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NFL Offseason Review: Minnesota Vikings

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| April 24, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Minnesota Vikings Season Review Feature Image|Minnesota Vikings Banner|Minnesota Vikings Banner

Minnesota Vikings Banner

Another NFL season is in the books, as the great big machine that is the billions-of-dollars professional football industry keeps rolling right along.

This season’s Super Bowl saw the New England Patriots claim top honors, with an astonishing come-from-behind victory in the first ever Super Bowl overtime. New England’s dynamic duo of head coach/de facto GM Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady became the winningest coach/QB combination in Super Bowl history, and the team left their mark forever more in the record books.

But for every team that ends up in the history books for pulling off the greatest comeback of all time, unfortunately there is also the other team, that gets dragged into the history books against their will for being the team that allowed the greatest comeback of all time to occur.

The Atlanta Falcons felt that they were on the cusp of greatness, and after an entire half of football that put them up by an incredible 25 points, all of the millions of people watching felt that there was no way they could lose. It had never been done before.

And now, for all time, Falcons fans will have to live with the memory of the incredible comeback that ensued, and dream of their next opportunity to make it back to the big dance.

But while the context of the Atlanta Falcons’ gut-wrenching choke job certainly makes all the rest of the league’s storylines seem much less dire by comparison, the Falcons were not the only team that saw tragedy strike in 2016/17.

For some teams, like the Cleveland Browns, it was a seemingly endless tradition of futility. For other teams, like the Cincinnati Bengals, it was the purgatory of the average. But perhaps worst among these was the Minnesota Vikings, who saw the future of their franchise crumple before their eyes before the season even started.

And while the injury to Teddy Bridgewater may have irrevocably changed the Vikings’ fortunes in 2016/17, that’s not to say that they aren’t still closing in on another era of being legitimate contenders in the NFL. The rest of the league would do well to pay attention to the goings-on in Minnesota, lest they wake up one day and realize that the team they’re playing in the playoffs was just yesterday the laughingstock of the NFL.

In this edition, we head north, to the heart of the Twin Cities, and take on the Minnesota Vikings.

Last Season: In Review

In order to understand just how meaningful was the season that the Vikings had last season, it’s important that we first take a step back and look at the franchise on a broader time scale, in order to more fully grasp the situation of today’s Vikings fans.

The history of the Minnesota Vikings stretches back farther than many NFL franchises, all the way to the era of the AFL-NFL merger. At the same time that some new football franchises were prevented from joining the National Football League, and so struck out on their own and formed the American Football League, the Vikings were one of the few that did manage to secure a place in the NFL, where they have played ever since.

Compared to many of the league’s new expansion franchises, the Vikings have enjoyed a considerable amount of success throughout their history, with one of the highest win percentages in the National Football League. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Vikings have made it to the postseason 26 times, which is the third-most in the entire league.

However, despite all of this success, the team has never won a Super Bowl in its four appearances, which put together makes for a fan base that has perennially high expectations for the team and a real hunger to break through to that next level and win championships.

Luckily, however, the team’s expectations are not quite so high as those teams who not only expect the team to win, but also believe that they currently have the tools to do so.

Because in today’s NFL, everyone knows that an elite quarterback is necessary if a team expects to win a Super Bowl. And Vikings fans know that the last time they had a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback leading the team was when Brett Favre played in Minnesota, at the twilight of his career, which was (not coincidentally) also the last time that the Vikings won a playoff game.

And in keeping with the pattern, before the Vikings won this playoff game in 2004 against Favre’s old team, the Green Bay Packers, the previous playoff victory had come five seasons before, in 2000, with Daunte Culpepper at the helm.

In the current time of transition after extricating themselves from Brett Favre, the Vikings have been in a state of flux. A string of either washed-up or mediocre quarterbacks characterized the three-and-a-half year tenure of head coach Leslie Frazier, including Tarvaris Jackson, Joe Web, Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, and even briefly Josh Freeman.

And then, in 2014, came the arrival of a new era. When head coach Mike Zimmer joined the team after 13 seasons as defensive coordinator of the Cowboys, Falcons, and Bengals, not only did the coaching philosophy of the team dramatically change: They also brought in Teddy Bridgewater.

Drafted with the last pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Vikings traded away their second- and fourth-round picks because they liked their chances to move forward with Bridgewater so much, and when the team’s starters were injured throughout the season the young QB got his chance to show his stuff.

Despite starting in only 12 games, Teddy Bridgewater received several Rookie of the Year honors from various sources, and certainly piqued the interest of the fan base, begging the question of whether or not this would be a quarterback with whom the team could move forward into a bright future.

