View Full Version : Why the Minnesota Vikings can make the playoffs in 2012 (ESPN Insider)

10-04-2012, 02:23 PM
Here's a link to the article and below is the story as most of us don't have insider NFL - Why the Minnesota Vikings can make the playoffs in 2012 - ESPN (http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/8460768/nfl-why-minnesota-vikings-make-playoffs-2012)

One of the consequences of the NFL's 2002 switch to a playoff structure with four division winners and only two wild-card teams per conference was a reduction in the number of times a single division would yield three playoff teams.

From 1978 to 2001 (sans the strike-shortened 1982 season), this happened in 45.6 percent of the conference playoff brackets. By contrast, in the 10 seasons since the structural change, this has occurred only 15 percent of the time.

It was thought that the NFC North might have a chance to rack up one of these rare instances in the 2012 season because it has the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions (playoff teams from 2011), along with the Chicago Bears -- a team that very likely would have made the playoffs last year had it not been for injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.

As good a shot as those teams give this division at earning the honor of three playoff teams, those odds have actually increased with the surprising development of the Minnesota Vikings. The Purple and Gold's 3-1 record might not have convinced many that this team has strong playoff potential, but a review of the game tape and metrics indicates Leslie Frazier's squad is a bona fide postseason contender.

It starts on the defensive side of the ball. It used to be that Minnesota would rely on the power of the Williams Wall to stop opposing rushing games in their tracks. Today's Vikings defense might not quite reach that level of run-plugging dominance, yet in many ways this group might be just as good collectively as its much-heralded predecessor.

Some of the proof for this can be found in the overall rushing stats, as Minnesota ranks tied for seventh in rush yards per game allowed (85.3), tied for fifth in rush yards per attempt allowed (3.3) and tied for second in rushing touchdowns allowed (one).

Those numbers are strong, but there is another metric that indicates this defense is doing an even better job than those stats suggest.

Through four games, the Vikings defense is allowing opposing ball carriers to gain only 5.5 yards per attempt on rush attempts where the runner was given good blocking (which is roughly defined as when the blockers do not allow the defense to do anything to disrupt a rush attempt).

This metric is known as GBYPA, and the two league leaders in this category at the end of the 2011 season (Baltimore and San Francisco) finished with 6.0-yard GBYPA marks. What this means is that even when the other team is able to create lanes for its ball carriers, the Vikings defense excels at not allowing those rushes to turn into big gains.

Minnesota also has displayed an ability to stop the passing game, as it ranks sixth in the league in passing YPA allowed (6.5), seventh in sacks (12) and tied for third in net yards per pass attempt (a stat generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com that adjusts passing YPA totals by sack yardage).

The Vikings' offensive highlights don't quite reach the level of the defensive ones, but there are still more than a few areas the unit can hang its hat on.

Chief among these is the improved performance of quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder ranks 10th in ESPN's Total QBR metric and is ahead of Robert Griffin III, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. In fact, at this moment, Ponder has the highest Total QBR of any quarterback in the NFC North. This is not to say Ponder is going to stay ahead of those quarterbacks in Total QBR for the rest of the season but rather to illustrate the level at which he is capable of playing.

Ponder also is doing a very good job of protecting the football, something evidenced by his 1.6 percent bad decision rate (BDR, which is a metric that gauges how often a passer makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team). This is a huge improvement over his 4.3 percent BDR in 2011 that ranked tied for 32nd in the league and is a major factor as to why the Vikings have committed only four turnovers, a total that is tied for seventh best in that category.

As well as Ponder has played, though, the Vikings are still a run-first team, and the 122.8 rushing yards per game average shows that part of the offense certainly has held its own since the return of Adrian Peterson from last year's devastating knee injury.

The Vikings' ground attack actually might have a lot of room for upside, given that Peterson has a 6.8 GBYPA total, a mark that is lower than the 7.5 GBYPA he posted last season.

One of the reasons for the decline is that Peterson is trying to freelance too much rather than follow the blocking, which is odd, considering that Minnesota's blockers have a 49 percent good blocking rate (GBR) that is only slightly lower than their league-leading 49.6 percent GBR in 2011. If Peterson starts trusting the blocking more often, this rushing attack could become even more dangerous.

The passing game also has upside potential with the addition of vertical threat Jerome Simpson. This showed up in Sunday's game against the Lions when Simpson racked up 57 yards in pass interference penalties on vertical pass attempts (vertical passes being aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield) and caught a critical 27-yard pass late in the fourth quarter against Detroit. Minnesota did not have this type of downfield threat during Simpson's suspension, so look for the Vikings' aerial attack to take a big step forward now that he is back in the lineup.

Minnesota also is excelling in the area of special teams. Rookie kicker Blair Walsh has missed only one field goal and ranks tied for fifth in field goals made (9), and the Vikings rank second in punt return average and tied for third in kickoff return average.

