The Vikings don't mind if they're perceived as underdogs heading into the 2019 season; in fact, they embrace it.
Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune said recently that the team will open Verizon Vikings Training Camp this week "**without the Super Bowl-or-bust hype train**" that followed it a year ago. He wrote:
The folks who set online betting odds have mostly put the Vikings outside the top 10 teams favored to reach the Super Bowl. [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer must be in hog heaven. This is how he likes it — under the radar, overlooked, whatever cliché you prefer.
But Scoggins countered that "expectations shouldn't be lowered for Minnesota," who has a talented roster and a core group of players.
"If not now, then when?" Scoggins asked.
Based on players' contracts – quarterback Kirk Cousins is entering year two of a three-year deal – and their ages, Scoggins opined that 2019 "feels like a pivotal season in many regards."
The team's veteran core reached the brink of the Super Bowl two years ago. They've experienced a lot together. Their bond was captured perfectly when the typically stoic [Harrison] Smith fought back tears at a news conference this spring when asked about Anthony Barr's decision to turn down a more lucrative free-agent contract from the New York Jets to stay here.
Everyone in the NFL feels pressure to perform, so to suggest the Vikings feel added pressure is being overly dramatic. Urgency is probably a more accurate description, knowing prime years of individual careers and a window to accomplish something special together aren't without end.
Scoggins highlighted the coaching changes Minnesota made on offense, including promoting Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator and hiring longtime coach Gary Kubiak as the Vikings new assistant head coach/offensive advisor.
He quoted Cousins, who said this spring that "the next level is all about winning" and pointed out the Vikings performance in past seasons when they weren't as highly touted by the national media.
Zimmer's team has responded favorably to disappointing seasons, resurging when expectations have waned a bit. That almost assuredly will be a popular narrative again as camp opens.
The Vikings rank fourth among all teams with 40 regular-season wins in the past four seasons, trailing the Patriots (50), Chiefs (45) and Steelers (43).
Waynes, Melvin Gordon partner on dodgeball tourney with special guest Bo Jackson
Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and Chargers running back Melvin Gordon go way back.
The natives of Kenosha, Wisconsin, are longtime friends who have remained close throughout their respective NFL journeys.
Most recently, Waynes and Gordon **joined forces to host a charity dodgeball tournament** back in their hometown. According to Mike Johnson of the Kenosha News, Waynes had a prior commitment that didn't allow him to attend the event, but he assisted in the planning and execution of the day, along with his parents and Gordon's parents.
In addition to Waynes and Gordon, another special guest drew plenty of fan attention at the tournament: former NFL Pro Bowler and MLB All-Star Bo Jackson.
Anyone old enough to remember the iconic "Bo Knows" commercials for Nike can recall the mythology surrounding what a terrific all-around athlete Jackson was in his heyday.
"Melvin and his mother (Carmen) support my philanthropic ventures," Jackson said. "It's just only right to be reciprocal to give back."
The dodgeball tournament took place at Indian Trail High School, and approximately 300 young people and adults participated. A "sizeable throng of spectators" purchased tickets to the unique event.
Gordon signed autographs after the tournament, and fans also received autographed photos sent ahead of time by Waynes.
According to Johnson, all proceeds were donated to the Mahone Physical Education Activity Fund and the Indian Trail track-and-field team.
Cousins has one season under his belt with Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, and the results weren't too shabby.
Thielen racked up 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns on 113 catches in 2019, earning his second career Pro Bowl nod.
According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, over his five seasons on the Vikings active roster, Thielen has the league's **third-highest “catchable target percentage”** (PFF has labeled all passes with an intended receiver as either catchable or uncatchable).
PFF's Connor Price recently delved into the top 10 active WR-QB tandems in catchable target percentage. He wrote the following of Thielen and Cousins heading into 2019:
Cousins has been under the gun as NFL media has been criticizing the Vikings quarterback for his not-so-consistent play, but PFF data suggests that there may be more than meets the eye. PFF data ALSO suggests that Cousins should continue to target Thielen, as the pair possesses the third-highest catchable target percentage in the PFF era (83.2%).
The only duos ranked higher than Cousins and Thielen were Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Michael Thomas (84.6 percent) and Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp (84.9 percent).
Behind Cousins and Thielen were Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen (79.5), Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Mohamed Sanu (79.5), Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Juju Smith-Schuster (79.5), Goff and Brandin Cooks (79.1), Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd (79.0), Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Julian Edelman (78.4) and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett (78.1).
The Vikings will host Ryan and Sanu in Minnesota's season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 8.
It's no surprise to see Sanu on this list considering how often opposing secondaries focus their efforts on Julio Jones. Throughout Sanu's tenure with Matty Ice, he's seen 263 catchable balls, which he has converted into 13 touchdowns, 2,194 yards and a 111.0 passer rating when targeted on these passes.