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Lunchbreak: ESPN's Barnwell Makes Case for Vikings Path to Super Bowl

EAGAN, Minn. — So, ESPN is saying there is a chance.

Writer Bill Barnwell made the case for why the Vikings (and the 31 other teams) could win Super Bowl LVIII. In the story, Barnwell wrote about each team in order of ESPN's preseason power rankings poll.

The Vikings are ranked 16th. ESPN's projection model gave Minnesota a 2% chance to win the Super Bowl and a 48.7% shot to make the playoffs. In comparison, the Eagles have a 11.9% chance to win it all and a better-than-80% chance to reach the postseason.

On the Vikings, Barnwell wrote:

Even if the Vikings get back to the postseason, the presence of Kirk Cousins at quarterback means they're hopeless, right? Well, not so fast. Cousins is 1-4 in his five playoff starts, but remember that Matt Ryan was also 1-4 as a postseason starter before making it to the Super Bowl and coming within a defensive meltdown of claiming the trophy. Ryan didn't win the big game, but Peyton Manning was 3-6 in his first six trips to the postseason before winning four straight and a Super Bowl in 2006.

Cousins obviously isn't up to Manning's caliber, but I bring up Manning's run to point out that the Colts won four games without a great performance from their quarterback, who threw three touchdown passes against seven picks and posted a passer rating of 70.5. The Vikings probably can't rely on Cousins to carry them to a title, but if he can get them into the postseason, the rest of the roster might do enough to bring their quarterback along for the ride.

Barnwell said the Vikings are likely regression candidates based on their league-record 11-0 mark in one-score games last season. But then he used supporting data from the Titans 2000 season for why Minnesota can replicate their historic 2022 campaign.

He also cited the additions Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores, edge rusher Marcus Davenport and cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr.

What if the Vikings don't regress? In my decline column, I looked at teams that were similar outliers to the Vikings and found examples from the past that drastically improved their level of play to sustain their record the following season. The 1999 Titans, for example, went 13-3 with a 9.8-win point differential and a 7-1 record in games decided by seven points or fewer. I was in high school at the time, but if I had been writing, I would have pegged the Titans as an easy decline candidate for 2000.

Instead, the Titans went 13-3 again in 2000, this time with the point differential of a 12.9-win team. That's the leap the Vikings have to make, and there are reasons to believe they could get there. Aaron Rodgers is out of the NFC North. Coordinator Ed Donatell's passive defense is gone, replaced by the well-regarded Brian Flores. Veterans such as wideout Adam Thielen, linebacker Eric Kendricks and running back Dalvin Cook had bigger names and contracts than their 2022 production; it's entirely possible new arrivals, including Davenport and Murphy, unlock a new level of play for Minnesota on the defensive side of the ball.

Click here to read the 31 other "Paths to the Super Bowl" from Barnwell.

Star Tribune lays out keys to Vikings 2023 season

How will the Vikings win in 2023? The Star Tribune answered that question as part of its 2023 Vikings season preview.

Columnist Chip Scoggins highlighted why developing young talent will be key for Minnesota this year.

Scoggins wrote:

The Vikings desperately needed to get younger and faster and less expensive to give the general manager flexibility to sign the organization's stars to mega-contracts.

Now the burden of developing young talent shifts to Kevin O'Connell and his coaching staff. This is a crucial piece in any prognostication about the Vikings.

Enough players that fall under the "TBD" category must establish themselves as core pieces for the Vikings to advance beyond being a fringe playoff team and perpetually stuck in a good-but-not-great tier.

"Draft and develop" has long been an NFL creed. O'Connell's staff needs to show that they are maestros in the development department.

The Vikings have a young roster. Scoggins pointed out that three of the Vikings four top cornerbacks are in their first or second seasons. He then went into other examples of why development is pivotal.

The youth movement is partly necessitated by financial realities. …

The Vikings need young players on rookie deals and less expensive contracts to balance the roster by becoming productive starters or key backups.