Finally, Minnesota has a somewhat favorable remaining out-of-division schedule (vs. Tennessee Titans, at Washington Redskins, vs. Arizona Cardinals, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at Seattle Seahawks, at St. Louis Rams and at Houston Texans). There aren't any pushovers in the NFL, but it would not be a surprise to see the Vikings post at least three wins in those out-of-division contests. If those are combined with a couple of wins in the five remaining NFC North battles, it would add up to a total of 8-10 victories, a mark that would keep Minnesota in strong contention for a postseason berth.

10-04-2012, 04:49 PM
An excellent read ... and another sport where people are starting to finally see the value in looking more inside the numbers than just the surface.

Obviously, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this team so far this season and beyond.

I think one thing that has really made me start feeling better is that I feel 10x better about the coaches now than I did going into the season. Many coaches just beat their head against the wall with "their way or the highway" attitudes. Leslie seems to actually be LEARNING and ADJUSTING to life as an NFL head coach and that is a good sign.

Hopefully, he continues to grow, because I honestly would have been all for firing him after last season. But I am always ready to eat crow when it means victory for the Purple and Gold.

10-05-2012, 07:06 AM
Great read, I'm pretty excited about our progress in many area's as a team. However the season is only a quarter done, and I look for continue'd improvement and consistency. Then when the season gets into the 17th and 18th week we can better evaluate our team. I have to say I really am impressed by our play and hope we can sustain it all year, and who knows...into the playoffs.

10-05-2012, 11:21 AM
Losing to the "My Pretty Ponies" on over 100 yards of penalties was painful to watch. I thought, shit, maybe we are going to repeat our 3-13 season, look what we did vs. JAX and IND, just wait til we play a real team!?? Oh shit! 49ers, next!??? D'oh!

And now, I'm pretty much already happy with our results for the whole season. I'm assuming we'll win at least a few more, maybe even hit 8-8 or so, but still don't think we'll have much of a chance in the playoffs, and so wouldn't totally mind if we ended up picking a bit before middle of each round in the draft, to increase the talent level we have to fill our remaining holes, and perhaps, shorten the rebuilding window even a bit more.

Not sure yet, but I'm starting to get the feeling that much of this turn-around has a lot to do with our coaches. Just like the rest of the team, they're improving. Less challenge mistakes, better play calling, less square-peg-in-the-round-hole, the players are happy, buying in, and performing well, etc. Shit, even all three of our first three draft picks are starting, and looking good, so even Spielman is looking pretty good at the moment.


10-06-2012, 06:25 AM
I've maintained that the Vikings schedule outside the division isn't that tough...and maybe it isn't that tough in division now that we have something resembling (gasp!) an NFL caliber secondary. We completely handled the Lions, and neither they nor the Packers have any semblance of a running game. And the Bears offensive line is in shambles. Of course, some teams (Washington, Arizona, Seattle) may be a bit tougher than I initially gave them credit for, but all look to be winnable games. If the Vikings can stay healthy, 9 wins is a real possibility.

10-06-2012, 02:01 PM
Some great points made here. If we can just stay focused and not beat ourselves we can play with most teams.

10-06-2012, 02:18 PM
It is very possible we can make the playoffs if we can stay healthy. Percy Harvin and AP are one of the best 1+2 duo's in the league and we haven't been turning the ball over at all. Zero picks. If we keep this up we are for sure a playoff team. Let's just see if we can keep it up.

10-07-2012, 12:56 PM
We may well end up with a winning record, given what we've seen so far, but there's more to a playoff berth than just that. I've said all along that our chances to make it are more dependent on what others do than what we do.

I had believed that it was going to take at least 10-6 to make it in the NFC this year, because there were so many decent to great teams in our Conference. I think that is still likely but the Divisional races are looking to be more competitive as well, so maybe everyone will beat each other up enough to squeak in at 9-7. I still don't think it's likely, though.

What we will need to do is beat the NFC out-of-division opponents (one down already in SF) like Washington and Arizona in order to own as many tiebreakers as possible. Winning at least two more in the division is likely necessary as well, but I think we have a decent shot at that. I was crushed when we lost the Colts game, but in the long view, it's one we could afford, since we turned around and beat SF a week later. That's a much more important game for us.

And then we have to hope that the East devours itself as usual, the Saints never recover, and that no one else rises up out of the West. That last seems like it might be the biggest threat right now. Cards finally lost and showed some flaws, but they're still 4-1 right now. Rams are getting better, and Seahawks do have a great D even if their O is lackluster outside of Lynch.
That division could see everyone reach .500 or better.

The South belong to Atlanta, and really, only Carolina has a chance to chase them but will have to work very hard to do so. IMO the Saints are done... you can see the defeat in their eyes. And the Bucs are still the Bucs until they prove otherwise.

NFC East... This is a very tough one to call as all four teams have some serious issues, but all four also have some breakout potential. They could end up much like the West, with all teams close, and this is what we have to hope for.

Bottom line, we need to take care of out own business and pray for a little luck as well. I still doubt that 9-7 gets us in, but it might if he North sends only two teams. 10-6 and I would be much more comfortable, but even as optimistic as I am I don't see us getting there. That second half schedule is just brutal.