The following season, in his sophomore campaign, Bridgewater threw for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading the Vikings to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Once again, while he undoubtedly had plenty of room for growth, Bridgewater certainly seemed capable of being the quarterback that the team needed.

It was with this hopeful mindset that the team entered into preseason of 2016/17, waiting with great anticipation to see how far the team would be able to reach in Bridgewater’s third season under center.

Unfortunately, this dream came to a screeching halt when Teddy Bridgewater suffered one of the most horrific knee injuries humanly possible, with the joint dislocated, the anterior cruciate ligament torn, and additional structural damage – and all of this while simply planting to throw a pass, during practice, without any contact to the knee.

Immediately, the practice was canceled, the players – nauseated – immediately knew that their 24-year old leader would be absent for the season, and the fans knew that everything had changed. And indeed, doctors soon confirmed that the injury would take at least 19 months to heal, one of the longest recovery estimates you will ever hear.

But rather than face the dismal prospect of a season without hope, the Vikings front office made a bold statement that they were ready to win a Super Bowl even without Teddy Bridgewater, and that they weren’t willing to wait two seasons for his recovery to take a stab at a postseason run.

Undoubtedly, this position was influenced by the fact that the team was starting off in a brand new stadium after the roof of the Metrodome collapsed in 2010 and it was subsequently closed three years later, leading to the approval and construction of the U. S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings’ front office didn’t want fans to buy tickets for simply the stadium: They wanted a quality team on the field, and a fighting chance to be the first team to play in their home Super Bowl come February of 2018.

To send this message, the team traded a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a condition fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford, in a sense mortgaging the team’s future against their ability to win in the present.

This was the way in which the Minnesota Vikings began their 2016/17 campaign: with the tragedy of Teddy Bridgewater’s injury still fresh in their minds, and a half-hearted hope that Sam Bradford could be enough to accomplish their ultimate goal.

FootballImprobable Undefeated Start

In the Vikings’ first game of the season without Teddy Bridgewater, they were also without his replacement Sam Bradford, who had only been acquired by trade only 8 days before and had an insufficient knowledge of the playbook. In his place, regular backup Sean Hill started for the Vikings.

On the road against the Tennessee Titans, the Vikings had a slow start to the game, giving up 10 points in the first half and scoring 0 points of their own. However, the team surged back in the third quarter, putting up 12 unanswered points on two field goals and a defensive touchdown with a missed extra point. The Vikings would hold onto the lead and win their first game 25–16 despite scoring no offensive touchdowns in the game, with another defensive touchdown coming late in the fourth quarter.

In their second game, just 15 days after being traded, Sam Bradford made his first start against the division rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, the first Vikings home game played at U. S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings’ defense came up big, keeping Aaron Rodgers out of the end zone for nearly forty consecutive minutes of game play and ultimately holding the Packers’ offense to only 14 points.

With a three-point victory, the Vikings had won their first game in the new stadium, but at great cost. Not only did a hit from Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews give new quarterback Sam Bradford a hand injury, but an awkward tackle in the third quarter of the game sent star running back Adrian Peterson out of the game,  where it was ultimately determined that Peterson had suffered a torn meniscus.

While AP would live up to his reputation for having an almost superhuman ability to come back from injury more rapidly than others and would return to the field in mid-December, after tearing his meniscus after only 6 quarters of football, Peterson would only carry the ball only 6 more times throughout the season, before ultimately being placed on injured reserve once more after his return.

Even still, though, the Vikings continued to win, making the injuries to Peterson and Bridgewater fade from memory. Minnesota beat the Carolina Panthers 22–10 in Week 3, another game in which the team was able to generate points through the defense and special teams, and the team also won its subsequent two games, both at home, against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football and the Houston Texans the following week.

All of the sudden, without so much as batting an eye, the Vikings had won the first five games of their season and were one of the last remaining undefeated teams in the league as they headed into their Week 6 bye. While their offense wasn’t as dynamic as it could have been, the prolific production out of the defense and special teams carried some extra weight, and the “win now” philosophy that had brought them Sam Bradford seemed to be playing out exactly as intended.

Of course, in hindsight, knowing that this run was not to last, it’s interesting to note how each of the teams that the Vikings beat in the first five weeks of the season were the very teams that under-performed initially. The Titans, Packers, Panthers, Giants, and Texans were all teams that were either expected to be good or ended up being good, but certainly were not good in the early going.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of the fan base at the time, the Vikings were unstoppable after five games, and all of their hopes were within reach. Little did they know this was about to come crashing down.

FootballAdding Insult to Injuries

Coming off of the bye week, Minnesota played in two consecutive road games in which the team had such an eerily similar performance on offense that it almost felt like déjà vu.

