Will the 2021 Minnesota Vikings make the playoffs?
By: Grant Schwieger
The 2021 Minnesota Vikings season is a true make-or-break season. All signs have indicated that Minnesota is going all-in once again. Another lackluster campaign could prove to be the last straw for any of GM Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and Kirk Cousins, or all three. A week ago, I predicted the Vikings would go into their bye with a record of 4-2. (predicting-the-vikings-record-weeks-1-6) How Minnesota performs after the bye will be imperative in the direction the franchise goes after 2021. Let’s take a look at each game one by one.
Week 8: Dallas Cowboys. Prediction: L
The Vikings continue their tough slate of home games when they host the Cowboys after the bye week. This will be a much different Dallas team than the one that Andy Dalton led to victory at US Bank Stadium last year now that Dak Prescott is back. This game has all the potential for an offensive shootout, with offensive playmakers all over the field for both teams. While Minnesota may have the better defense, Prescott is the better QB in this game and will pull it out at the end for the Cowboys.
Week 9: @ Baltimore Ravens. Prediction: L
While the Ravens have suffered injury after injury lately, they remain a class above the Vikings. Baltimore will deploy an offense unlike any other Minnesota will see unless Trey Lance is starting in Week 12. Zimmer is a defensive mastermind but slowing down Lamar Jackson is not something many teams can do. To pair Jackson with the seemingly always-solid Ravens defense, this is going to be a hard team for Minnesota to beat on the road. It would be a surprise if the Vikings could keep it close, but if they can, the recent loss of CB Marcus Peters for Baltimore might be detrimental for them.
Week 10: @ Los Angeles Chargers. Prediction: W
Week 10 brings another matchup that will be flush with storylines. Vikings and Chargers fans went back and forth all offseason over who should have won the 2020 Rookie of the Year between Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson and which wide receiver is better between Jefferson and Keenan Allen. For what it’s worth, Jefferson slotted higher than both of them on the NFL’s Top 100 players list. The last time Minnesota visited the Chargers, the stadium had more purple in it than blue, so this should make for a fun battle for both teams. Los Angeles has what looks to be a much-improved offensive line over what they’ve had in years past. It would not be a surprise if this game came down to who has the ball last as these teams look to be somewhat evenly matched. Minnesota gets back on the winning track in this scenario, though.
Week 11: Green Bay Packers. Prediction: W
Minnesota has to wait until Week 11 to face off with their division rival in 2021. Now that Aaron Rodgers has bought into playing in Green Bay for what appears to be his last season there, the Packers are a much more formidable opponent. Mike Zimmer almost always brings his best when it comes to facing the reigning MVP, and the Vikings have the advantage of playing at home in this one. Similar to the game against the Chargers, this one has all the potential to come down to the wire. If Patrick Peterson is playing like his old self and can help keep Davante Adams in check, that could prove to be the difference for Minnesota.
Week 12: @ San Francisco 49ers. Prediction: L
The Vikings head into San Francisco for the first time since Stefon Diggs’ last game as a Viking in the 2019-2020 playoffs sitting at 6-4. The 49ers got hit hard by injuries in 2020 but their 2021 roster looks to be a very competitive one. San Francisco is set up so well that they might not even have to play the 2021 3rd overall pick, Trey Lance, at QB and still compete for a playoff spot. I would like the Vikings’ chances better if they were at home in this one but going to the west coast for the second time in three weeks might hit Minnesota in this one. Kyle Shanahan’s offense will be able to put Minnesota away in this one and Nick Bosa will terrorize the Vikings’ tackles.
Week 13: @ Detroit Lions. Prediction: W
The 2021 Detroit Lions could be playing some inspired football by Week 13, or they could already have their eyes set on the 2022 QB class. Until Dan Campbell’s squad can prove it, however, any game against the Lions should be a Minnesota victory. A loss to Detroit here would put a fork in Minnesota’s season and put them at 6-6. That alone should inspire the purple and gold to come out in this one and take care of business. The Vikings start an important month of December with a win to put them at 7-5.
Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers. Prediction: W
Minnesota has a short turnaround here with a Thursday Night Football matchup at home against Pittsburgh. The Steelers have been in a downward spiral since starting 11-0 last year, ending with an embarrassing playoff loss at the hands of the Browns. Big Ben is back at QB for one last go, but by Week 14 it wouldn’t be a surprise if his arm is shot. The Steelers still boast a very impressive defense led by TJ Watt and his new record-breaking contract. Their offensive line, however, is a big weakness entering the season. This could be a defensive battle on national television, and Kirk Cousins will pull out a rare victory under the bright lights.
Week 15: @ Chicago Bears. Prediction: L
The Vikings get a long break going from a game on Thursday to one on Monday night of the next week. It marks the second straight season Minnesota plays in Chicago on Monday Night Football. It is hard to imagine a world where Justin Fields is not starting at QB by this point for the Bears, and it would probably serve the Vikings better if they played Chicago earlier in the season. Alas, they do not, and Fields might have this Bears offense humming by this point. Even with a victory at Soldier Field last season, it just seems unwise to predict a Vikings win in Chicago with the whole country watching for the second straight week.
Week 16: Los Angeles Rams. Prediction: L
Minnesota finds itself back at home with a tough matchup once again. There are a lot of people high on the Rams this season after swapping out Jared Goff for Matt Stafford at QB this offseason. Stafford has rarely found success against Mike Zimmer’s defenses, but he is set with one of the best teams around him he has had in his career. Los Angeles’ depth took a hit this offseason as they continued their approach of prioritizing proven players over draft picks. That might not matter in this game, however, as Aaron Donald is good enough to single-handedly ruin the Vikings’ offensive gameplan. A loss here drops Minnesota to 8-7 with two weeks to play.
Week 17: @ Green Bay Packers. Prediction: L
A January contest at Lambeau Field just oozes of a Vikings loss. This game is currently scheduled for Sunday Night Football, which would be Minnesota’s third nationally televised game in four weeks. Pair all of that with the fact that in this scenario, Aaron Rodgers lost to the Vikings in Week 11, and this could be a Green Bay blowout. The Packers will not forget about Minnesota winning at Lambeau in 2020 and this game will be a revenge game of sorts for them. With all sorts of playoff-seeding implications in this one, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings fall to a record of 8-8, which the national media will certainly run with.
Week 18: Chicago Bears. Prediction: W
A tie in this game would do wonders for the “Kirk Cousins is a career .500 QB” narrative, but sadly that is unlikely. A 9-8 record might just be enough to sneak into the playoffs in the NFC, so Minnesota should still have plenty to play for here. Chicago does not have a good enough roster to beat Minnesota twice in one season, and the Vikings should be able to end the 2021 regular season on a high note. The Bears’ offensive line might be worse than Minnesota’s this year, and Danielle Hunter and company should feast. This puts the Vikings in a possible “wait and see” position to see if the chips fall in their favor when it comes to making the postseason. Regardless of if they make the playoffs, will a 9-8 season be enough for Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer, and/or Kirk Cousins to remain in Minnesota in 2022? It could make for some incredibly difficult decisions and a franchise-defining offseason.