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Lunchbreak: Evaluating Chances for Vikings, Other Playoff Teams to Go Farther Next Year

Only two teams remain in the NFL playoffs, as Kansas City and San Francisco will represent their respective conferences in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

The 49ers captured the NFC Championship on Sunday night with a win over the Packers, meaning there are no NFC North teams remaining.

But with some time to kill before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, Sean Wagner-McGough of CBS Sports recently ranked the 10 eliminated playoff teams based on their chances of winning Super Bowl LV in 2021.

Wagner-McGough slotted the Vikings at No. 6 on his list, and placed Minnesota as the highest-ranked team from the NFC North.

He wrote:

There's bound to be some outrage with the Vikings ranked above the Packers considering the Packers swept the season series and made it one round further than the Vikings, but the Vikings finished the season with a far better point differential (plus-104 compared to plus-63), more expected wins (10.7 compared to 9.7), and a better ranking in DVOA (seventh compared to 10th), all of which are typically good predictors of future success.

Kirk Cousins actually outperformed Aaron Rodgers over the course of the season by posting career-highs (not counting the first three seasons of his career, when he hadn't yet emerged as a full-time starter) in touchdown percentage (5.9), yards per attempt (8.1) and passer rating (107.4). He ranked seventh in DYAR, 10th in DVOA and 13th in total QBR. Perhaps most importantly, even though the season ended with a stinker in San Francisco (something he has in common with Rodgers), Cousins actually managed to get the monkey off his back by leading the Vikings to some big wins in big games — most notably, an upset of the Saints in the first round of the playoffs.

A 3-4 record in one-score games (including the playoffs) hurt the Vikings as much as the Packers success in one-score games [8-1] helped them, but as previously mentioned, that is something that tends to fluctuate on a year-to-year basis. The Packers can't expect to get as lucky. The Vikings shouldn't expect to be as unlucky.

Minnesota finished 10-6 and in second place in the NFC North in 2019 as the Vikings were a Wild Card team. Green Bay went 13-3 (including a perfect 6-0 division record) as the Packers won the NFC North and earned a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.

Both teams' seasons ended on the road against the 49ers.

While Wagner-McGough expects the Vikings to be contenders again in 2020, he also noted they have areas to improve.

That doesn't mean the Vikings don't have flaws. They desperately need to improve their pass protection. But from top to bottom, they have the best team in the NFC North.

The bad news and ultimately the reason why they're stuck on the bottom half of this list? They're dead last in available cap space, making it difficult for them to fix those flaws.

Wagner-McGough's list began with Buffalo as the 2019 playoff team most likely to miss the playoffs next season. The Bills were followed by the Titans, Texans, Packers, Vikings, Seahawks and Eagles.

The Patriots and Saints were next, with the Ravens listed as the most-likely team to return to the postseason after the 2020 season.

Vikings players S Harrison Smith, DE Danielle Hunter, RB Dalvin Cook, FB C.J. Ham, LB Eric Kendricks, DE Everson Griffen and CB Xavier Rhodes were selected for the 2020 Pro Bowl.

An early look at Senior Bowl participants

The festivities for the Reese's Senior Bowl kick off this week, with practices for the North and the South running Tuesday through Thursday in Mobile, Alabama.

The teams will then meet Saturday in the game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, with kickoff at 1:30 p.m. (CT).

Arif Hasan, who covers the Vikings for The Athletic, is on the scene in Mobile and recently picked out a handful of players that could be potential fits in Minnesota.

Hasan listed nine players, including three wide receivers, three offensive linemen and three cornerbacks.

He began with Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, Southern California wide receiver Michael Pittman and Devin Mims from Baylor.

Hasan wrote about Pittman:

Like [Adam] Thielen and [Stefon] Diggs, he's excellent at tracking the ball, making him a great scramble drill asset and a potential deep ball target despite limited speed.

As for the linemen, Hasan mentioned St. John's guard/tackle Ben Bartch, West Virginia tackle Colton McKivitz and Washington guard/center Nick Harris.

Hasan wrote about Harris:

Among interior linemen, there's a good chance that Harris takes the prize for most athletic. Like [Garrett] Bradbury, he's entering the Senior Bowl with a shot to push himself into the first round on the back of his fantastic zone blocking and athletic capability.

Hasan also highlighted Oklahoma State's A.J. Green, Nebraska's Lamar Jackson and Iowa Michael Ojemudia, a trio of cornerbacks.

Of Green, who uses the same initials and last name of a famed Bengals receiver, Hasan wrote:

No, not that A.J. Green — though his physical profile isn't too far off. At 6-foot-1, he's a taller corner but demonstrates a lot more quickness than you'd expect from someone whose calling card is his length.

The 2020 NFL Draft is from April 23-25 in Las Vegas.