Against two stout defenses – the Philadelphia Eagles and the Chicago Bears – the Vikings put up zero points in the first quarter, managed a field goal in the second quarter, were held scoreless in the third quarter, and scored a passing touchdown in garbage time late in the fourth quarter. The team would lose 21–10 in Week 7, and 20–10 in Week 8.

It’s important to note that after these two games, which had featured such poor play from the offense, something very unexpected happened in the Vikings’ front office, which you don’t very often see in the NFL: The Vikings’ offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, turned in his resignation on November 2nd, and left the team after only six games.

On one level, you might think that this is a pretty obvious situation: The offense stunk, the head coach and offensive coordinator had different ideas about how to make the offense better, and considering the fact that the head coach is the offensive coordinator’s boss, Norv Turner was the one to go.

But when you look deeper, you find that this seemingly open and shut situation also indicated that something was deeply wrong in the fabric of the Minnesota Vikings’ organization.

It would later come out that the primary rift that had developed between head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner centered around the overall philosophy that the team was employing on offense.

While of course the details will never be fully known, and it’s impossible to say for certain, it seems by all accounts that Zimmer wanted to do whatever possible to win now, and Turner was by nature a developer, whose primary interest lies in building up young players slowly but surely, so that even if they make some costly mistakes now, they’ll eventually be in a position to win down the line.

One could certainly point to Turner’s track record in San Diego for one example of when this philosophy seemed to simply fail outright, as it’s entirely possible that the entire prolific career of Philip Rivers will simply passed by without so much as a Super Bowl appearance, but at the same time this philosophy seemed to certainly fit the bill in Turner’s first two seasons in Minnesota, in 2014 and 2015, when he employed his philosophy to slowly and steadily build into young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

In this way, very quietly, the Vikings lost their build-for-the-future offensive coordinator at the same time as they were demonstrating week after week how unable they were to win in the present.

It’s also important to note at this point that not only was the offense changing, but the defense was also sent into a funk. After generating 16 turnovers in the team’s first six games, and turning the ball over only five times during that stretch, the team completely flipped the script, and in the subsequent nine games the team had 11 giveaways to only 6 takeaways.

In part due to this dramatic change in turnover differential, the Vikings’ skid continued, as the team lost their Week 9 game at home against the division rival Detroit Lions, one of the many examples throughout the season of a Lions 4th-quarter comeback. After tying the game with a last second field goal as time expired, the Lions scored a touchdown in overtime to win 22–16.

On the road against the Redskins the following week, despite having a 20-point second quarter that included three offensive touchdowns, the Vikings were held scoreless in the other three quarters, meanwhile the Redskins steadily chipped away and ended up winning the game 26–20.

After winning five straight games, the Lions had subsequently lost four, bringing them to a record of 5–4 with seven games remaining, and struggling to find answers for how they could get the offense back on track.

FootballWhen It Rains, It Pours

Coming back home after their fourth straight loss on the road in Washington, the Vikings faced the struggling Arizona Cardinals and ended up winning the game 30–24.

However, keeping once again with the same pattern that had been established throughout the season, the Vikings put up their 3rd-highest point total of the season, reaching the 30-point threshold for the second time, despite the fact that they simultaneously managed to gain only 217 yards on offense – their second-lowest yardage total on the season.

Sam Bradford ended the win against the Cardinals with only 169 yards on a remarkably efficient 20 for 28 passing, but with only one touchdown. The rest of the team’s 24 points came from a Kai Forbath field goal (who had replaced the released Blair Walsh), a 100-yard interception return by Xavier Rhodes, and a 104-yard kickoff return by Cordarrelle Patterson to start the second half.

The team did not have the same luck with defensive and special teams touchdowns four days later, when they played the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving. Once again, despite the fact that Sam Bradford missed only 6 throws of his 37 attempts the entire night, he also failed to score a touchdown or get above 250 yards, with the Vikings’ only points coming on a Matt Asiata run and two field goals.

The Vikings would lose this game 16–13, giving the Lions a clean sweep of the Vikings and also giving them the lead in the division, as the two teams had been tied with a record of 6–4 going into the game.

While Minnesota fans certainly had frustrations concerning the offense at this point in the season, it wasn’t as though the fan base was in any state of confusion or uncertainty about where the problems lay. First and foremost, the team had lost its star quarterback and star running back for the season. Full stop.

But more than this, the team had endured an astonishing number of offensive line injuries, including losing both starting tackles – the most critical position on the field, some would argue. Over the course of the season the Vikings would lose Andre Smith, Mat Kalil, Jake Long (whom the team had traded for as a veteran replacement), Mike Harris, Alex Boone, and Brandon Fusco.

