Recently, The Vikings Gazette reached out to Purple Pain Forums to see if they’d be interested in doing a round table. Thankfully, Funkytown (a.k.a. Forum Funky) and Danchat (a.k.a. D-Sizzle) have agreed to share their wisdom with us. We’ve all answered the five questions. I’ve included mine to start; readers looking for the real insight can promptly skip over mine and get right into Funky’s and D-Sizzle’s answers. Enjoy!
1) Where do things stand in the NFC North?
Norm: Unless there is a minor miracle, the Green Bay Packers will be winning the NFC North. The Lions, predictably, are a disaster. Chicago, who was always mediocre, finally has the record to corroborate what has long been evident. Our beloved Vikings, sitting at a lackluster 4-6, are a longshot for the playoffs. The division is nearly impossible, so we’re aiming for that final Wild Card spot.
Forum Funky: The Packers are king until we prove otherwise. It pains me greatly to say that, but it’s true. As long as they have Rodgers, they’ll be tough to beat. Hey, when is that Love kid going to take over? Hopefully soon! This year the Packers will take the division without much competition, but I don’t believe that’ll be the case next season. With the full-hopefully-non-COVID-impacted offseason, getting some of our key guys back, and another strong draft, I think we’ll be in the conversation to not only take the NFCN, but hopefully much more. As far as the Bears and Lions? I don’t have a clue. I can barely figure this team out, so I’m not even going to attempt to answer all those questions!
D-Sizzle: As things stand now, it’s looking like just one team will be representing the NFC North in the playoffs, and unless the wheels fall off for Green Bay, it’s going to be them. The Bears aren’t out of it since they play the Packers twice (Week 12 & Week 17), but Chicago is in the midst of complete meltdown. The Bears’ offense looks like the worst in the league, and it’s anybody’s guess who’s going to play at QB with the injuries. I think the Bears will finish very poorly, and will be left wondering if GM/HC combo should be canned.
As for 3rd & 4th place, I don’t see a playoff run for either the Vikings nor Lions. Both teams would need to go on a tear, which doesn’t seem impossible with the Vikings’ soft schedule, but the Lions have to play the Packers, Bucs, Titans, and Bucs in a row. Good luck. The issue is that catching the Packers will be incredibly difficult – in addition to their 3 division games left (2 CHI, 1 DET), they play the Eagles, Titans, and Panthers. The way Rodgers is playing, he’d have to get hurt for them not to win the division.
As for the Lions, they’ve having another trademark mediocre season. They’ve went 4-6 on a rather soft schedule, but their defense under head coach Matt Patricia is still terrible (28th in points allowed). Their Patriots-copycat system simply hasn’t worked under GM Bob Quinn, and they should clean house.
2) What’s your main reason for Vikings optimism?
Norm: Justin Jefferson seems too obvious, though he has been sensational. I’ll roll with Irv Smith Jr. The Vikings are going to need to do some serious salary cap work during the offseason. It’s entirely possible that Kyle Rudolph and/or Adam Thielen will need to restructure, be cut, or get traded. Smith, who is still only 22 years old, deserves more opportunity in this offense. If one or more of the star players end up leaving, Smith is capable of more production. He has so much potential.
Forum Funky: The young guys and Mike Zimmer. I know, I know–it’s not a popular take, but I think Zimmer has a good locker room and the guys have bought in. After that 1-5 start, when rumors were circling about him losing the locker room and all of usual narratives, the guys kept working. That says a lot about the leadership on this team; that includes Zimmer, his coaching staff, and the veteran players. I wish we won against Dallas, because it makes answering this question a bit easier, but I do think we can be optimistic moving forward if we continue to see growth with the young guys as well as overall fight. Not sure how everyone feels about PFF, but I just read the other day that the Vikings have five position groups ranked in the top 7 and two ranked #1. We have the talent; we just have to get some of our guys back and keep fighting. Getting these young guys all of this experience this year is going to be huge as we move forward. We’re only as good as our depth! And for all of the heat Zimmer takes, we’ve seen that he still has it; and some of his best-coached games were recent ones against the Saints, Seahawks (still don’t want to talk about it), and Bears. From what I can tell, as painful as the defense has been to watch at times this year, most experts and analytics guys are impressed by Zimmer and what he’s doing, so, I’ll go with that. Zimmer is my guy and will always be my guy, so that is that. Lastly, Justin-Freaking-Jefferson is a reason for optimism! I fell in love with Randy Moss and the Vikings back in ’98, and after the foolish trade, I promised I’d never love a WR like that again… Well, Jefferson is making it hard for me! Maybe I’m ready to love again?! Maybe.
D-Sizzle: I should state that I don’t view myself as an optimist nor a pessimist, but it has been difficult to find optimism in a season that has been very tumultuous. The main reason for optimism has to be the development of our young players. Offensively, Jefferson looks like an A+ prospect, Irv Smith looks promising when given a chance, and Ezra Cleveland has at least looked the part of a guy who should eventually be an anchor on the O-line. On defense, Wonnum has flashed as a part-time pass rusher, Eric Wilson has emerged as a playmaker, and the CBs have shown a bit of promise. There was concern that the core was aging, and with the 2016-2018 draft classes failing to bolster the team as much as originally hoped, I can see a future window opening. Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce will return in 2021 for just a combined $22M cap hit, and I can envision the defense returning to being an above average unit in 2021-22.
3) What’s your main reason for Vikings pessimism?
