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How much do the Vikings need to improve on offense to be a Super Bowl contender?

By Matthew Coller

Making a coordinator change mid-season is usually not a great sign for a team’s chances to reach the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl. But the Minnesota Vikings, who are a near lock for the postseason, took a big swing this week when they handed play calling duties over to quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski and fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

The timing of head coach Mike Zimmer’s move is good for Stefanski, who will face off with two of the NFL’s worst defenses in Miami and Detroit before taking on a Chicago team that may rest its starters in Week 17, depending on postseason position.

The big question for the Vikings is how much they would need to improve in order to be considered a legitimate contender.

Minnesota’s defense has been very good this season, ranking third in Pro-Football Reference’s “Expected Points” and sixth by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which factors for opponents and game situations.

So we can assume that the Vikings wouldn’t have to be one of the truly great offenses of the last decade in order to make a run in the playoffs. One way to get a rough idea of how much better they must be is to look at a run-of-the-mill Super Bowl team.

Using Pro-Football Reference, we can look at every team that has reached the Super Bowl and how they have performed in many statistical areas. Because the game has changed offensively since the early 2000s, we will just focus on the last 10 Super Bowls.

Instead of the average — which is swayed by outliers like the offensively-inept 2015 Broncos and all-time great 2016 Falcons — we will focus on the 10th best out of 20 Super Bowl teams and see how that 10th ranking club in each statistical area compares to the current Vikings.

Stat: Point differential

Median Super Bowl team: 2017 Patriots, plus-148

2018 Vikings: Minus-9 (17th)

Despite having one of the most efficient defenses in the NFL, the Vikings only rank 10th in points allowed, partly because they have given up touchdowns on fumbles and pick-sixes.

Quick math here: The Vikings would have to outscore the final three opponents by an average of 52 points in order to become a median Super Bowl team. There is only one instance of a team reaching the Super Bowl with a negative point differential. The Giants did it in 2011 with a minus-6. Arizona was just a plus-1 in 2008. Since then every team has been at least plus-54.

Stat: Points per game

Median Super Bowl team: 2008 Cardinals, 26.7/game

2018 Vikings: 21.7 (20th)

In order to reach the plateau of the 10th ranked Super Bowl team in the last 20 years, the Vikings would have to go bananas on offense and average 48 points per game. They currently average the same number of points as the 2008 Steelers, who are the lowest scoring team of the last 10 years of Super Bowls.

Stat: Yards per offensive play

Median Super Bowl team: 2008 Cardinals, 5.9/play

2018 Vikings: 5.6 (15th-T)

The fact that the Vikings’ yards per play is better than their scoring output tells you something about their situational performance. Under DeFilippo they struggled mightily in the red zone (23rd) and were one of the worst third-and-short teams in the NFL. This should give the offense some hope considering they are better than six teams that appeared in the Super Bowl and within 0.4 yards per play of all but five Super Bowl teams since 2008.

Stat: Turnover margin

Median Super Bowl team: 2010 Packers, plus-10

2018 Vikings: plus-1 (16th-T)

Turnovers can certainly be random, but the teams that end up in the Super Bowl are almost always on the positive side. Only one team, the 2015 Denver Broncos, reached the pinnacle of the NFL with a negative turnover differential (minus-4). Both 2015 Carolina and 2013 Seattle were plus-20 during the regular season.

Stat: Third down conversion rate

Median Super Bowl team: 2016 Falcons, 42.1%

2018 Vikings: 37.7 (22nd)

This stat can be a little wonky, but only three of our 20 Super Bowl participants had lower third down conversion rates than the current Vikings. The best teams were near 50% and were usually operated by all-time great quarterbacks. The top five third down Super Bowl teams were operated by Peyton Manning, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tom Brady, Drew Brees. The Vikings, however, wouldn’t need a ton of improvement to top some of the lower rated teams like the 2012 Ravens, who converted 36.9 percent of third downs.

Stat: Net yards per pass attempt

Median Super Bowl team: 2017 Patriots, 7.1/pass

2018 Vikings: 6.3 (20th)

This one tells us about efficiency in the passing game. The Vikings have a high amount of passing yards, but their yards per drop back rank in the bottom third of the NFL. There are four teams who have produced lower net yards per attempt than the Vikings, including the Eagles last year.

Stat: Rushing yards per attempt

Median Super Bowl team: 2015 Broncos, 4.2/rush

2018 Vikings: 4.1 (23rd)

The rushing attacks of Super Bowl teams fluctuate wildly. Seattle’s 2014 team averaged an absurd 5.3 yards per rush — obviously boosted by QB runs — and Arizona 2008 only gained 3.5 yards per carry. Overall the Vikings do not have a running game they can rely on, but it will be interesting to see of Stefanski kicks up the volume of rushing plays per Zimmer’s request.

Stat: Football Outsiders DVOA ranking

Average Super Bowl team rank: 7.4

2018 Vikings: 18th

Here’s the harsh reality about “defense wins championships” ….it usually doesn’t. Outside of the few outliers like the 2015 Broncos and 2012 Ravens, most offenses rank rank very highly by DVOA, which works to cut out some of the noise of traditional offensive stats. History simply tells us that the odds of an 18th ranked offense getting the job done are extremely low.

Stat: Expected points added rank

Average Super Bowl team: 5.8

2018 Vikings: 25th

This paints and even more dire picture — and it’s even more accurate for which teams will land in the Super Bowl. Often yards and total points can be muddied by field position/turnovers etc., but Expected Points only factors production vs. field position and most Super Bowl teams are getting the job done at a high level, even ones that weren’t lauded for their offensive prowess at the time.

Take the 2011 Giants, for example. They were a fringe top 10 offensive team in yards and points, but sixth in Expected Points. The 2012 Ravens ranked 12th in Expected Points. No team — not even the 2015 Broncos — ranked lower than 20th and went to the Super Bowl.

The bottom line

With a defense that ranks in the top five by Expected Points and sixth in DVOA, the Vikings have a chance. But that chance is minuscule unless they take huge steps forward offensively. In many areas, the improvements can’t be small in order to match up with even the worst offensive teams who have appeared in the last 10 Super Bowls. Stefanski has his work cut out.

The post How much do the Vikings need to improve on offense to be a Super Bowl contender? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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