In the game on Thanksgiving against the Lions, the Vikings were even down an additional lineman due to concussion. While Bradford would only be sacked two times in the game against Detroit, his 37 sacks on the season put him in the top third of the league in aggregate.

The Vikings lost their next game at home against the surging Dallas Cowboys to a score of 17–15, putting them at .500 for the first time of the season. The team had gone from 5–0, one of the last remaining undefeated teams, to 6–6, one of the largest falls of any team in the league.

With the amount of injuries the team had sustained, despite the fact that they remained relevant in the playoff hunt for several more weeks (primarily due to the weakness of the NFC North), the Vikings won only two games in the last six games of the season, in Week 14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears.

After mortgaging their future to try and make a run, the team that started out among the hottest in the league ended up finishing third in their division at an ignominious 8–8, and failed to make the playoffs.

Minnesota’s Strengths and Weaknesses

When we looked at the much-maligned season that the 2016/17 Vikings had, several major trends came to light in broad strokes.

First and foremost, it was abundantly clear that the primary deficit of the Vikings was on the offensive side of the ball, as the team was missing both its franchise quarterback and franchise running back for much of the season, and also saw a half-dozen offensive linemen go down with injury.

But before we jump to conclusions about the season that the Vikings had and the strengths and weaknesses that they demonstrated, let’s first take a look back at the team unit by unit, in order to get a more accurate picture of where their strengths and weaknesses truly lie over and above the injuries.

Using this knowledge, we will then be able to forecast the roster moves that the Vikings must make this offseason in order to improve their fortunes for 2017/18. Armed with this knowledge, plus some advanced statistics and scheduling factors, we will then be able to make our final predictions for what we can expect out of Minnesota next season.


Keeping with what we expected, the Minnesota Vikings were ranked 23rd in the league in scoring last season, ending up with 327 points overall (20.4 per game). Their production in yards lagged far behind this, with the team ending up with 5,041 yards on the season (315.0 per game), good for 28th in the league.

The primary reason why the Vikings had more points than yards, proportionally, is because as we documented above, the team did see handful of defensive and special teams touchdowns, which contribute points to the total without requiring any offensive yards to be gained. This was also the reason why the team’s ranking in total first downs gained was also lower than their production in terms of points.

The Vikings gained the bulk of their yards through the passing game, averaging the 18th-most passing yards per game while simultaneously being dead last in the league in amount of rushing yards per game. Minnesota was also dead last in the league in average amount of rush yards per attempt, while ranking 21st in the league in net yards per passing attempt.

For this reason, it’s understandable why the Vikings would have favored the passing game over the run game in terms of attempts: The team ranked out at 12th in the league in terms of passing attempts, but ended up 25th in the league in terms of rushing attempts.

The lack of a run game was one reason why quarterback Sam Bradford was forced into the role that he was over the course of the season, throwing quick, short passes very often. In this system, Bradford’s primary virtue was his efficiency, as he set a number of records throughout the season for his stellar completion percentage, and also ended up with only 5 interceptions on the season, averaging less than one interception every 100 throws.

However, while his efficiency and cautiousness were certainly Bradford’s best qualities throughout the season, they were also his worst qualities, as the quarterback was frequently unable to deliver throws down the field in clutch situations in order to gain first downs. His average depth of target and time of release rank near the bottom of the league throughout the entire season.

Of course, the wide receiver unit also has a lot to do with this, as they steadily declined from a unit that was ranked around league average to a unit that merited being discussed among the worst five or ten receiving units in the league by the end of the season. Supposed number one receiver Stefon Diggs was inconsistent at best, and after Kyle Rudolph and Adam Thielen, the drop-off was considerable.

And the primary reason why the Vikings had to rely so heavily on their passing game was because of the poor play of the run game, which clearly and obviously suffered from the loss of star running back Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata clearly demonstrated that he is not worthy of carrying the load of a #1 back, with his average of 1.8 yards after contact per attempt ranking among the league’s fullbacks.

And of course, every single comment made above about each position of the Vikings offense in 2016/17 needs to be immediately and emphatically underscored by the fact that their offensive line endured more injuries in one season than many offensive lines go through in several seasons combined. After losing both of their starting tackles, the Vikings were forced to turn to backup T. J. Clemmings, who promptly gave up 9 sacks and 58 total quarterback pressures while simultaneously committing 12 penalties between right and left tackle.

However, it is important to note that even before these injuries started to pile up, the play of starter Matt Kalil and others had been below average at best during the early portion of the season, even in a system that was designed to be especially easy on offensive linemen, with almost exclusively quick releases and short drops.

