Photo Credit: Vikings Wire-USA Today
The Minnesota Vikings are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL at 5-0 after a total of six teams started the 2015 season out 5-0. In league dominated by parity, the Vikings themselves have dominated to open up this 2016 season, and they have done it without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings have gone on this dominant 5-0 run on the backs of their ferocious defense, which leads the NFL by allowing an average of only 12.6 in points per game, and ranks 2nd in the NFL behind only the Seattle Seahawks in by allowing an average of just 287.6 yards per game, a total that is only 4.0 more yards per game on average than Seattle. They are tied for the NFL lead in average takeaways per game with the Kansas City Chiefs, averaging 2.4 per game, and they lead the NFL in average turnover margin per game with a +2.2 margin. The second best average turnover margin per game is only +1.2 a margin, which belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles, making Minnesota’s nearly twice as good as 2nd place.
Overall, the Vikings’ defense is without question the best defensive unit in the league this season. Not only that, but you could put them in the argument as having the greatest defense of all time. There are many arguments, and sometimes even jokes, nowadays about who the greatest of all time, or GOAT, at this is and who the GOAT at that is, but how many of those arguments actually take into account those two key words: all time?
This one most certainly does. The Vikings’ have not only been able to start 5-0 without their two top offensive players from a season ago, but they have done so in dominating fashion, and much of that can be attributed to the play of their defense. Despite having the most dominant defense in the NFL right now, no defensive player on the Vikings ranks among the top 14 in tackles, sacks, or interceptions. This speaks to the well-roundedness of the Vikings’ defense that head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards have assembled since joining the Vikings’ organization in 2014, and it is even scary to think about how good or how much better even the Vikings’ defense would be if one or even two guys took the next step and became some of the NFL’s best at their defensive positions.
The Vikings are not only winning in dominant fashion; they are doing so against quality teams, particularly quality quarterbacks. They have held opposing quarterbacks to just four combined touchdown passes through five games this season while tallying a total of seven interceptions, and they have not done that by simply feasting on backup quarterbacks on subpar teams. In fact, only one team that the Vikings have faced so far this season is currently about .500, and that is the 1-5 Carolina Panthers team that is the defending NFC champion. The Vikings’ defense held 2-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers to one touchdown pass and one interception, defending NFL MVP Cam Newton of the Panthers to no touchdown passes and three interceptions, and 2-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning of the New York Giants to no touchdown passes and an interception. Having faced these three star quarterbacks in back to back to back weeks, the performance of the Vikings’ defense against each of them looks even more impressive.
NFL.com’s list of the top 5 defenses of all time is one I must agree with. The 1985 Chicago Bears are #1, followed by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the 2015 Denver Broncos, the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, and the 1986 New York Giants, respectively. Some of the NFL’s legends like Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor played for those legendary teams, and those players are huge reasons as to why those defenses were so dominant in their respective eras.
One thing that these teams above all have in common is the fact that they won the Super Bowl in the season that their defense was so dominant. We have all heard the saying that “defense wins championships,” and that is clearly true given the fact that the greatest five defenses of all time went on to win the Super Bowl. Does that mean that this year’s Vikings have to win the Super Bowl to be considered among the greatest defenses of all time? Can a defense that consists of defensive ends Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, defensive tackles Shamar Stephen and Linval Joseph, linebackers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Chad Greenway, cornerbacks Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes, and safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo, many of whom were no-name players just a year or so ago, REALLY become the NFL’s greatest defensive unit of all time?
Despite one of the most defensively dominant five-game stints to start off an NFL season in NFL history, the Vikings’ defense cannot be compared to the greatest defenses of all time yet for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that five games is a really small sample size, and basing their performance in five games and comparing it to what historically good teams have done over the course of a season would be unfair. Another reason is the fact that this Vikings’ defense has not yet won the Super Bowl, so we have no proof of how well they will be able to perform when it matters the most.
What I will say is that if the dominance of this defense keeps up at this pace throughout the rest of the season, then the 2016 Minnesota Vikings’ defense will be ranked among the greatest of all time even without a Super Bowl ring. A Super Bowl ring, which would be the first in Minnesota Vikings franchise history, would solidify this defense as the undisputed #1 defense of all time if they are indeed able to keep up this incredible pace that they have set so far through the first five games of this season as well. Given how they have looked so far, I would not rule them out of becoming the greatest defensive unit in the history of the National Football League.