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The Vikings have the first chance to prove they are not ‘paper tigers’


Do we believe in the Minnesota Vikings?

They are off to a 5-1 start and are one of four NFL teams with one loss or less heading into Sunday’s home game against the Cardinals (3-4). Still, it looks like one of the quietest 5-1 starts in memory for an NFL team.

That’s because the Vikings have a habit of teasing, especially with quarterback Kirk Cousins. His stats often scream “Pro Bowl,” but when the biggest games come later in the season and in the playoffs, Cousins ​​and the Vikings all too often fall short.

Another factor contributing to the “paper tiger” aura around the Vikings is that they have only played one game against a team currently with a winning record – a 24-7 loss to the Eagles, who happen to be the only remaining undefeated team in the League.

The Vikings’ last four wins have been decided by an average of 5.5 points, and three have required comebacks after fourth-quarter deficits. And, their distance differential with their minus-270 opponents ranks 25th in the league.

So the Vikings were hardly dominant, and they weren’t pretty. But to be fair to Minnesota, winning is all that matters, and they can only play teams on their schedule.

Although the Cardinals have a record below .500, they present a challenge for the Vikings, thanks to elusive quarterback Kyler Murray. Arizona started last season with a 7-0 record, but has gone 7-11 since.

The Vikings have the first chance to prove they are not ‘paper tigers’
Kirk Cousins
Getty Images

The Cardinals are coming off a 42-34 win over the Saints last week, in which their offense looked rejuvenated by the return of star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who completed a six-game suspension for using a banned substance. Hopkins immediately gave Murray and the Cardinals a boost in their highest-scoring game in four years under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Hopkins finished with 10 catches for 103 yards and drew three penalties on New Orleans defensive backs. Since Hopkins was acquired in 2021, the Cardinals are 9-2 when he plays and 5-9 without him.

On the other side of the field, the Vikings have one of the best receivers in the league, Justin Jefferson, who has 46 receptions for 654 yards and two touchdowns this season. Jefferson, in his career, is averaging 94.1 receiving yards per game.

The Vikings are 10th in the NFL in yards per game, but only 20th in yards per passing game — a sign that teams are doing everything they can to keep Jefferson from beating them.

Much of the Vikings’ success has come from new-school head coach Kevin O’Connell, who is very analytical and makes his team excel at the little situational things. He calls it “winning at the margins”.

“I think it comes down to those margins and how can we be good on certain plays and situations that maybe don’t always get talked about on Monday mornings,” O’Connell told reporters. “But they are winning games and winning philosophies for us currently as we continue to move forward. [But] those margins are getting even smaller, and we’re going to have to be a lot better.

One thing O’Connell has discussed with his team is the value of dominating the minutes before halftime. The Vikings lead the NFL with 59 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter. They, too, played well late in the game and rank 5th in the NFL with an average of 8.5 points per fourth quarter.

The Vikings are tied for the second-highest turnover margin in the NFL (plus four) and are tied for the seventh-lowest turnover (six), half of which came in the loss against the Eagles. They’re tied for fifth in takeout (10), and five of those takeouts came in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota is also tied with the Rams for the fewest NFL penalties (28).

So the Vikings excel at the little things, which can turn into bigger things, like a first playoff spot in four years.

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