Are the 2013 Vikings the Worst Team in Franchise History?

What should we do this this oblong-shaped, leather thing? You touch it, no YOU touch it! - Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at historical team efficiency rankings, we compare the 2013 Vikings to some of the worst teams in franchise history.

The 2013 Vikings have had a disappointing season to say the least. With a rash of injuries hitting star players on both offense and defense, a struggling quarterback(s), and a defense that couldn’t stop a bored kindergarten class from learning to add and subtract, even if they shouted that it was time for recess, this team looks bad. Add in a coaching staff that makes questionable calls each and every week, and we now find ourselves staring at 1 win and 7 losses to start the year. This ties a franchise record for worst start to a season set in the inaugural year of 1961, and then matched again in 2011. And it begs the question, are the 2013 Vikings the worst team in franchise history? That question is definitely an open one until the season is finished. However now that the 2013 season is exactly half over, I wanted to dig through the archives of Vikings history to see just how bad this team really is compared to some of the bad teams we’ve had in the past. Fair warning: this is not a topic for the overly optimistic fan or the faint of heart. I will be drudging up the worst of the worst here, so read on…if you dare.

Looking through the stats over at Pro Football Reference, I dug up four other seasons that could qualify as "Worst Vikings Season".  And here are they are in a nice, neat little table (because lord knows I can't write a post without including a decent table) to compare to 2013 thus far.

Potential Worst Vikings Seasons

Year

Win/Loss Record

Winning Percentage

Head Coach

1961

3-11

0.214

Norm Van Brocklin

1962

2-11-1

0.179

Norm Van Brocklin

1984

3-13

0.188

Les Steckel

2011

3-13

0.188

Leslie Frazier

2013

1-7

0.125

Leslie Frazier

Without getting into too much detail here, at first blush, it would appear that yes, in fact the 2013 Vikings are the worst team in franchise history based on winning percentage thus far.  And it's particularly unsettling that Leslie Frazier is now overseeing 2 of the potentially worst teams in Vikings history based on wins and losses.  But is this the truth?  Are we really that bad?  For that, we need to explore team efficiency and the team's offensive and defensive ranks relative to their peers at the time.  Enter my time machine as we go back...to the futu...nevermind, let's just get to it.

Starting with 1961, this was the franchise's first year of existence.  As one might expect, the first year is always tough as the team was behind the ball in player development, draft picks, etc.  We can't really fault the 1961 or 1962 Vikings for being bad as it's pretty much the expectation for any new expansion team to start off mediocre until they can rebuild through the draft and establish an identity and team philosophy.  Never-the-less, those first two years were pretty bad.  The margin of victory in 1961 was -122 and in 1962 was -156.  That means we had an average point differential per game of -8.7 and -11 respectively. That should pretty much tell the story right there, but no, it gets worse.  In 1961 our offense was ranked 9th in points and 12th in yards.  While that sounds great, you have to remember there were only 14 teams in the NFL at the time.  Our defense was ranked 14th in points and 14th in yards...dead last.  In 1962, not only did the winning percentage get worse, our ranks did as well.   The offense slipped to 13th in points and 12th in yards, and the defense pretty much held steady at 14th in points and 12th in yards.  That year we had one of the worst teams in the league and while this is awful, it can also be partially explained by the fact that these two teams also had a strength-of-schedule that was very difficult (1962 was the 2nd hardest schedule in team history) and again: new franchise.

So the 1962 team gets something of a pass, because it was only the 2nd year of the team's existence, and they had the 2nd most difficult schedule in team history.  Jumping ahead a bit, by 1984 the league had already merged with the AFL and had expanded their way to 28 teams.  If you thought the margin of victory was bad in 1962, you haven't seen anything yet.  The 1984 team had a margin of victory of -208, or -13 per game.  That is the worst point differential in the history of the franchise, and 25th worst in the history of the Post-Merger NFL.  Our offense was pretty bad, ranked 24th in points and 25th in yards that year, but our defense was league worst in almost every category.   Not only that, but according to Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System, the 1984 team had the worst "team quality" rating of any Vikings team, and it wasn't close.  The difference between 1984 and the next worst team in SRS was -3.5 on their scale.  That's the same amount of difference between the 2nd and 8th worst teams on the scale.  All of this suggests that the 1984 Vikings were significantly worse than any other team, at least relative to their peers.

But what about the 2011 team?  They had the same overall winning percentage as the 1984 team, so were they just as bad?  Well, the 2011 Vikings were bad, but they also lost Adrian Peterson for the last few games, and lost a lot of games by a close margin.  I fact, 8 games that year were lost by 6 points or less.  The 2011 Vikings margin of victory was -109, or -6.8 per game, which is only about half as bad as 1984. And furthermore, the team efficiency rankings for the 2011 squad were not nearly as bad as the earlier teams relative to their peers.  Their offense was ranked 19th in points and 18th in yards (just below average) and their defense was 31st in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed.  I seem to remember having a "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy that year that tended to break more than it should have.  But the team was generally competitive and just lost an unusually large number of close games.  So, the 2011 team was probably not the worst team in franchise history and was probably better than their overall record would have us believe.  We had a tough schedule that year too, ranked 17th toughest in franchise history, although 1984's schedule was even tougher at 9th.  That might be a point in the cap of 1984 for not being the worst, but because we were still able to move the ball with Adrian Peterson, and generate some pass rush on defense (something the 1984 team couldn't do at all), I would have to say that 1984 was most likely worse.

