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The Minnesota Vikings last made the playoffs during the 2019 season, winning a Wildcard Round contest in New Orleans before falling to the 49ers in the Divisional. During the following two seasons, there were initial signs of promise, but both years ended with the Vikings falling short in the regular season. Now, NFL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi describes their outlook as we head into the 2022 NFL season.

2022 NFL Prediction: Will Justin Jefferson and the Vikings Live up to Expectations?

Before virtually every NFL season in recent memory, there has been a solid amount of hype surrounding the Minnesota Vikings. Despite a heavy stream of warnings from their fanbase, outsiders talk themselves into believing that the Vikings are true contenders.

And yet every year, without fail, the Vikings have managed to invent a new way to disappoint their fans. In 2015, it was Blair Walsh missing a chip-shot field goal that sent the Vikings home in the Wildcard Round. In 2017, it was a 38-7 blowout in the NFC Championship Game at the hands of the eventual-champion Eagles. Two years later, it was a double-digit loss in the Divisional Round to the 49ers, who then went to the Super Bowl.

So, the underlying question as we head into the 2022 season is: can the Vikings shift the narrative by 'over-performing' with what many consider to be a middling roster? I believe that they will, powered by a new scheme on offense and an influx of talent on defense. Here's the case for it.

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2022 NFL Prediction - Minnesota Vikings

An Injection of Fresh Air on Offense

This offseason, Mike Zimmer was fired after an eight-year tenure as head coach of the Vikings. Kevin O'Connell, who served as the offensive coordinator of the Rams for the last two seasons, was hired as Zimmer's replacement. Now, it's important to note that it has been over a decade since the Vikings have had a head coach with an offense-based background. In other words, this hire represents Minnesota's intent to prioritize the offense in a way that they haven't in years.

All signs are pointing to the Vikings opting to pass the ball significantly more than in years past. Under Zimmer, Minnesota's offensive scheme was centered around the ground attack. This was relatively successful with star running back Dalvin Cook leading the way, but it was still a regressive approach that ultimately capped the unit's upside. In the modern NFL, passing the ball effectively is the key to offensive success; O'Connell's commitment to prioritizing the pass is a step in the right direction.

Of course, the offense's efficacy will largely hinge on the play of starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. No one has ever been able to agree on exactly where Cousins lands amongst the NFL quarterback landscape — somewhere between average and elite is the general consensus. For better or worse, he has demonstrated an ability to lead a quality NFL offense, even if he lacks the arm talent of the top passers. It's also worth noting that there were reports of a rift between Zimmer and Cousins, with Zimmer allegedly lacking confidence in his quarterback. If Kevin O'Connell can unlock a side of Cousins that he didn't display under Zimmer due to a fear of making mistakes, Cousins could have his best season since he landed in Minnesota.

Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the importance of Justin Jefferson to this offense. The All-Pro receiver has emerged as one of the league's premier receiving threats; many consider him a top-three wide receiver in football. Jefferson has only been in the NFL for two seasons, but he has already totaled over 3000 receiving yards. He saw a whopping 167 targets in 2021, and he led the league with 14.3 yards per touch. Despite the eye-popping start to his career, one has to wonder whether he has even reached his ceiling. Under Minnesota's revamped offense, we may see Jefferson emerge as the consensus top receiver in the NFL.

The rushing attack will still play a sizable role in this offense. Dalvin Cook remains one of the league's best rushers; if he stays healthy, he will provide a great complement to the passing attack. There are also capable weapons across the rest of the offense, including Adam Thielen and Irv Smith Jr. The one question mark on offense seems to be the offensive line — a bad line can doom any offense, and Minnesota's line projects as fairly mediocre. I think that it will be good enough to support an above-average offense, but the concerns are valid.

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A Deep and Talented Defense

In 2021, Minnesota's defense was among the worst in the league. It allowed the third-most yards per drive, the sixth-most yards per play, and the ninth-most points per game. However, upon closer examination, it's evident that these struggles were largely a function of horrendous injury luck. All-Pro pass-rusher Danielle Hunter was the most notable absence — he missed 10 games due to injury. On top of that, linebacker Anthony Barr, starting cornerback Patrick Peterson, and defensive tackle Michael Pierce all missed significant time. It's not uncommon for NFL teams to lose starters mid-season, but the 2021 Vikings were especially unlucky when it came to injuries on the defensive side.

The Vikings made their major splash in free agency by signing All-Pro pass-rusher Za'Darius Smith. Smith registered double-digit sack totals in both 2019 and 2020, but missed the majority of the 2021 season due to a back injury. He is now 29 years of age — the question for him will be whether or not he can stay on the field. If he can, he and Hunter will form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL.

Minnesota also signed linebacker Jordan Hicks in free agency. Hicks has long been a dependable starter in the NFL, and he will offer the Vikings security at the linebacker position. They further added LB depth by drafting Brian Asamoah, who was a tackling machine at Oklahoma, in the third round.

In the draft, Minnesota addressed their weakness at safety by selecting Georgia standout Lewis Cine at the tail end of the first round. Cine will look to win a starting spot beside Harrison Smith, who remains one of the league's best safeties. The Vikings doubled down on secondary talent in the second round, snagging Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth at No. 42. Booth is far from a guarantee to start out of the gate, but his physical traits offer the potential for him to grab a starting role sooner rather than later. By taking Cine and Booth, the Vikings solidified the depth of their secondary while also introducing fresh competition at multiple positions.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the Vikings' roster as a whole, it's clear that they are better than last year, both in terms of starting talent and depth. They filled the holes that sunk their defense last year, and will also benefit from a couple of players returning from injury. They even added competition on the offensive line, the only position group that appears to be subpar on paper.

Another factor leaning in Minnesota's favor is that their schedule projects as the 10th-easiest in the NFL. The only opponents on their schedule by whom they will likely be overmatched are Green Bay (twice) and Buffalo. All of the Vikings' other opponents seem to be roughly on their level or below it, meaning that they will have a lot of opportunities to stack wins. My model gives the Vikings over 11 expected wins, meaning that there is a solid amount of (theoretical) value on their win total over.

2022 NFL Prediction - Minnesota Vikings Pick

Pick: Minnesota Vikings Over 10 Wins (+180)(Bet $100 to win $180)

*Odds available at Caesars at time of publishing*

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Article Author


Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.


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