Souhan: Are Vikings great? Not yet. Does it matter? Not yet

Souhan: Are Vikings great? Not yet. Does it matter? Not yet

The knot on Dalvin Cook's right cheekbone was the size of a golf ball, but it had ambition. Only the application of ice was going to stop it from becoming a tennis ball, or something in the shape of a bulbous fruit.

The bruise was red and leaking, making it a metaphor for the Arizona Cardinals, whom the Vikings defeated 34-26 on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The bruise was also the unsightly memento of an ugly victory, making it a metaphor for this Vikings season.

The Vikings are riding a five-game winning streak. They are 6-1. They have the second-best record in the conference. They hold a formidable lead in their division, in which they are 3-0.

If they keep playing this way, the primary question to be answered in a couple of months will be whether they should rest their starters at Lambeau and Soldier Fields in Weeks 17 and 18.

If they don't play any better, they could evoke memories of 2003 and 2016, when talented Vikings teams raised expectations early only to miss the playoffs.

"We could be a great football team," Za'Darius Smith said.

Does this feel like a great football team? "Yes," he said. "Because as a group, and as a whole, we are treated like family."

Which could be true, or a non-sequitur, or both.

Are the Vikings as good as their record indicates, or is this a result of lousy competition, luck, timing, and the NFL's ability to engineer close games and randomized results?

The Vikings are 5-0 against teams with losing records and 1-1 against teams with winning records.

They are 0-1 against good teams with a healthy starting quarterback, having lost to the Eagles and Jalen Hurts. They are 1-0 against teams with winning records who started a third-stringer against them — Miami and Skylar Thompson.

The Vikings' victim on Sunday was Arizona, a team that plays as if coached by an absent-minded anarchist.

The turning point in the game might have been the Cardinals fumbling a punt, or talented quarterback Kyler Murray throwing an interception to Harrison Smith, or Murray throwing an interception to Cam Bynum, or Murray fumbling a snap.

The Vikings' victory margin during their winning streak: four, three, seven, eight, eight.

In 2021, the Vikings were 3-5 after eight games. Their losing margins: three, one, seven, four, three.

Cousins said he's asked himself what the difference is, deciding that it's a game of centimeters, or a non-metric measure.

"How are we suddenly finding these inches?" Cousins said. "It's hard to pull away in this league, I'm learning."

Inching ahead has, eight weeks into the season, placed the Vikings in an enviable position.

Their roster might lack depth, and we might never know. They have suffered one — just one — significant injury this season, and it was to first-round draft pick Lewis Cine, who might not have started or played well had he been healthy.

Their mid-game offensive stumbles haven't mattered, because they have been excellent early and late.

Their secondary has held up because their two veteran stars, Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith, have produced like they are in their prime.

The offensive line has had bad moments — on Sunday, center Garrett Bradbury earned a taunting penalty and rookie guard Ed Ingram spent too much time on his tailbone — but has generally been good in the running game and good enough in the passing game.

Receiver Adam Thielen's theme during this winning streak has been, "It's great to be able to go back and look at the film and correct your mistakes after you win."

To a man, they rave about the atmosphere in their building under coach Kevin O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. They love the way they are treated and coached, and the tension of the Zimmer-Spielman years has dissipated like a puff of steam escaping a sauna.

This week, the Vikings will be gifted a matchup with the Washington Dysfunctionals.

The contrast between the franchises couldn't be greater. Expect a six-point game.