Knowing he was entering a pivotal year, Mike Zimmer wanted to ensure everything was taken care of this preseason. He has been outspoken about vaccinations and the offense’s ability (or lack thereof) to move the football, but alas, there are many aspects that he can’t control.
Ultimately, Zimmer’s tenure with the Vikings feels reminiscent of playing penny slots at the Vegas airport. With each pull, Zimmer believes that he’ll hit the jackpot, and the Vikings will be a Super Bowl contender. However, the machine doesn’t pay out more often than not, and Zimmer digs into his wallet to put another $100 into the machine.
Seriously, someone get this man a cigarette.
During the 2017 season, Zimmer was as close as he could be to a jackpot. The Vikings experienced surprisingly good quarterback play from Case Keenum, and the running game was ranked second in the NFL. With a defense that missed just six man-games due to injury, the Vikings encountered more luck when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and Carson Wentz tore his ACL.
Zimmer had lined up five cherries in this analogy and was hoping for a sixth, but his team had too many underlying weaknesses and was throttled in the NFC Championship game.
The Vikings have been chasing that jackpot ever since, dumping money into the quarterback position and relying on their development. It’s resulted in a team that’s been a consistent contender but has never been able to come close to the big payoff.
Looking at the Vikings’ current roster, there are several slots that need to fall their way. The first is the quarterback position, where Kirk Cousins needs to repeat his performance from a season ago.
Although Cousins tossed 10 interceptions in the first six games, he rebounded for a 24-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the final 10 games. If Zimmer could bottle that up and label it as “Kirk’s Secret Stuff,” he would — especially if it were disguised as the COVID-19 vaccine.
While Cousins has taken the fall for the Vikings’ vaccination woes, it’s been a team-wide issue that could sink the season. Harrison Smith and Adam Thielen have publicly stated they have not been vaccinated, while Dalvin Tomlinson and Dalvin Cook have been spotted on the sidelines wearing masks, which is part of the protocol for unvaccinated players.
Despite your views on the issue, unvaccinated players can create a world of uncertainty for a head coach. Observe what happened in Foxboro, where Mac Jones may have taken the starting quarterback job from Cam Newton after “a misunderstanding” over the protocols. One “misunderstanding” on game day and the Vikings’ wins could turn into a loss.
The Vikings also placed a bet on their offensive line. By letting Riley Reiff go, they hoped that Christian Darrisaw could seamlessly enter the starting lineup and become their cornerstone left tackle. Wyatt Davis was also deemed an impact rookie who could finally answer the question, “Can he play guard?”
But three weeks before the start of the season, it appears that neither will be on the field. Darrisaw continues to recover from a second groin surgery while Davis hasn’t ascended the depth chart as the Vikings had hoped. That leaves them Vto rely on Rashod Hill and Oli Udoh, who became a guard at the beginning of training camp.
The Vikings also gambled that they could run into some better injury luck. Starters like Anthony Barr and Justin Jefferson have become indispensable because the second-stringers have struggled this preseason. Yet both have been forced to the sidelines with ailments, and Barr’s status for Week 1 appears to be in jeopardy.
Then there’s the slew of veterans signed to fix the defense. While Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson have drawn rave reviews in training camp, uncertainty surrounds other veterans like Patrick Peterson and Sheldon Richardson.
Then there’s the fact that the Vikings have to beat the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and whatever other breakout team comes their way. Put it all together, and Zimmer is more likely to be broke and smoking like a chimney than celebrating a Super Bowl victory.
Perhaps the Vikings dodge all the variables and put together another miracle run like they did four years ago. But with so many factors in play, the odds are already stacked against this team.