In summary, while the injuries to Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson, and various of the Vikings offensive lineman certainly made things difficult on the unit, the fact of the matter is that each unit could have done more to pick up the slack, and it would be unfair to blame the injuries exclusively.

Next season, the Vikings can expect to improve simply based on the dumb luck of injuries.


The Minnesota Vikings’ defense was ranked sixth in the league in terms of scoring last year, allowing only 307 points on the season (19.2 per game). The team allowed even fewer yards than they did points, proportionally, giving up only 5038 yards over the course of the season (314.9 per game).

When a team gives up more points than yards, generally this is an indication that the team’s offense is giving the ball back to the opposing offense a large amount of the time, meaning that the defense is frequently forced to defend a short field, thereby giving up points despite not giving up many yards.

And while the Vikings were ranked seventh in the league both in giveaways and in takeaways, with an abnormally low number of interceptions in particular, it is true that the astonishingly low number of first downs and the correspondingly large number of drives that stalled on third down for the Vikings’ offense is the primary reason why their defense is responsible for more points given up than yards.

Contrary to their performance on offense, on defense the Vikings gave up a disproportionate number of yards in the run game compared to the pass game.

Despite fielding a comparable number of attempts in both, the Vikings were third-best in the league in passing yards given up, ranking second in the league in net yards allowed per pass attempt, while simultaneously ranking 20th in terms of total rushing yards allowed, which was good for an average rushing yards allowed per attempt of 17th in the league.

It’s unlikely that their difficulties in giving up rushing yards were exclusively because of the play of the front seven, which was ranked among the top 10 throughout the entire season. Despite losing top players such as Anthony Barr and Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings saw sophomore players Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter take huge leaps, and pick up the slack admirably.

It’s more likely that the difficulties of the defense in stopping the run were a combination of both the front seven and the secondary lapses, as the top graded run defender in the secondary, safety Harrison Smith, saw his play drop off throughout the course of the season as he dealt with injuries. Smith would end up missing an uncharacteristic eight tackles in the final seven games of the year.

In coverage, however, the Vikings were among the best in the league, led by the unstoppable 38-year old veteran Terence Newman, who was not only the best cornerback and best player on the Vikings defense (even with Xavier Rhodes putting up incredible performances across from him), but he was also among the top 10 cornerbacks in the league.

It’s also worth noting, as we mentioned above, that the Vikings also got strong performances from their special teams unit, including multiple special teams touchdowns. Cordarrelle Patterson was an excellent return specialist, and rookie Kentrell Brothers deserves a lot of credit for his play in the second half of the season as a coverage blocker.

In total, it’s very difficult to find fault with the Vikings defense and special teams units, as they were primarily responsible for the team’s success. It’s amazing to think how well this unit could have performed with more help from their offense, in giving them longer periods of rest and keeping the momentum on the side of the Vikings.

Next season, we think the Vikings’ defense could be poised to break through the top five.

Next Season: A Preview

When we looked more specifically at the Minnesota Vikings’ season, and in particular at how each unit of the team performed, we were unable to find any major holes in the play of the defense, but found that even beyond the massive slew of injuries on the offensive side of the ball, the team nonetheless lacked depth at multiple position groups and needs a large amount of help before they can really threaten to be among the top units in the league.

For this reason, it’s intriguing to find that the Minnesota Vikings’ Super Bowl odds, listed at the Bovada sportsbook, are currently listed relatively favorably, all things considered.

Specifically, the current Super Bowl odds have the New England Patriots at +400, the best odds in the league, and the rest of the field opening up at +1000 with perennial offseason favorites including the Dallas Cowboys, the Green Bay Packers, and the Seattle Seahawks. The farthest fringe of playoff contention is settled at +6600, with teams such as the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions. In this context, Minnesota Vikings find themselves right smack-dab in the middle, at +3300.

It would appear that the gambling public puts some credence in the old adage that “defense wins championships,” because even with their offense in the state of flux, the Vikings are currently getting a good deal of respect from odds-makers.

Let’s take a look at the Vikings’ offseason in order to determine what roster moves we expect Minnesota to make from now until September in order to improve their Super Bowl odds. Once we can establish where their remaining needs lie, it will give us an opportunity to provide an accurate forecast of what we can expect out of the team next season, using advanced statistics and scheduling factors.

FootballRoster Moves

Before we describe the moves that have been made thus far this offseason by the Minnesota Vikings, it’s important to first provide some context on the general state of the Vikings’ front office, in order to give us a better idea for what moves would be logical or illogical under current management.