Norm: The Special Teams. We wrote about it earlier this week. On the season, the Vikings have a meager 13 punt return yards. 13 punt return yards for the entire year, people. Our opponent, in contrast, is averaging 11.1 yards per punt return. This is a massive, massive issue. It’s disheartening to see the special teams struggle so much given how much of a priority it has been for Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman.
Forum Funky: This constant feeling of Purple Pain? Because Vikings?
No, I think it’s just the frustration in regards to the question marks surrounding Cousins (and Zimmer) being good enough when it matters most, being consistent, and avoiding the letdowns. I hate losing; I hate losing with a fiery passion. More so than that, I hate losing the close games, especially when I feel like we should have won. Hate that. I also hate the games we get totally embarrassed in! As a Vikings fan, I find it pretty easy to come back down to level-headedness and brush things off – after yelling at my TV for a while, of course – but these disappointing losses to the Colts, Bills, Falcons, etc. need to stop. We have to be better than that, and until we prove we can compete consistently regardless of the situation, it’s hard to be optimistic about the ultimate goal. I get a lot of crap about being a “blind homer”. But nah, the Vikings have hurt me enough. I know better than to get ahead of myself. Yes, I’m optimistic, but I do understand the pessimism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “…these effing Vikings.” I regularly question if the Football Gods hate us. They must, right?
Purple Pain, baby. Embrace it!
D-Sizzle: Where do I even start? This team should be better than they’ve played. Watching this team go 4-6 and drop some truly embarrassing bombshells is one thing, but this wasn’t a rebuild. This team was built to win now, as Spielman made moves to retain veterans like Barr, Rudolph, Cousins, acquire Ngakoue, just to follow up with disappointment. The offense looks superb at times, but it’s become clear that the Vikings’ best way to win games is to hand Cook the ball an obscene number of times and treat Cousins like he’s Christian Ponder. When Cook is not on the field, the offense is unable to move the ball. The defense, while having a few bright spots the past month, has mostly been a disaster. They were able to have good outings vs some dysfunctional offenses like the Bears, Lions, and Texans, but they can’t cover anybody and can’t rush the passer. Almost every D-lineman is having a poor season, and there is no 3 tech DT on this roster. Eric Kendricks is single-handedly making sure our run defense isn’t terrible. The corners can’t come close to defend passes, and Anthony Harris is no longer playing like a ballhawk.
And on the management side of things, I find it hard to have faith in Spielman at this point. Extending Cousins to give him ridiculously massive cap hits in 2021 and 2022 is an inexcusable offense. It’s hard to see the Vikings have a Super Bowl window open in 2021 or 2022 with massive chunks of payroll being doled out to a QB that needs absolutely everything around him to be perfect. 2020 would have been the perfect year to hit the rebuild button and try again – the one move that went that direction, trading Diggs for 4 draft picks, is looking like a fantastic move on Rick’s part – but it seems we’re stuck in a loop where we have a good enough roster to not net a high draft pick, but have enough limitations that we can’t make a serious playoff run.
4) When you look into your crystal ball, how do things go for the next month?
Norm: Not as disastrous as some fans may expect. The Vikings will likely get their record to a more respectable number. Getting to 500 seems like a legit possibility. Of course, this record will mean very little if they aren’t able leapfrog a few teams as they try to hop into the postseason. If we were betting, we’d take the Vikings over both the Panthers and Jaguars. After that, the Vikings will need some tremendous games from the coaches to help bridge the gap between their team and their opponents.
Forum Funky: Pain? Lots of pain. In sum: It’ll be an emotional rollercoaster with a lot of anger from Vikings fans. So, the usual? In fairness, the Vikings have taken us for quite the little ride this season! Can’t ever win easy; rarely even lose easy. What’s up with that? My heart can only take so much! For me, I’m just looking for growth and how the team sticks together. Since the doozy against the Falcons, that’s what I’ve been focused on. Yes, I want to win games along the way – and I hate when we don’t – but come on… 2021, I’m ready for you!
D-Sizzle: As for the Vikings’ next 4 games:
Vs Panthers – Loss
Vs Jaguars – Win
At Bucs – Loss
Vs Bears – Win
It’s hard to pick wins and losses since this team has proven they can lose to anyone, but also beat the Packers on the road. I see the Vikings finishing 8-8, which is ironically what I predicted at the beginning of the year, but I certainly did not see all of these highs and lows coming.
5) On a scale from 1-10, what is the overall feeling in Viking Land? 1 means fans are starting to consider cheering for the Lions (AP and Griff!) whereas a 10 means we are starting to get the cement ready for a Zim statue out front of U.S. Bank Stadium
Norm: 4. Most of us aren’t ready to move to Detroit, but the Vikings shouldn’t push their luck.
Forum Funky: Oh geez, don’t even joke about that. People are going to get offended by any sort of Zimmer love. Can’t have any of that! Anyway, from what I can tell, it’s probably about a 4. The divisional winning streak helped quiet the negative crowd for a while, but they’re back. It’s the usual doubt with Spielman, Zimmer, Cousins, and even the Wilfs. It’s rough out there, man. We need to get some more wins! I’m about maxed out on losses!
D-Sizzle: It’s hard to resist the mood swings! Things seemed to be headed in the right direction with the 3 game winning streak, but the loss to an awful Dallas team is crushing. I’ll give it a 3. I can’t get very excited over this team’s chances to finish the 2020 season, but they’re also not primed to draft very high. As one who enjoys the NFL Draft a little too much, you may not like how much emphasis I put on it. The way I see it, this team needs to hit on high draft picks if they’re going to open a window to win a Super Bowl.