Vikings Insider, The GM’s View
With the Vikings rookies reporting to training camp this Sunday and the vets soon to follow, my camp preview will be forthcoming next week with a preview of things to watch during this period leading up to the regular season opener against the Packers.
For this week, I want to follow up my Vikings season prediction from last week (which is 10-7 and a wild card spot) with my NFC North race prediction — plus my thoughts on some recent comments from Justin Jefferson and Jim Marshall as a Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors semifinalist.
The NFC North in 2022: Green Bay won the North by five games over the second-place Vikings last year. I think the race will be closer this season as I see the Vikings improving and the Packers regressing a bit. Losing starting receivers Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling clearly diminishes the offense even with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. If All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari returns from his ACL tear as expected, along with Pro Bowl corner Jaire Alexander (who missed 13 games last season), the Packers certainly will be better in those spots. And the Pack defense will be stout with two first-rounders (Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt) added to a strong nucleus.
I already predicted the Vikings would beat the Pack on opening day and that there’s a decent chance the Vikings will still be in the division race until they go to Lambeau Field on New Year’s Day. I see Green Bay going into that game at 10-5 with Minnesota 9-6 and the Packers clinching the division that day and finishing 12-5.
The Vikings at 10-7 would be division runner-ups in my scenario, and then I’ve got the Lions improving from 3-13-1 to 7-10 (including another season split with Minnesota). Jared Goff is still a question mark at QB, but his supporting cast is improved, especially when speedy first-round receiver Jameson Williams can return from his torn ACL (likely in mid-season). No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson should make an immediate impact at defensive end.
Fiery coach Dan Campbell has the Lions believing after their 3-3 finish last year that included the last-second upset win over the Vikings in Detroit. Their talent is on the upswing, and I think they will surpass Chicago this season.
Like the Vikings, the Bears are breaking in a new coaching staff led by former Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. I thought the Bears should’ve hired an offensive guru as head coach to help expedite QB Justin Fields’ development, but they did bring in Luke Getsy, who was the Packers’ QB Coach and Passing Game Coordinator (and like Kevin O’Connell, this is his first time as an NFL play-caller).
The Bears offensive line and skill players are underwhelming, and that will make it tough for Fields to avoid the turnovers he made last season as he tries to make that big step forward in Year 2.
As I’ve said, the Bears defense has lost two of its top players, with Khalil Mack traded to Las Vegas and Akiem Hicks signing with Tampa Bay. Linebacker Roquan Smith is still a force. I just feel the Bears are in rebuild mode and look like a 6-11 team as they were last season.
As for the Vikings record in the division, I predict a repeat of last season’s 4-2 mark by splitting the two matchups with the Packers and Lions and sweeping the Bears.
J.J. has loads of confidence: I think it’s great when players act and play with great confidence, and Justin Jefferson clearly is in that mode. I also think it’s best when players let their play do the talking, but I’m fine with a player publicly saying they believe they are an elite player as long as they don’t disparage other players.
In a recent interview with Complex, Jefferson was asked where he sees himself among current top receivers, and he didn’t hold back with his response, “I’ll say after this year I’ll be the best receiver in the NFL,” he said. “I definitely have to give it to Davante Adams as of now, but I’m pretty sure after this year, it’s going to be me. I think I have to do it for three years in a row for everybody to believe so.”
Jefferson added that he is “always working on my game” and “with this new offense with Coach O’Connell, all of us are excited about this new playbook and hopefully we have a better season this year.”
Jefferson’s 1,616 receiving yards ranked second to the Rams’ Cooper Kupp last season, and his 3,016 receiving yards are the most in NFL history for a player in his first two seasons. The Vikings would love to see the two-time Pro Bowler have another great year to back up his prediction.
Captain Marshall to the Hall of Fame?: There are 19 former Vikings players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it’s a travesty that Jim Marshall has not yet joined this esteemed group. A member of the Vikings Ring of Honor, Marshall was the defensive captain and a true team leader of the dominant Vikings teams in the 1960s and 1970s. He was an amazing iron man who played defensive end for the Purple People Eaters in 282 consecutive games (58 more than the next closest defensive lineman in NFL history).
He played at a high level throughout his 19 years with the Vikings and had 130.5 sacks, an unofficial number as sacks were not an official NFL stat until 1982. It’s a factor that has hurt his past Hall of Fame candidacy, as he would rank 22nd all-time in the category if all his sacks were considered official, and he also played in an era with much less passing. Plus, he was an all-around defender who played the run well. His 30 career fumble recoveries trail only Rod Woodson.
Marshall was recently named as one of 25 semi-finalists to be considered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Seniors Committee, a list that will be narrowed to 12 on July 27 before being cut to up to three Seniors in August for final consideration, where he would need 80 percent of the vote to get in with this final vote taking place during Super Bowl week next February.
Jim was a great person for me to work with as a young front office guy. He was always involved with community events and was kind, funny, and not egocentric. I’m cheering hard for him to receive this long overdue honor.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl