National Football League
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings can win the NFC North. Here's how
National Football League

Yes, the Minnesota Vikings can win the NFC North. Here's how

Updated May. 30, 2023 5:28 p.m. ET

The Minnesota Vikings did it before. They can do it again.

While Minnesota's 13-4 record didn't ultimately end up mattering in a one-and-done postseason appearance, the Vikings have figured out ways to win, ultimately claiming the NFC North last season for the first time since 2017.

Are you as good as your record shows? Who's to say? But the silver lining of a season in which you play in (and win) 11 one-score games is the ability to overcome adversity with continued belief in your team, which is an intangible necessity for success. 

That ability is one they can carry over into this year and the Vikings' "competitive rebuild," as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah put it.


"We're all aligned on what our vision is and how we see the needs of our team this year, next year and overall our whole time horizon," Adofo-Mensah said at the end of March. "I think when people look at teams they sometimes do it in a very binary way. And they ask, 'Are you either all-in or tearing down and rebuilding?' And I don't really look at the world that way. The way we look at it is we're trying to navigate both worlds, we're trying to live in today and tomorrow, or the competitive rebuild, however you want to phrase it or market it, and so I think that's kind of how we've approached this offseason and our time horizons going forward."

In order to strike the balance of rebuilding but still being competitive, the Vikings need to lean on their offensive continuity. Yes, wide receiver Adam Thielen is gone. Running back Dalvin Cook might or might not be far behind him. But they still have the league's Offensive Player of the Year in wide receiver Justin Jefferson — and he doesn't need much help to keep the offense humming.

Justin Jefferson wins the "NFL on FOX" Non-QB Offensive Player of the Year

Consider that Jefferson finished first in the league in targets (184), receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809) while splitting targets with a Minnesota mainstay in Thielen.

As great of a story as Thielen's career is, and as important as he is to the Vikings franchise, he had just 70 receptions on 107 targets and 716 receiving yards last season. It's nothing to snuff at, but it was just enough to let Jefferson be Jefferson.

With Thielen gone, rookie Jordan Addison contends with the expectations of stepping into Thielen's role.

There's precedent for that, too. Last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year, Garrett Wilson, who was the second receiver taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, finished with 83 catches on 147 targets for 1,103 yards. Addison doesn't have to live up to those numbers to be effective for the Vikings. Not even close.

The fourth wide receiver taken in last year's draft was Jameson Williams by the Detroit Lions. Between his ACL injury suffered in the national championship and the latest suspension due to violating the NFL's gambling policy, that hasn't worked out quite yet for Detroit.

[Why the Detroit Lions can win the NFC North]

For a better comparison, Chris Olave was taken third among wide receivers. The caveat with this comp is that Olave was responsible for way more of the target share than Addison will be, but Olave caught 72 of 119 targets and finished with 1,042 yards.

The point is that receivers drafted in similar positions to Addison have been asked to do a lot more than Addison will be in order to make their teams successful. With Addison only being asked to complement the NFL's best receiver in order to keep the Vikings' offense running, the likelihood that ends up being the case is very good. 

And while the Vikings want to maintain the status quo on offense, they need improvement on defense. That's where new defensive coordinator Brian Flores comes in. 

The Vikings' pass rush last year was anemic, tallying just 38 total sacks, in the league's bottom third.

Fortunately for Minnesota (or perhaps by design) Flores has overseen one of the league's biggest pass-rush overhauls when he was head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Known for a creative, fluid and aggressive scheme, Flores' Dolphins finished last in sacks in his first year but by the time he left Miami two years later, his unit had shot their way into the top five. In 2021, the Dolphins recorded 48.0 sacks — and they did it without having a single player hit double digits in Flores' three-year tenure.

Patrick Peterson reflects on Justin Jefferson's growth as an elite WR

That's because Flores' fronts change and evolve. They confuse opponents with the variety of players that could be coming on a blitz. There's a delicate balance between having a ton of checks or options and not overwhelming players from the jump. His scheme also incorporates exotic personnel groupings in the defensive backfield in an ever-rotating cast of characters to keep offenses on their heels. 

If the Vikings' personnel can grasp his system quickly, they could be in for a Dolphins-esque turnaround as soon as this year.

"I think they understand my nature as far as wanting to be aggressive but not reckless," Flores said while meeting with the media last week. 

So, while the Vikings had close calls last season and were perhaps not as good as their division-champion crown would suggest, they also have continuity to lean on, belief to fall back on and a vastly improved defense that could keep them out of trouble while the offense continues to score.

In a division as wide-open as the NFC North, that could very well be enough.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
National Football League
Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more