With the Super Bowl less than a week away, the Vikings have already looked ahead to how they can get there next season.
As Minnesota – and the other 29 teams who didn't make it to Super Bowl LV – work towards improving, ESPN ranked all 32 clubs by “Super Bowl timelines,” from immediate contenders (Chiefs, Bucs, Bills, Packers) all the way down to "trust the process," which ESPN defined as teams that are "four-plus years out" from making it to The Big Dance.
The Vikings were slotted somewhere in the middle, in the "getting closer" category – defined as two years away from a Super Bowl appearance. ESPN's Courtney Cronin wrote:
The Vikings are the most successful NFL franchise (seventh all-time in win percentage) to never win a Super Bowl. This is still a highly competitive team that isn't afraid to spend, even if it goes against trends of the NFL – like paying a running back mega bucks. Minnesota teams are built on the strength of the defense, which played a factor in the Vikings being one game shy of the Super Bowl in 2017. With Mike Zimmer at the helm, that model isn't going anywhere.
Cronin also weighed in on the "biggest X factor" for Minnesota moving forward.
The offense showed it can score at will with just about anyone in 2020. But the defense, which is in the process of a multiyear rebuild, needs vast improvement. Minnesota has a formula to get the best it can out of quarterback Kirk Cousins, surrounding him with playmakers such as Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Irv Smith Jr. If the team can find ways to improve the defense – such as spending on pass-rushers in free agency or making scheme adjustments – then the Vikings could be two years away from getting to the Super Bowl.
Joining the Vikings in the "getting closer" group were the Dolphins, Chargers and Cowboys.
After Green Bay, Minnesota was tabbed as the NFC North's next-closest team to a Super Bowl. Chicago fell into the "on the upswing (three years out)" category, and Detroit landed in the "trust the process" group.
NFL.com recaps 'historic' NFL season
The 2020 NFL season was most dramatically visibly altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but other factors, such as the murder of George Floyd in May and ensuing social justice efforts, also impacted the campaign.
With all but the Super Bowl now in the rearview mirror, NFL.com's Judy Battista took a deep dive into how the league "made it to the finish line of a historic season." She wrote:
When the schedule was first released in May, it seemed aspirational more than anything, the expectation that it was written mostly in pencil. That the NFL has gotten to the doorstep of its championship game on schedule, and with a positive test rate well below local and national figures, is an unquestioned success and the result of a monumental, months-long undertaking that consumed virtually every part of the league, turning athletic trainers into infection-control officers, lawyers into contact tracers, former coaches into logistics advisors, and forcing everyone to nervously check their phones in the middle of the night for test results.
Battista worked through the past 11 months chronologically, starting with the pandemic hitting the United States and, more specifically, the United States sports landscape. Simultaneously, the NFL and NFL Players Association worked to ratify the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which passed by a margin of just 60 votes, and Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay in free agency.
Battista detailed how the NFL "became very familiar with Zoom" in mid-April when almost all activities transitioned to exclusively virtual – including team workouts and the NFL Draft.
Teams shipped $1,500 worth of equipment to each player for virtual workouts because most gyms were closed. That supplemented the home-grown workouts players had already constructed. Players purchased Peloton bikes, ran hills in their neighborhoods, borrowed the keys to their old high school gym and did push-ups and sit-ups in the garage.
"You kind of go back to what life was like for me as an athlete before I had a world-class facility [like Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center]," Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said at the time.
Teams opened their training facilities on May 19, and on May 25, Floyd was tragically killed while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department, setting off "worldwide protests of police brutality and systemic racism."
Battista noted the player-led video directed to the NFL that challenged the league to do more in regards to social justice.
The next day, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell responded in a video he recorded at his home, surprising even team owners who did not know of his plan to address the players.
"We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black people," Goodell said on the video. "We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much-needed change in this country. Without Black players, there would be no National Football League. And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of Black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening, I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family."
As far as football is concerned, Battista called the aftermath of the Vikings-Titans Week 3 matchup "the season's most pivotal week."
People in the league and the players' union point to the Week 4 outbreak in Tennessee – which eventually totaled 23 people with the virus – as the seminal moment of the season. It was the first test of whether the NFL could contain and survive an outbreak, it threw the schedule into a blender and it informed critical changes to the protocols and decisions for the rest of the season.
To see Battista's full chronicling of the NFL's 2020 season, click here.