The Vikings defense features six starters who have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl, so it’s no surprise the unit is among the top defenses in the league.
Entering Week 9, Minnesota ranks third in points allowed per game (16.5) and is fifth in yards allowed per game at 313.9.
But perhaps the defense’s best player so far in 2019 is one who isn’t among the half-dozen who has been to a Pro Bowl.
That could soon change for linebacker Eric Kendricks, who is playing the best football of his career and was recently named to Pro Football Focus’ 2019 Midseason NFL All-Pro Team.
Mike Renner of PFF wrote that Kendricks, a 2015 second-round pick, has elevated his play through eight games so far in 2019.
Kendricks has been the best linebacker in the NFL through the first eight weeks of the season. His 23 run stops lead the NFL while his 10 forced incompletions are four more than any other linebacker in the league. That’s a pretty good run/pass combo.
Through eight games, Kendricks has a team-high 82 total tackles (according to coaches’ stats). He also has 10 passes defensed, a pair of tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
A pair of Kendricks’ teammates were listed as honorable mentions for PFF’s Midseason All-Pro Team.
Defensive end Danielle Hunter was an honorable mention as an edge rusher. The 2015 third-round pick has a team-high 8.0 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He forced a fumble last week to set up Minnesota’s first score.
Safety Anthony Harris was also an honorable mention at his position. Harris, a former undrafted free agent, has a team-high three interceptions. He also has 37 total tackles (according to coaches’ stats), along with six passes defensed.
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Graff, Hasan predict Vikings to win NFC North
We’ve reached the halfway point of the 2019 season, with the Vikings sitting at 6-2 following four consecutive wins.
Minnesota is in second place in the division, trailing only the 7-1 Packers. Detroit is 3-3-1, while Chicago is 3-4.
While there is still plenty of football to be played — Minnesota and Green Bay each have eight games remaining, while Detroit and Chicago have nine games left — Chad Graff and Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently revealed their second-half predictions for the NFC North.
Graff and Hasan are both in agreement that although Minnesota trails the Packers by a game in the win column, and have already lost at Green Bay, the Vikings will eventually end up on top in the division.
I think the Vikings win the NFC North, in part because I think the inconsistencies of the Packers units are bigger concerns than the inconsistencies of the Vikings sides. I expect the Vikings defense to get better if anything, but I’m not sure what to do with the seemingly random directions the Packers offense and defense take from play to play. That said, it will all probably come down to Week 16 and the race will be close enough to force the division to wait until then to be declared.
Graff said he also envisions a division title, but noted the Vikings won’t get a first-round bye.
I’ll admit, I’ve bought in on this being a very good Vikings team, one that I think will finish with 11 wins. In my eyes, I agree — the NFC North comes down to a Week 16 Monday Night Football game against the Packers. And playing at home, I’ll take the Vikings in that one. I’ll say both Green Bay and Minnesota finish with 11 wins, but the Vikings take the tiebreaker and, thus, the division title. Both reach the playoffs, but no bye for the Vikings thanks to the Saints and 49ers.
Note: If the teams finish with identical records, the first tiebreaker would be record in NFC North games. Green Bay is 3-0 in the division, and Minnesota is 1-2.
The Vikings have won a pair of NFC North titles (2015, 2017) since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer arrived in Minnesota in 2014. Green Bay also has two division crowns in that span, while the Bears won the division in 2018.