnesota Vikings were one of them.
Last week, (LT) Riley Reiff and (TE) Kyle Rudolph were as good as gone. Even giving those two away would benefit the young replacements the Vikings are getting awfully excited about, in (LT) Ezra Cleveland and (TE) Irv Smith Jr. But when the deadline actually hit, Rick Spielman’s “hot stove” was ice cold. Somebody forgot to plug it in at TCO Performance Center, when they arrived in the morning.
“We like our guys. We’ve got a bunch of good guys on this team and we just need to continue to get better and play better.” – Coach Zimmer on not making any moves before yesterday’s trade deadline— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 4, 2020
The tank died with the quiet deadline. Dalvin Cook is winning all of the accolades he deserves after his performance last weekend in Green Bay. As long as he’s on this roster and healthy, the Vikings are going to win some games.
So with “tanking” officially on the shelf, it’s only right that we turn our attention to winning. Of course, it starts Sunday at an empty US Bank Stadium vs the Detroit Lions, where the Vikings are currently -4 favorites.
But, IF they can play well over the next handful of weeks and get a few nice bounces along the way… a playoff appearance might not be out of reach just yet. Hear me out.
Let’s start with the upcoming schedule
The 2020 Minnesota Vikings haven’t shown an ability to play good football for any consistent period of time. It’s been a “one step forward, two steps back” narrative. The caliber of their opponent hasn’t really mattered, either. Just a few weeks ago, fans were feeling good about almost pulling out a win in Seattle. As we were patting ourselves on the back, a winless Atlanta team came into US Bank Stadium and stomped on our playoff hopes and dreams.
Still, when you look ahead to who the Vikings will play in the upcoming weeks, you can’t help but notice all of the big crooked numbers sitting in the “L” column. Their next FIVE opponents combined for a 14-24 record. A couple of them, the Cowboys and Jaguars, are completely falling apart as I type this.
The Minnesota Vikings are currently 2-5 on the season. If a miracle playoff run is going to happen, a .500 record should be the target before heading to Tampa Bay to face Tom Brady and his new (former) Gopher buddies. That would be good enough to launch them back into the expanded playoff conversation during the final stretch run.
The Vikings will line up vs division rival opponents during the next two weeks. Those back-to-back games should either put an irrationally hopeful fanbase out of its misery or… cause a dangerously high level of optimism heading into Tampa.
Improving Secondary and O-Line
The two biggest problems with the 2020 Vikings have been the offensive line and a very young secondary. But recently, both have shown heavy improvements.
The offensive line has found a groove with Dalvin Cook, providing hope to a position that’s been a pit of despair through Zimmer’s entire tenure in Minnesota. There is still a lot to be desired in pass block situations but optimism is running amuck given how well youngsters like Bradbury and Cleveland have come along in 2020.
The defensive backfield is still an unknown, especially given all of their absences. This is a group that held Aaron Rodgers to a modest game last week but we aren’t sure how much of that had to do with the 45 MPH wind. We’ll find out a lot more on Sunday vs Matt Stafford and the Lions inside US Bank Stadium.
If these groups are starting to turn a proverbial corner, it could be a perfect time to hit their stride. The schedule is softening and the team seems to be coming together.
Healthy Dalvin Cook
This needed to be mentioned but it doesn’t need to be discussed in detail. The Minnesota Vikings will go as Dalvin Cook goes. If he stays healthy, he’s on pace to break out for over 1500 yards on the ground and over 20 touchdowns.
If Cook were to come down with another injury that sidelines him for multiple games, that would be the end of all this wishful thinking.
The 2020 NFL Playoffs have already been expanded to include 7 teams from each conference and 14 teams in total. Reportedly however, the league is mulling an additional team if games start being canceled due to COVID-19.
NFL competition committee expects to present a resolution to owners based on a contingency of having a 16-team playoff season (8 in each conference) if games are lost due to the pandemic, especially as bye weeks disappear, according to league sources. Committee met by zoom today.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) November 2, 2020
The Vikings would have to get back up near the .500 mark to enter into any expanded playoff conversation (as noted above)… but this is still something worth keeping an eye one.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be one hell of an uphill battle if the Minnesota Vikings are going to get back into the NFC playoff picture. But with that being said, there are plenty of important factors that line up in their favor. Now, can they win and take advantage? That’s yet to be seen.
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan