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NFC North Preview: Can the Vikings challenge the Bears?

With some help from our sister SB Nation sites that cover the other NFC North teams, we’re going to preview the Bears division rivals. Next up is the Minnesota Vikings with an assists from The Daily Norseman.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago the Minnesota Vikings were NFC North champs at 13-3 and they played in the NFC Championship game, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Before the 2018 season started they were favored to repeat as division champs behind their fantastic defense and their brand new $84 million quarterback, Kirk Cousins, and they were thought to be a legit Super Bowl contender.

That never materialized as they played inconsistent football all year long.

The Vikes regressed down to an 8-7-1 record in 2018 and they blew a shot at the playoffs when they lost a week 17 game to the Chicago Bears in Minnesota. It was a game that the Bears had nothing to play for, but the Vikings looked like a team that was ready to go home.

I still think they have one of the most talented rosters top to bottom in the NFL, but 2019 is going to be all about if Cousins can live up to that hefty contract. He’s always been able to put up numbers, but when the lights come on and the games really matter, Cousins can’t get it done.

Check out the record of Cousins’ two teams in certain situations from the Daily Norseman.

Kirk Cousins Career Stats:

Record in Primetime Games: 6-13

Record on Monday & Thursday Night: 1-12

Record vs. Winning Teams: 5-25

Record vs. Winning Teams in 2018: 1-6

Career Road Record: 13-23-2

Post-season Record: 0-1

2018 Record: 8-7-1, 2nd place in the NFC North

2018 Overall DVOA: 9th

2018 Offense: 18th DVOA, 20th total yards, 19th points scored

2018 Defense: 4th DVOA, 4th total yards, 9th points against

2018 Special Teams: 19th DVOA

For more on Football Outsider’s DVOA you can click here.

2018 record against the Bears: 0-2

In their first meeting the Bears won on Sunday Night Football, 25 to 20. This was the game where Mitchell Trubiksy was injured on an illegal hit from safety Harrison Smith. He still managed to throw two TDs however, and rush for 43 yards. Cody Parkey went 3 for 3 on field goals and Eddie Jackson had a pick 6.

In that week 17 game the Bears bullied the Vikings all day to a 24 to 10 win. Jordan Howard had two TDs on 109 yards rushing and the defense sacked Cousins 4 times.

Let’s check in on what The Daily Norseman has to say about the 2019 Vikings.

Notable free agent additions: G Josh Kline, QB Sean Mannion, DT Shamar Stephen, OL Coach Rick Dennison, offensive “consultant” Gary Kubiak

Over/under: 9 wins -- I’m going to go ahead and play the “over” on this one, largely because this team has too much talent to be as bad as they were in 2018. Mike Zimmer is going to have his team ready to go, and a new offensive scheme that Kirk Cousins is comfortable with will propel this team to 10 wins and a chance at a third NFC North title in five years.

Rookie I’m most excited about: It might seem kind of strange to put an offensive lineman in this spot, but center Garrett Bradbury has a lot of expectations to live up to. The Vikings’ offensive line has been a disaster the past couple of seasons, and with Rick Dennison and Gary Kubiak bringing a new blocking scheme with them this season, Bradbury appears to be a perfect fit. He’s already getting solid reviews based on how he’s holding up against big Linval Joseph in practice, which is a promising early sign. If Bradbury can step in and be an immediate, solid contributor, it’s going to go a long way towards fixing the offensive line woes.

Biggest offseason storyline: The same question that it’s been for the past few seasons: Have the Vikings done enough to fix the offensive line? Riley Reiff will continue to be the left tackle, and Brian O’Neill showed plenty of promise in his rookie year. Pat Elflein will make the move from center to guard to make room for Bradbury, and Josh Kline will probably have to hold off a challenge from another rookie, fourth-round pick Dru Samia. The Vikings needed a big infusion of talent on the offensive line, and camp is going to give us an opportunity to see if it’s been enough.

Cousins was sacked 40 times in 2018, so getting the o-line right is a must for them. Figuring out how to have more success running the ball has to be in the cards as well, because ending up as the 30th ranked rushing attack isn’t going to cut in again.

The Vikes need to scale back what they ask of Cousins and commit themselves to running the ball a bit more. With Gary Kubiak advising the offense now, I would expect the offense to do just that. They’ll have some play action shots to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, who may be the best receiving duo in the NFL, but more balance to the offense is a good thing.

With their defense they’ll be in most games, and if the offense comes around this team could be back in the playoffs in 2019.