The Vikings general manager, Rick Spielman, was promoted to GM in 2012 after spending six seasons as the Vice President of Player Personnel, a savvy “promote from within” progression that is often employed by the most stable NFL franchises, though sadly not employed enough in the league overall.

Spielman track record of success before he became general manager is obviously limited by the fact that he was not the one ultimately making the decisions at the end of the day, but the string of draft successes still is still none the less to his credit. Starting in 2007, Spielman was involved in the drafting of Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Letroy Guion, John Sullivan, Percy Harvin, Chris Cook, Toby Gerhart, and Kyle Rudolph.

Subsequently, after Spielman was named general manager, the string of successes didn’t stop, with the Vikings drafting Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, and finally future franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in 2014.

At this point, Spielman also gained the authority to bring in a new head coach to replace Leslie Frazier, and after three seasons it seems pretty bulletproof to claim that the hiring of Mike Zimmer was an excellent choice. Later successes in the draft ensued, including the acquisition of Trae Waynes, special teams leader in tackles, Eric Kendricks, defensive leader in tackles, as well as future success stories including Daniel Hunter, TJ Clemmings, Stefon Diggs, and others.

In summary, considering the fact that the Vikings have been .500 or better in 7 of the 11 seasons under the management of Rick Spielman, and keeping in mind all of the various successes listed above, we feel pretty confident to say that the Vikings’ general manager is doing things the right way in Minnesota, and that the moves he is making are ultimately trustworthy and will improve the team.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that Spielman and the rest of the Vikings’ front office were placed in a relatively impossible position following the injury to Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson.

As we mentioned above, the situation was undoubtedly complicated by the fact that the Vikings were entering into a new stadium at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, and surely wanted to give the fans hope that they would not spend their hard-earned money on expensive tickets only to watch a team that had given up its playoff hopes before the season even began.

Ultimately, the “win now” philosophy that the front office employed in response to the impossibility of the situation ended up leading to a much-maligned 8–8 season and possibly even to the termination of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, though we’ll never know for certain the exact rift that led to his departure from the team.

And now, roughly 7 months removed from an injury that was scheduled to take 19 months to heal, the Vikings have no firm idea of whether or not their franchise quarterback will be back in time to start in the 2017/18 season, putting them right back in the same conundrum that they handled so ineffectively last season.

In addition, at the start of the 2017 league year the team found itself with the 13th-most cap space in the league, roughly $37 million, and a full 19 players set to become free agents, including almost a dozen who had played starter snaps for the team last season.

In this context, as of the time of this writing, the Minnesota Vikings have made the following roster moves, in addition to the customary practice squad maintenance that all teams undergo soon after the season ends.

First and foremost, the team took on their issues on the offensive line. Before free agency began, the Vikings released offensive guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris, and re-signed offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles. Subsequently, in the opening 48 hours of free agency the team signed offensive tackle Mike Remmers, from the Carolina Panthers, and offensive tackle Riley Reiff, from the Detroit Lions.

In the ensuing week, the team signed defensive end and former first-round draft pick Datone Jones from the division rival Green Bay Packers, re-signed ageless cornerback Terrence Newman, and signed running back Latavius Murray, from the Oakland Raiders.

The only remaining minor acquisitions made by the team included the re-signing of wide receiver Adam Thielen, the release of defensive lineman Scott Crichton, and the signings of cornerback Terrell Sinkfield, tight end Nick Truesdell, wide receiver Mitch Matthews, punter Ryan Quigley, and quarterback Case Keenum.

It’s also important to note that the Vikings lost a large number of their own players in free agency.

First, and most importantly, the Vikings declined to pick up the option for franchise running back and future-Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, indicating that the transcendent talent’s time with the franchise is likely over. While it’s understandable why the Vikings would want to move on, with the 31-year old back commanding an absurd $18 million in salary if extended and having missed two full seasons due to knee injuries.

Minnesota lost another aging veteran with the retirement of 34-year old linebacker Chad Greenway. In addition, the team saw offensive tackle Andre Smith Jr. go to the Bengals, punter Jeff Locke go to the Colts, tight end Rhett Ellison go to the Giants, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn go to the Panthers, offensive tackle Matt Kalil go to the Panthers, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson go to the Raiders.

While the losses of Andre Smith and Matt Kalil are certainly significant, given the acquisition of Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff, it would seem that the Vikings simply played musical chairs with their tackles. However, the losses of Captain Munnerlyn and Cordarrelle Patterson are also significant, and have yet to be clearly and evidently addressed by the team.

After all of these moves, the Vikings sit close to the middle of the league, with the 14th-most cap space remaining (roughly $18 million). In addition, the team has 8 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, including four coming in the 3rd and 4th round. Notably, however, the team has no draft picks within the first 48 selections, having traded away their first-round pick to the Eagles last September in exchange for Sam Bradford.

