The Minnesota Vikings will enter the postseason as the NFC’s No. 2 or 3 seed depending on the outcome of their game this Sunday at the Chicago Bears and the fate of the Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers.
In all likelihood, the Vikings will retain the three-seed and host the New York Giants on Wildcard Weekend. This outcome has a 95% probability per oddsmakers.
The Vikings Reunion You May Not Have Expected
And regardless of the matchup, the Vikings are likely to experience a roster reunion that many didn’t see coming about two months ago. Tight end Irv Smith was designated for return to the Vikings last week, and the team’s coaching staff expects Smith to play a role in the postseason.
Smith was injured against the Cardinals on October 30th, suffering a high ankle sprain at U.S. Bank Stadium. He was placed on Injured Reserve, hasn’t been seen since on a regular season field, and the Vikings front office pulled the trigger on a splashy trade for T.J. Hockenson. And Hockenson effectively took Smith’s TE1 job.
Now, at least for the upcoming playoff tournament, the Vikings will have the best of both worlds, able to utilize Hockenson and Smith as much as they please. Minnesota’s offensive coordinator Wes Phillips told reporters Thursday about Smith’s return, “I certainly expect Irv to be a part of this playoff run and another piece for us.”
What specifically Smith will do in Kevin O’Connell’s offense is unclear, as Hockenson has usurped the TE job beyond the shadow of a doubt. With Smith out, the Vikings implemented TE2 Johnny Mundt here and there, but Mundt was not a significant part of the offense.
Smith is more talented than Mundt — by a mile — so Minnesota has the fancy option to style the offense around two gifted tight ends. Hockenson is a prototypical Pro Bowl tight end, while Smith doubles as a tight end in a wide receiver’s body.
There’s also the matter of targets. Hockenson has been unbelievably productive since joining the Vikings, so merely throwing the ball to Smith “just because” doesn’t seem wise. Vikings fans likely don’t want a target-share or split of the TE1 job between Hockenson and Smith — like Smith and former Viking Kyle Rudolph pulled off in 2019 and 2020.
If used aptly, though, pairing Hockenson and Smith should create nightmares for opposing defenses. Both men are playmakers and standalone TE1s. We shall see what O’Connell chooses to do with Smith.
The Vikings travel south for a date with the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the final regular season game of 2022. Smith is not expected to play, but O’Connell insists many starters will see action.
To date in his career, Smith has played 36 games (starting 14) and grabbed 88 receptions for 9 touchdowns and 844 receiving yards. He averages 23.4 receiving yards per game. Smith is also a free agent in two months, and this playoff push could be his swan song with the Vikings.
Smith will turn 25 in August.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).