The Vikings enter the season with 22 new players on the roster compared to last year. That includes potential difference makers Harrison Phillips, Za’Darius Smith, and Jordan Hicks in the front seven of the defense and the upgrade at right guard.
In addition, the organization changed the front office and most of the coaching staff — a lot of new in Minnesota but not the foes in the division. The Green Bay Packers are coming off three years of winning 13 games and, subsequently, the NFC North. They rarely faced any competition outside of the Vikings in 2019. The purple team was in contention until losing against the Packers in Week 16 ended all hopes to win the division.
A lot of old is surrounding the Packers. The offense will rely heavily on the shoulders of back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers. He lost his top receiver Davante Adams and didn’t get a true number one WR as a replacement. The defense, however, will be a great unit, powered by an elite secondary and Kenny Clark in the defensive line.
Other rivals in the division are not expected to challenge the purple and the green even if the Lions are seen as a potential sleeper to make some noise. They are another season of adding talent to the roster away. The Chicago Bears entered a complete rebuild and are not expected to be a competitive team in 2022. General manager Ryan Poles needs a few more years to build the roster he wants.
Some analysts in league circles pick the Vikings to win the division, but the majority still like the Packers. CBS Sports content creators, however, unanimously pick the Packers to win four in a row.
Overall, nine people — podcast hosts, staff writers, and analysts — chose their favorites to win the eight divisions. The only other unanimous pick is the Buffalo Bills to win the AFC East.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone for picking the Vikings, but the demise of Aaron Rodgers after the departure of Davante Adams is greatly exaggerated,” Will Brinson said. “Is there a true No. 1 wideout on the roster? Probably not. But Aaron Jones can soak up targets out of the backfield while being split out. The defense and run game will surprise with their stoutness.”
He’s not wrong. The Packers have two excellent running backs. A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones are two true number-one backs. It’s certainly possible that the Packers will run more. They have already relied heavily on their screen game in the past few years. In addition to that, an Aaron Rodgers-led offense will always be efficient. He doesn’t throw interceptions and is the best at calculating risks.
“As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, it should be Green Bay’s division to win,” Josh Edwards said. “Minnesota could make a playoff push, but asking new head coach Kevin O’Connell to contend for the North in his first season is a tall task.”
First-time head coaches usually struggle. They make mistakes in terms of game management and can get overwhelmed with the number of tasks they have. However, most first-time head coaches don’t have the talent of the Vikings. Adding veteran coaches like defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and assistant head coach and former head coach Mike Pettine will help him to get acclimated to his new job.
“I like the Vikings and believe that they’ll be a much better offense under new head coach Kevin O’Connell, but I’m not betting against Aaron Rodgers,” Tyler Sullivan said.
An improving Vikings offense is a real possibility. The Vikings lacked consistency in recent years, and the playcalling certainly played a role. If Kevin O’Connell is as good as advertised, the sky is the limit for the offense. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has the talent to lead an explosive offense and the talent around him. Wideout Justin Jefferson is a superstar, just like running back Dalvin Cook. Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, and the newly acquired Jalen Reagor will complement Jefferson in the passing game. Tight end Irv Smith could also have a breakout year.
Even if the CBS Sports crew doesn’t believe in the Vikings, the franchise has a lot of pieces together for an exciting season. Also, one of the three wild card spots can give the Vikings a ticket for the playoffs.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt