The 2021 NFL season kicks off Thursday, which means it's time for the return of Power Rankings.
The Vikings open their season at noon (CT) Sunday in Cincinnati. Minnesota is 5-2 in season openers under Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, including a 2-1 mark in road games.
Here's a look at where the Vikings rank heading into the 2021 season:
No. 17: Dan Hanzus – NFL.com
The Vikings are confident their defense will vastly improve with better health and upgraded personnel under Mike Zimmer, but is it too much to expect Minnesota's offense to repeat its top-10 finish of a year ago? The loss of tight end Irv Smith, Jr., is significant, the offensive line is inexperienced in key spots and first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak will face a challenge filling his dad's shoes. Minnesota needs its core four on offense — Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen — to stay healthy and produce at a Pro Bowl level. The Vikings are built like a Jenga tower on offense.
No. 17: Frank Schwab – Yahoo! Sports
The Vikings improved what was Mike Zimmer's worst defense last season. Cincinnati in Week 1 is a great test to see if it's much better.
No. 16: Pete Prisco – CBS Sports
The defense, which is usually the calling card for Mike Zimmer-coached teams, will be back to playing at a high level after a bad 2020. Couple that with a good offense, and the Vikings should be back in the postseason.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bengals.
No. 22: NFL Staff – Bleacher Report
On one hand, the Minnesota Vikings are more or less the same team that won 10 games and made the postseason in 2019.
Kirk Cousins isn't a superstar quarterback, but he's a capable veteran. Whether it's wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen and running back Dalvin Cook or edge-rusher Danielle Hunter and linebacker Eric Kendricks, Minnesota has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
But the Vikings are also essentially the same team that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs last year. They don't have a huge margin for error, and Cousins has had his share of struggles in big games.
The schedule at least cuts the Vikings a break this year. Beginning with a trip to Cincinnati in Week 1, four of Minnesota's first six games come against teams that failed to make the postseason in 2020.
No. 20: The MMQB – Sports Illustrated
The Vikings have alternated seasons in and out of the playoffs since Mike Zimmer got there, and the pattern says this year they'd be in. But our poll has them out, which is how it often goes after a down season.
No. 21: Vinnie Iyer – Sporting News
The Vikings are confident they will go back a more effective Mike Zimmer-style defense in 2021, but there are still some notable holes. The run-heavy offense is status quo with Dalvin Cook setting up Kirk Cousins for more efficient passing to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. They are likely to underachieve based on schedule and losing games they shouldn't.
No. 15: Nate Davis – USA TODAY Sports
Given the reinforcements to a defense that embarrassed coach Mike Zimmer last year, Minnesota should rebound to postseason form ... assuming Kirk Cousins, who was unvaccinated as of the start of training camp, doesn't became the latest QB shelved by close COVID-19 contacts.
No. 18: Mike Florio – Pro Football Talk
The defense is a lot better (it couldn't be much worse), the offense is suddenly a question mark. The return of fans to home games will be an exclamation point.
No. 20: Danny Kelly – The Ringer
Getting Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr back from injuries should give the Vikings a nice boost on defense, as will the bevy of free agent additions and a recent reunion with pass-rusher Everson Griffen. But that group still needs to make a massive jump after finishing last year ranked 26th in weighted DVOA. Offensively, Minnesota boasts a trio of star skill players in Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, and Dalvin Cook, but it's hard to trust Kirk Cousins to take that group over the top this year.