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Lunchbreak: Vikings are Middle of the Pack in Final Power Rankings

The Vikings 8-7-1 record in 2018 was a hair better than .500, which was reflected in the year-end power rankings.

Experts slotted the Vikings near the middle of the pack among the 32 NFL teams.

Both ESPN and had the Vikings in the 14th spot in the final tally of 2018.

Courtney Cronin of ESPN wrote that the Vikings New Year's resolution would be to "string it all together."

The Vikings played very little complementary football during an embarrassing finish to the season. One week might have featured a pivotal game for the offense, while the next belonged to the defense, but the Vikings were unable to put all three phases together when it mattered most down the stretch. That has been a theme ever since Mike Zimmer arrived in 2014. Minnesota has struggled to find consistency. Although it appears Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman are staying put, they will more than ever need to be on the same page to make up for a disappointing season.

Elliot Harrison of said he believes Zimmer will get things turned around in Minnesota.

Say this for Kirk Cousins: He's consistent. The Vikings' $50 billion man kept up his miserable record against teams with winning records in the loss to Chicago, dropping to 8-27 in his career against opponents who ended the year at .500 or better, while Minnesota saw its playoff hopes crumble in a heap. Late drops didn't help. Neither did arguing. Cousins wasn't on his game. Mike Zimmer's defense couldn't mitigate a slew of three-and-outs to begin the day. The let's-not-overwork-Dalvin-Cook experiment apparently still has full funding, as the explosive RB received a scant 11 carries in a game his team had to have. It boggles the mind. Guessing Zimmer rights the Vikings' ship this offseason, making sure his OC — whoever that ends up being — manages to employ his RB1 more effectively. Might start with O-line help, but then again, I never was a sailor.

Lindsay Jones of The Athletic had the Vikings ranked 15th in the final power rankings.

She wrote:

So let's say the Bears decided to bench their starters in the second half, would the Vikings actually have been able to beat the backups and squeak into the playoffs? Maybe it's better we don't know the answer, because over the last month of the season Minnesota didn't look like a team that deserved to make the playoffs or one that would have had a realistic chance to win a game had they gotten in. What a disappointment from a team that started this year with real Super Bowl aspirations.

The 2018 season was the first time the Vikings had gone 8-7-1 in franchise history.

Alexander shows growth in 2018

The Vikings defense finished fourth overall with 309.7 yards allowed per game, and were even better against the pass as they ranked third at 196.3 yards allowed per game.

The play of third-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander was a key reason for the strong stats for Minnesota.

Matthew Coller of recently looked at Alexander's third season as one of major growth, and said the former Clemson standout could be a part of the Vikings defense for years to come.

Coller wrote:

Through the first six weeks of the season, it appeared the Vikings may have made a mistake in trusting Alexander with the nickel corner position. He allowed 21 receptions on 24 targets to start the year, but saw a remarkable turnaround in the last seven weeks. The 2016 second-round pick gave up just 12 catches on 25 targets and had five pass breakups in the final three weeks. In six of the seven games, he gave up 10 total yards or less and received a PFF grade over 70 in all but one game.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer indicated that he had seen growth from Alexander, saying:

"He's done a lot better lately," Zimmer said Thursday. "Probably the second half of the season. I think that's why we've gotten better defensively is that position has gotten much more solidified. He's done a good job in the running game, he's had a couple nice pressures and he's covered pretty well. Earlier in the year he was kind of like Xavier [Rhodes] getting penalties, but he's gotten away from that. That's helped a lot."

We can't often trust small samples and half-seasons, but Alexander appears to be following the same growth pattern as his fellow high draft pick corners by making a significant jump in Year 3. He appears to be a long-term answer at nickel corner.

Alexander also had a career-high 4.0 sacks in 2018, which set a team record among Vikings defensive backs in one season.