Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Minnesota Vikings, Week 1

The Vikings tightroped their way to 13 wins and a division title in 2022 and had one of the league's most productive offenses but are looking to reverse a defensive slide under new coordinator Brian Flores


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. We start with Tampa Bay's Week One foe on the road, a Minnesota Vikings team that won 13 games last season, but not exactly in typical fashion.

2022 Results

The Vikings won the NFC North for the first time since 2017 and earned the third seed in the conference playoff field with a 13-4 record. They did so, incredibly, despite an overall scoring differential in the regular season of -3. They also gave up 453 more yards than they gained and finished second-to-last in that defensive category. What made that gaudy record possible with those midline stats was a remarkable 11-0 record in one-score games, which was an all-time NFL record.

Minnesota certainly deserves credit for its ability to come up with the big play when needed, including a stunning one-handed fourth-down catch by Justin Jefferson to make an upset of Buffalo possible and a 61-yard field goal by Greg Joseph that beat the Giants. The Vikings also pulled off the largest comeback in NFL history, rallying from a 33-0 halftime deficit against Indianapolis to win 39-36 in overtime, as Kirk Cousins threw for 460 yards and four touchdowns.

Those who were skeptical of the Vikings' record got some vindication in the playoffs when the Giants came to Minnesota and pulled out a 31-24 victory in the Wild Card round, thanks to Saquon Barkley's two touchdown runs and Daniel Jones' efficient mix of 301 passing yards and 78 rushing yards.

While the Vikings struggled on defense, they continued to field one of the most productive offenses in the league, ranking seventh in net yards (361.5 per game) and eighth in points scored (24.9 per game). Cousins directed the NFL's sixth-best passing attack and threw for over 4,500 yards, with a 29-14 TD-INT ratio. His top target, of course, was Jefferson, who led the league in targets (184), receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809), but four different players caught at least 60 passes. That included tight end T.J. Hockenson, who only arrived in a Week Nine trade with the Lions but still racked up 60 catches and made the Pro Bowl. Running back Dalvin Cook completed the Pro Bowl trifecta with Jefferson and Hockenson after rushing for 1,173 yards and, notably, playing in every regular season game for the first time in his career.

2023 Arrivals

The Vikings had the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense and made some moves to shore up the secondary by signing former Cardinal Byron Murphy in free agency and drafting a pair of versatile defensive backs in third-rounder Mekhi Blackmon and fourth-rounder Jay Ward. Minnesota also has a new defensive coordinator under Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, replacing Ed Donatell with former Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores.

On the front line of the defense, Minnesota poached interior lineman Dean Lowry from the Packers and signed edge rusher Marcus Davenport away from the Saints. The primary addition to the offense in free agency was tight end Josh Oliver, who had 14 catches and two touchdowns for the Ravens last season and is a strong blocker who will help in bigger personnel packages. However the Vikings did use their first draft pick, number 23 overall, on USC wide receiver Jordan Addison, who is likely to quickly become the main running mate for Jefferson.

2023 Departures

Standout defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson cashed in in free agency, getting a lucrative four-year deal from the Browns. Cornerback Patrick Peterson also departed after two seasons in Minnesota, joining the Steelers, and linebacker Eric Kendricks, a cornerstone of the Vikings' defense for eight years, moved on to the Chargers.

On offense, what would qualify for most of the offseason as the main change was the absence of wide receiver Adam Thielen, who landed in Carolina after being released for cap purposes in March. Thielen, who scored 24 touchdowns over the 2020-21 seasons combined, hauled in 70 passes for 716 yards and six scores last year. However, the Vikings jettisoned arguably an even more important piece to their offense on June 9, releasing running back Dalvin Cook. Cook recorded his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season in 2022, scored 10 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl for a fourth time.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Cousins has missed just one game over five seasons since he originally signed with the Vikings in 2018, but he is heading into the last year of his current deal. The Vikings restructured that deal in March, adding two more automatically voiding years (2026 and 2027) to the two that were already there. That gave Minnesota about $16 million of cap relief for this year but did increase the potential dead-cap hit in 2024, if no new deal is reached before then, to $28.5 million. The Vikings did draft a quarterback in April but not until the fifth round, where they nabbed BYU's Jaren Hall. Nick Mullens was re-signed to remain Cousins' backup.

Two weeks after the draft, the Vikings traded outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith to the Browns for fifth-round picks in the 2024 and 2025 drafts. Cleveland also 2025 sixth and seventh-round picks back in the deal. Smith only spent one season in Minneapolis but did produce 10 sacks and 24 quarterback hits, making the Pro Bowl for the third time in the last four years.

Pressing Questions

Can Brian Flores reverse the Vikings' defensive slide?

Not long ago, the Vikings were a defensive juggernaut. They finished in the top four for three consecutive seasons (2016-18), culminating in a the number-one ranking in 2017, the last time they had won the NFC North before 2022. Over the last four years, however, that unit has crumbling, falling farther down the rankings every season, 27th in 2020, 30th in 2021 and 31st last year.

Swapping in Flores for Donatell as the defensive play-caller will, at the very least, put Viking defenders into a much more aggressive mode. Donatell called blitzes infrequently while Flores oversaw one of the most aggressive blitzing defenses in the league in Miami. The Dolphins were right around a 40% blitz rate in his last two years at the helm, which is more than double what Donatell's Vikings did last year.

The Vikings are likely to play a lot more man coverage and utilize the type of pre-snap disguises for which Flores is known. That could help Minnesota rise back up the takeaway chart; the 2020 Dolphins led the NFL with 29 forced turnovers. Flores was also the defensive play-caller for the 2018 Patriots, who had 28 takeaways and finished another title run by holding the Rams to three points in Super Bowl LIII.

Flores also prizes versatility, particularly in the secondary, and that influence is evident in the team's moves to restock the secondary. Murphy saw a lot of action in the slot for the Cardinals in previous seasons but was mostly used outside in 2022. USC's Blackmon also has inside-outside versatility, while LSU's Ward could end up at either safety or cornerback.

What's the long-term plan at quarterback?

The Vikings were widely rumored to be considering a quarterback in the first round of April's draft but chose to pass on Will Levis and Hendon Hooker after the top three quarterbacks came off the board very quickly. As noted, they did take a development passer with good running skills in the fifth round in Hall but he's certainly no guarantee to turn into a starting-caliber NFL quarterback.

After the draft, second-year General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said that "every option is open" at quarterback moving forward, and presumably one of those would be to work out a third multi-year contract with Cousins. Again, Cousins has been quite productive during his stint in Minnesota, averaging about 4,200 yards and 30 touchdown passes per season. Critics, of course, point to the lack of success in the spotlight, which includes just one playoff win for the Vikings during his tenure, and that one took a Minneapolis Miracle at the buzzer.

The Vikings' eventual decision could be based on how well the 2023 season goes. If it goes well for Cousins in his second season under Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell and Minnesota is back in the playoffs, it may be hard for the team to move on from Cousins, who has stated he wants to stay. If Cousins struggles, particularly after throwing a career-high 14 interceptions last year, the Vikings may look to free agency for a fresh start. And if goes very badly, they could be high enough in the draft to land USC's Caleb Williams or North Carolina's Drake Maye.

Latest Headlines