And that brings us to the present day.  We are 1-7.  If we lose the game this Thursday against the Washington Redskins and fall to 1-8, that will set a franchise record for worst start to a Vikings season ever.  That is not something that Leslie Frazier wants on his resume.  But just how bad are we?  Well, looking at the same metrics as above, we currently have a margin of victory of -66, or -8.25 per game.  This is worse than 2011, but not as bad as 1984.  Our offense this year is ranked 17th in points and 27th in yards, a little worse than 2011.  Our defense is bad, nearly league worst with a ranking of 30th in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed, which is pretty much equally bad as 2011.  If things continue on in the second half of the season in exactly the same way as they have in the first half, the 2013 Vikings will probably fall somewhere between the 2011 and 1984 teams.  But it needs to be said that this team has dealt with a bunch of injuries, especially on defense.  We lost our two best playmakers in the secondary: Harrison Smith and Chris Cook, and lost some quality starter/depth guys in Jamarca Sanford, Fred Evans and Desmond Bishop.  On offense we just lost Phil Loadholt for at least 1 game due to a concussion and Kyle Rudolph for 4-6 weeks.  Even some of our other starters are playing through injuries like Blair Walsh, Greg Jennings and Kevin Williams.  So while the team appears to be worse than 2011, they haven't quite hit rock bottom in trumping 1984 as the worst.  Pro Football Reference rates the 2013 team as 3rd worst in their Simple Rating System metric, with a score of -7.

So while it's difficult to compare two teams from completely different eras, it would appear that the 1984 Vikings were a worse team compared to its peers in 1984, than the Vikings are now compared to their peers in 2013.  Just how bad were they?  Let's take a stroll down memory lane (oh, I have more...I warned you this would get rough).  The date was January 27th, 1984.  Bud Grant retired as head coach of the Vikings, and Les Steckel was promoted from offensive assistant to head coach, the youngest in the NFL at the time at age 38.  Tommy Kramer was our quarterback in 1984, and he had a propensity for being injured.  He started the first 8 games of the season completing 52% of his passes and throwing for 1,556 yards 8TDs and 8INTs on his way to a pretty mediocre 72.3 passer rating, along with TEN fumbles in 9 games.  He injured his shoulder and only started 1 more game that year.  Wade Wilson and Archie Manning split the remainder of the starts (yes, just like 2013, we had three different starting QBs in 1984).  On the whole, Kramer had an ANY/A rating of 4.86 and a QB rating of 70.6.  Wade Wilson was even worse in relief with a 2.16 ANY/A rating and a passer rating of 52.5.  Manning was only marginally better with an ANY/A of 2.65 and a passer rating of 66.1.  It was a pretty abysmal year for quarterback efficiency, although it's tough to compare those numbers to today's standards.  But compared to 1984 standards, Kramer ranked 19th out of 30 in ANY/A with Dan Marino and Joe Montana leading the league in that metric with 8.94 and 7.93 respectively.  Kramer was 23rd out of 28 in passer rating, with Marino and Montana again leading the league with 108.9 and 102.9 ratings respectively.

Our leading rusher in 1984 was a fullback named Alfred Anderson (who?) who ran for a pretty pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry and got only 773 yards on 201 attempts with 14 starts (48.3 yards per game), he also had 8 fumbles on the year.  Ted Brown was the only other RB that carried the ball for any significance that year (442 yards on 98 carries for 4.5 yards per attempt).  Our leading receiver in 1984 was Leo Lewis a 4th year player who played in all 16 games but only managed to start 5 of them.  He racked up 830 yards on 47 receptions, his career best.  Mike Jones was the only other notable receiver notching 591 yards in an otherwise forgettable career.  For comparison, this was the year that Eric Dickerson broke the single season rushing record with 2,105 rushing yards, averaging 131.6 yards per game.  Walter Payton had an incredible year rushing for 1,684 yards on 381 attempts, good for 105.3 yards per game.  Art Monk and Ozzie Newsome lead the lead in receptions in 1984 with 106 and 89 respectively.  But it was Roy Green, Dickerson's teammate on the Rams, who lead the league in receiving yards with 1,555.

On defense we scored 1 TD for the entire year.  We recovered 0 fumbles and our leading sack artist collected a whopping 5 sacks on the year (right defensive end Randy Holloway).  The only bright spot (if you can call it that) was that the team recorded 11 total interceptions (but 0 passes defended).  As was mentioned earlier, this was the worst ranked defense in points allowed and yards allowed in 1984.

So, 1984 was a team truly without any bright spots.  Offense, Defense, Special Teams...it didn't matter, it was all bad.  Head Coach Les Steckel was fired immediately following the 1984 season, and Bud Grant was re-hired as the Vikings head coach.  And with largely the same personnel, Bud Grant improved the team record to 7-9 with a margin of victory of -13.  Jerry Burns took over in 1986 and the team had four consecutive years of a winning record.  So, good coaching staffs can really turn a team around.  Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs who are witnessing a pretty remarkable turn-around with a new head coach and new quarterback this season.

Keep your head up Vikings fans.  2013 has been pretty bad, but it hasn't been the worst team in franchise history...yet.  Just think, we could be the Jacksonville Jaguars who are well on their way to an 0-16 season with absolutely no bright spots on their team.  At least we still have Adrian Peterson playing at a high level, and a rookie kickoff returner in Cordarrelle Patterson who is leading the league in return yards.  Even on defense there is a bright spot.  According to Pro Football Focus we have the 15th best pass rushing squad, so there's that.  Despite all the negatives about this season...

Could_be_worse_medium

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