When you note that some teams, such as the New Orleans Saints, will actually have three selections before the Vikings have even one, it becomes clear how difficult it may be for the Vikings to improve their roster through the draft.

The team would do well to target offensive linemen and running backs in the draft, as both will be plentiful, and would also do well to try and find a cornerback to train up to fill the place of Captain Munnerlyn and to become the eventual replacement of Terrence Newman, who is much closer to 40 than 30.

FootballPredictions for 2017/18

Upon looking at the roster moves made so far by the Minnesota Vikings, it became clear that the team’s primary deficiency last season (the play of the offense) has received clear and obvious attention so far as the offensive line is concerned, with the team picking up two offensive tackles in the first 48 hours of free agency, yet the skill positions remain as muddled as ever, with the health status of Teddy Bridgewater in question and the pending departure of Adrian Peterson yet to be remedied.

For this reason, with so much turnover and so many questions still to be answered, it becomes difficult for us to project just how different the Vikings’ roster will be next season.

However, by no means does this limit our ability to make predictions for how the team will fare in 2017/18, as the turnover of the roster is only one of the many factors we can use to forecast for next season. The first important statistical factor to consider in predicting a team’s future performance is called Pythagorean expectation.

Pythagorean expectation is a statistical formula originally developed by sabermetric wizard Bill James for use in baseball; it was later modified for the NFL by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. The idea behind Pythagorean expectation is to use advanced statistical modeling to more accurately assess a team’s past performance, in the hopes of better predicting their future performance.

Specifically, Pythagorean expectation is a modified version of the original Pythagorean theorem that we all learned back in algebra class, used to deduce the length of one side of a right triangle based on knowledge of the other two sides.

But the NFL’s Pythagorean theorem doesn’t deal with triangles and lengths: Instead the numbers that are manipulated in the theorem are the amount of points scored and the amount of points allowed by a particular team. By plugging these points totals into the formula, the number that ultimately gets spit out is an expected win percentage based purely on points.

The idea behind this is that in the NFL, not all wins should be valued the same amount. For example, when the 2016/17 Indianapolis Colts lost 7–28 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, that’s a pretty terrible loss. That loss should certainly mean more than when the same Colts lose 23 to 26 in overtime in Houston. And yet, at the end of the season, all we remember is that the Colts were 8–8, with both of these two losses receiving the exact same weight in the loss column.

By the same token, when the 2016/17 Buffalo Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals 16–12, even though there’s a W on the win column, this shouldn’t impress anyone. However, when those same Bills beat the San Francisco 49ers 45–16, that same lone W should go a whole lot further to tip us off that the Bills could be legitimate contenders. Once again, though, at the end of the season, the Bills are just 7–9.

In this way, utilizing Pythagorean expectation gives us a way to evaluate a team’s performance over the course of a season using statistics that truly capture not just whether a team won or lost games, but how well they won or lost games. We learn more than just how many games a team won; we learn how many games that team should have won.

In the case of the 2016/17 Vikings, when we plug in the number of points the team scored and the number of points they allowed into the Pythagorean Expectation formula, we see that the team “should have” won exactly 8.6 games last season. Given that the team won 8 games, we see that they performed roughly at the level that could be expected, or even under-performed slightly.

And it’s crucially important to put this under-performance in the context of the second piece of information that clues us in to how well the Vikings will play next season, and that is the schedule that Minnesota played over the course of the 2016/17 regular season.

According to the meticulously calculated “DVOA” value, assembled by the stat gurus at Football Outsiders and accounting for every single play of every game individually, the Vikings played the 12th-easiest schedule in the entire league in 2016/17, which hangs very close to the league average.

If the Vikings won 8 games against a schedule of average difficulty last season, it stands to reason that if their schedule become significantly easier next season, the team could potentially end up with a better record.

And luckily for us, despite the fact that the week-by-week NFL schedule isn’t set to be released until mid-April, we can still make an estimation of how difficult the Vikings’ slate of opponents will be next season due to the fact that the opponents a team plays are based on a simple mathematical rotation.

Every year, the 16-game schedule for each NFL team is composed of the following games: 6 games against division opponents (3 at home, 3 away); four games against teams from a single division within the same conference; four games against teams from a single division within the opposite conference; and finally two games against opponents within the same conference that finished in the same position in their division.

