Vikings Fans’ expectations remain cautiously optimistic

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After a lackluster 2-2 start that had many fans bewildered and frustrated with the quarterback play of Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have rebounded strongly and positioned themselves to control their own playoff destiny with the home stretch of the regular season on the horizon.

Despite the massive improvement in Kirk Cousins’ performance since his early struggles and a potential playoff berth on the horizon, it remains that Vikings fans have good reason to be cautious in hoping for any sort of postseason success.”

With games against division rivals Packers and Bears in weeks 16 and 17 respectively, and the NFC playoff picture to be decided, let alone the NFC North.  Yet, despite the massive improvement in Kirk Cousins’ performance since his early struggles and a potential playoff berth on the horizon, it remains that Vikings fans have good reason to be cautious in hoping for any sort of postseason success.

Loyal Vikings fans are still recovering from getting demolished in the 2018 NFC championship game, not to mention numerous other heartbreaks in recent memory that still sting (and likely will for some time).  Yet, the nature of Minnesota sports fans is that of being eternally hopeful and cautiously optimistic, and the expectations for this Vikings team remain high, whether fair or not.

With the team’s core on both sides of the ball all locked into long-term deals, the Vikings have a window of opportunity to win that was set when Kirk Cousins signed his $84 million deal to lead the Vikings through 2021.  Coming off an electrifying 13-3 season that was capped off with the Minneapolis Miracle and the aforementioned subsequent shellacking in the NFC championship game, the signing of Kirk Cousins represented the Vikings putting all their chips in the middle in their pursuit of a Super Bowl.

Many fans and football pundits assumed that by bringing back essentially the same team from the previous year’s playoff run and upgrading at quarterback from Case Keenum to Kirk that the Vikings would be a force to be reckoned with for the three years that followed.  This proved to be more difficult than advertised, and in Kirk’s first season the team missed the playoffs, leaving fans to agonize over what appeared to be a disastrous free agency decision and terrible contract that would at best allow the Vikings to carve out a place in the NFL’s purgatory of consistently mediocre teams that scavenge 9-7 records but lack the cap space or draft capital to improve the team.

As a result, Vikings fans were forced to taper their expectations coming into the 2019-2020 season, especially following Mitch Trubisky’s breakout season that propelled the division rival Chicago Bears to a 13-3 record (and heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs). However, Trubisky showed his true colors in the 2019 regular season, and the Vikings silenced early critics by notching a signature win over the Cowboys and coming back from a 20-0 halftime deficit against the Broncos.

There have certainly been bumps in the road, such as the week 4 loss to the Chase Daniel-led Bears, that served to raise questions about the legitimacy of the team’s contention hopes, but relative to last season the team is in a solid position that has fueled a certain degree of hope among fans. But while Kirk’s play has undoubtedly been the catalyst for such hope, it’s been the team’s defense that has uncharacteristically underperformed to a level well below any other Mike Zimmer-coached defense has before.

Part of this can be attributed to the abysmal season that former pro-bowler Xavier Rhodes is having, as he was finally benched in Week 14 following an embarrassingly bad game against the Seahawks where he allowed 4 completions on 4 targets for over 100 yards and a touchdown in a one-score loss. But the Vikings investment in its defense through both free agency and the draft leaves no excuse for its poor track record in 2019.

If Zimmer can get the defense back on track, the Vikings have a legitimate shot at contending in the NFC playoffs. If he doesn’t, this team will in all likelihood end up breaking the hearts of Vikings fans like they’ve become accustomed to. The Vikings have a lot to prove and are still vying to lock themselves into a playoff spot, but anything short of a deep playoff run would be an utter disappointment for a fan base still chasing its first Super Bowl.