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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Statistically speaking, are the Minnesota Vikings a Super Bowl contender?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings have the second best record in the NFC, only trailing the Philadelphia Eagles. But over one half of a season, records don’t always tell the story of which teams should be considered the top contenders. So how can we know how strong the Vikings are in comparison to the rest of the NFC?

Well, there are many different ways. If you had a lot of time on your hands, you could use the eye test and study game film of every game from every team. But there’s probably an easier direction to take. Last year, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in Pro-Football Reference’s offensive “Expected Points” statistic reached the Super Bowl. “Expected Points” is a formula that compares results to average expectations. So if your team has first-and-10 at the 1-yard line, you’d If we compare the Vikings’ offensive and defensive “Expected Points” through eight games and factor for strength of schedule (based on opponent records), the picture should be clearer where Minnesota stands in the race to win the NFC.

Minnesota Vikings

Expected points rank, offense: 10

Expected points rank, defense: 12

Strength of schedule: 10

Total: 32

You might expect to see the Vikings’ defense ranked higher in expected points, but turnovers make a big impact in rankings. The Vikings have caused 10 turnovers, whereas the league leaders have forced 17 turnovers. Outside of INTs and fumble recoveries, Minnesota has an elite defense, allowing the second fewest yards per play in the NFL. A study by Football Perspective found that the average Super Bowl winner ranks sixth on both offense and defense in Yards Per Attempt adjusted for sacks and turnovers. Right now the Vikings are 8th on offense and fifth on defense, giving them the look of a Super Bowl contender.

The schedule has played a role in the Vikings’ success. While they have matched up with some good defenses, overall their schedule is 10th of 16 teams in win-loss record. The recent stretch of quarterbacks faced has included Mitch Trubisky, Brett Hundley, Joe Flacco and DeShone Kizer. In the second half, the Vikings draw the fifth hardest schedule and match up against tougher quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

The difference between the Vikings maintaining their pace or sliding back a bit could be whether Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford returns under center. As well as Case Keenum has filled in, he’s still 21st in yards per attempt. They’ll need explosiveness in the passing game to compete with the best of the best.

New Orleans Saints

Expected points rank, offense: 4

Expected points rank, defense: 17

Strength of schedule rank (NFC only): 1

Total: 22

Yes, the same New Orleans Saints team that got run out of US Bank Stadium by the Vikings is the strongest in the NFC by Expected Points and Strength of Schedule. The Saints’ offense is as dangerous as ever with Drew Brees ranking sixth in quarterback rating, but it’s the New Orleans defense that’s made a remarkable turnaround. They rank seventh in quarterback rating against, allowing a 79.3 rating to opposing quarterbacks – and that’s despite giving up a career day to Sam Bradford.

Los Angeles Rams

Expected points rank, offense: 7

Expected points rank, defense: 7

Strength of schedule: 13

Total: 23

No team has made a more impressive turnaround this season than the L.A. Rams. This offseason, they acquired their top three receivers and starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has been a game changer. With weapons and time to throw, Jared Goff looks like a viable starting quarterback, ranking 14th in rating and ninth in yards per attempt. Todd Gurley is also back to playing star-caliber football as he’s sitting fifth in the NFL in rushing and has added 27 catches at 10.3 yards per reception. On defense, the Rams have been a talented group, but they appear to be hitting their stride during the Aaron Donald era now as they are fourth in ANY/A and sixth in rating allowed. The Rams haven’t had the toughest schedule yet – they will face the Vikings in Week 11.

Philadelphia Eagles

Expected points rank, offense: 3

Expected points rank, defense: 14

Strength of schedule: 12

Total: 29

The Carson Wentz under center for the Eagles is not the same player the Vikings slowed down last season. He’s grown into one of the league’s top QBs, ranking first in touchdown passes and seventh in rating and yards per attempt. The addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith has made a difference on deep throws and the Eagles have gotten 4.7 yards per attempt out of LeGarrette Blunt. They also added Jay Ajayi from Miami at the deadline. On defense, Philadelphia has built up an impressive line, which has picked up 22 sacks (ninth) and held opponents to the third fewest rushing yards in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers

Expected points rank, offense: 20

Expected points rank, defense: 5

Strength of schedule: 7

Total: 32

The Panthers made a surprising move to trade away Kelvin Benjamin at the deadline for draft picks. While Carolina improved their weapons in the offseason by adding Christian McCaffrey, they are still very short on receivers and their running game ranks 29th in yards per attempt. Cam Newton hasn’t been particularly sharp – with the media or in football games – as he’s leading the NFL in interceptions. Carolina will need a lot more from their passing game to be a true competitor, though their defense has held strong thus far, allowing just 4.7 yards per play (fifth).

Seattle Seahawks

Expected points rank, offense: 13

Expected points rank, defense: 8

Strength of schedule: 15

Total: 36

The Seahawks have survived their offensive line situation on the back of a magnificent first half from Russell Wilson. Seattle is sixth in yards per pass attempt and seventh in QB rating despite Wilson having very little time to throw and virtually no running game. The addition of left tackle Duane Brown could make them a much tougher matchup down the road. Seattle’s defense hasn’t been quite as excellent as they were during their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, but they still sport a monstrous defensive line and several of the best DBs in the NFL.

Atlanta Falcons

Expected points rank, offense: 6

Expected points rank, defense: 27

Strength of schedule: 6

Total: 42

It feels like the Falcons have been a train wreck to start the season because expectations were so high coming off their Super Bowl appearance. Their offense hasn’t repeated their historic 2016 level and it appears losing Kyle Shanahan has taken a toll. Matt Ryan, the league’s MVP last year, is still having a good year ranking fifth in yards per attempt and 12th in QB rating, but it might not be good enough to overcome a very poor defense. The Falcons are allowing opposing teams a 95.1 rating and have only intercepted two passes. Atlanta may be able to kick things into high gear in the second half of the season with some offensive adjustments.

Dallas Cowboys

Expected points rank, offense: 5

Expected points rank, defense: 24

Strength of schedule: 16

Total: 47

The Cowboys are likely disappointed to only be 4-3 through seven games considering their offensive has been explosive. Dak Prescott has made it clear that his rookie season was not a fluke. The Cowboys are eighth in QB rating, and ANY/A. Their running game, which ranks second in the NFL, will take a big hit without Ezekiel Elliott. Whether the ‘ Boys can be a true contender or not depends on their defense, which ranks 23rd in quarterback rating against. Considering they’ve had the easiest schedule in the NFC and have the second toughest second-half schedule in the NFC, Dallas’s legitimacy as a contender will be tested.

The post Statistically speaking, are the Minnesota Vikings a Super Bowl contender? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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