For the Vikings, this means the following:

  • 3 home games against the Bears, the Lions, and the Packers
  • 3 road games against the Bears, the Lions, and the Packers
  • 4 games against the NFC South: the Saints (home), the Buccaneers (home), the Falcons (away), and the Panthers (away)
  • 4 games against the AFC North: the Ravens (home), the Bengals (home), the Steelers (away), and the Browns (in London)
  • 2 games against other third-place finishers in the NFC: the Rams (home), and the Redskins (away)

At first glance, it appears that the Vikings had both some good and some bad fortune in this slate of games. While playing the defending Super Bowl runners-up in their brand-new stadium and also having to play the Steelers in Pittsburgh are both likely to be difficult road games, at least the Vikings don’t have to give up a home game for their London game against the Browns.

But in order to go beyond the eye test and definitively determine how difficult this slate of opponents really is, we can consider each team’s performance in 2016/17 in order to get a proxy of how well we think they will do in 2017/18, and how this aggregated performance compares to the opponents of other teams.

When we tally up the number of games that the Vikings’ 2017/18 opponents won in 2016/17, and compare this aggregated win total against the other teams in the league, we find that the Vikings have the 5th-easiest schedule in the entire league. When we look at point differential, a more accurate portrayal of team success as we concluded with Pythagorean Expectation, we see little difference: the Vikings have the 6th-easiest schedule in the league in terms of point differential.

So, in summary, now that we’ve taken a good look at the roster movement, Pythagorean Expectation, and scheduling factors that will influence the Vikings’ fortunes in 2017/18 season, it gives us an opportunity to make our final prediction for how well the team will perform next season.

First, given that the team won 8 games last season, and that Pythagorean Expectation backed up this win total, we’re inclined to start them off at 8 wins for next season. With their Pythagorean Expectation resting slightly above 8, at 8.6, and their schedule getting marginally easier, we’re inclined to bump up this win total to 9 games.

In terms of roster movement, we do expect that the team will endure another season with Sam Bradford at the helm. We believe that the Vikings’ best-case scenario would be to let Teddy Bridgewater spend the remainder of his rookie contract recovering from injury and then re-sign him for cheap, as the rest of the league will likely be too leery of his injury to even take a chance on him, making him a good value.

Elsewhere on the roster, while Latavius Murray is certainly an upgrade from Matt Asiata, he’s nonetheless still a downgrade from a healthy Adrian Peterson, and it’s unclear whether the new offensive linemen will perform better than the old linemen would have if healthy. Without some more fresh meat in the offensive skill positions, we’re not overly optimistic that the offense will be significantly improved next season.

However, the important thing to remember is that the offense doesn’t really have to improve all that much, given the fact that the defense should remain a top-10 unit. When combined with the excellent defense and special teams, as well as the tight game management of Mike Zimmer, the team could be exponentially more competitive with even just a 10- or 20% increase in offensive production, particularly in the run game.

We’ll be watching the Vikings very closely during the remainder of the offseason and into the draft, to see if the team can finally pull off their “win now” philosophy in the second year of Teddy Bridgewater’s injury.

Predicted regular season record for the 2017/18 Minnesota Vikings: 10–6

Conclusion: The Story of the Minnesota Vikings

Since joining the league in 1960, the Minnesota Vikings have quietly been one of the winningest franchises in the league, with the 3rd-most wins in the league and four Super Bowl appearances, despite the fact that the fans still anxiously await their first Lombardi Trophy.

The primary reason that the team has been unable to reach that pinnacle in the last decade was the lack of an elite quarterback, as the strategy of nabbing aging superstars at the very twilight of their careers never panned out.

To remedy this, general manager Rick Spielman drafted Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and the fan base watched excitedly as his first two seasons with the team indicated that he has the potential to be the guy that brings the franchise back to the big dance.

Unfortunately, however, the team’s dreams of seeing Bridgewater continue to develop in his third season and perhaps reach deeper into the postseason were dashed when one of the most horrific knee injuries in recent memory gave the 24-year old quarterback a 19-month setback.

Despite attempts to salvage the season by trading for serviceable stopgap Sam Bradford, significant injuries to Adrian Peterson and a half-dozen offensive linemen ended up keeping the Vikings out of the playoffs altogether despite a strong start to the season.

After the season ended, the Vikings started out the 2017 league year by immediately picking up two offensive tackles in the opening 48 hours of free agency, but with Teddy Bridgewater’s health status uncertain and Adrian Peterson’s contract allowed to expire, the team is likely to endure another season in limbo.

Nonetheless, with a slightly easier schedule and the wary hope that injury lightning won’t strike twice in the same position group, it stands to reason that even if the Vikings are stuck with Sam Bradford for another season, they could nonetheless see improvement and take another shot at a playoff run.

In the end, however, Vikings fans are unfortunately still stuck waiting around for their quarterback of the future to bring them that first Super Bowl victory.



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