Could the Vikings really be a 13-win team in 2022?

In both 2020 and 2021 the Minnesota Vikings have struggled mightily. Despite featuring star power on both sides of the ball, this is a team that hasn’t had a winning record at any point in the decade. This lack of success has led to the firings of head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman following the 2021 campaign, which saw the Vikings go 8-9 and fail to qualify for the playoffs.

However, under the guidance of first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell, there is a reason to be optimistic in the Twin Cities. In addition to hiring the first offensive-minded coach this team has had since Brad Childress, the Vikings fortified their defense and offensive line with some major additions via free agency and the draft, and signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a one-year contract extension to keep him with the team through at least the 2023 season.

While there is optimism as we speak, there is one analyst out there who has put forth a bold prediction for the Vikings. Sports talk show host Colin Cowherd, who hosts his weekday talk show The Herd on Fox Sports 1, recently went on record and said that the Vikings would be the NFL’s surprise team and predicted them to not only win the NFC North, but to also have a record of either 13-4 or 14-3. While this prediction is initially shocking, it’s reasonable, but not probable.

Why the Vikings can be Great
If the Vikings were to be a 13-win team in 2022, it will undoubtedly be because of their offense. Under O’Connell’s leadership, the offensive side of the ball will become the forefront of the franchise, in contrast to Zimmer’s defense-first philosophy. The Vikings have a plethora of great skill position players to support Cousins, which include All-Pro receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, and young and ascending players such as Alexander Mattison, K.J. Osborn, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

The defense, which was ranked near the bottom of the league last year, should also get better as well. In addition to hiring a fresh new face to run the defense in the form of new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, the Vikings also acquired the following players via free agency and the draft- defensive: tackle Harrison Phillips, linebacker Za’Darius Smith, safety Lewis Cine, and cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan and Andrew Booth Jr. These additions also come with a returning Danielle Hunter, ascending cornerback Cameron Dantzler, and All-Pro veterans Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks.

Why the Vikings Probably Won’t be Great
With all that said, 13 wins is still a stretch prediction. Under the new regime of O’Connell and first-year general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, this should be seen as more of a “transitional year” in the Twin Cities. The first year of a new general manager and coach should be seen more as a year for establishing a culture in the locker room and setting the tone for team performance. Take last year’s Detroit Lions team for example: first-year coach Dan Campbell didn’t win a lot of games in his rookie season, but he established a culture and the team played their hardest every week. Ultimately, that’s what Vikings fans should expect this year. This season will be a success if O’Connell can build a winning culture and foundation inside the Vikings locker room.

Another reason Cowherd’s prediction is not probable is the Vikings strength of schedule. In the first six weeks of the season, they open with a home contest against the Packers, and then go on the road to face three much improved teams in the Eagles, Saints, and Dolphins. And between Weeks 10-15, the Vikings have a six-week stretch that features road dates against the Bills and Lions (a team I think will be better this year), as well as home dates against the Cowboys, Patriots, and Colts. While the Vikings will likely not lose all of those games, it’s not hard to see them losing let’s say seven out of those ten games. This Vikings schedule is a lot harder than people think, and it will likely show early in the season.

While Cowherd’s prediction may not be probable, it’s really fun to think about. The Vikings will be better than their 8-9 record last year, and they will more likely contend for the postseason in a weaker NFC, but fans should limit their expectations for 9-11 wins, not the 13-14 wins that Cowherd predicted.