If you've been reading the site for a while, you'll know that I have a great deal of admiration and respect for the folks that run the Football Outsiders website. They've been kind enough to sit down and do a Q&A session with us over the past couple of seasons (and they'll be doing one with us again next week), and their level of statistical analysis pretty much sets the bar for everyone else.
The 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac is out, and it's something that you should pick up, in my opinion. As always, you'll find a ton of great analysis and projections for all of the teams in the National Football League, as well as the Minnesota Vikings.
However, even with as great as the statistical analysis of the FOA is, the past couple of years have shown why the National Football League is the current king of American sports. Even with all the statistics and numbers and facts and everything else, there's just enough of an unpredictability factor in this sport to show that, in the end, we really don't know anything about anything when it comes to the NFL.
I have the last three Football Outsiders Almanacs (or, more accurately, the electronic versions) here in front of me, and it shows a bit of a trend about the Minnesota Vikings. Each year, the FOA does a win projection based on a whole lot of numbers and statistics that I don't have access to, and really don't even want to begin to speculate on. All I know is that they have their methods. So, what have those methods shown for our favorite football team the past three seasons?
Well, the 2011 Football Outsiders Almanac had a win projection for the Minnesota Vikings of 8.5 wins. . .essentially saying they could be a 9-7 football team that season. They were looking at a fairly weak schedule by FOA projections (29th in the NFL), and were thought to have the talent to squeak out a 9-7 campaign with Christian Ponder caddying for Donovan McNabb for a year before taking over the reigns himself.
That certainly isn't how the 2011 season turned out for the Vikings, though. The McNabb signing turned out to be a worse disaster than asking Brett Favre to come back in 2010, the pass defense was one of the worst such units in the history of the National Football League (owing largely to the departure of Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook's legal issues, and pretty much no depth behind them), and the team limped to a 3-13 finish after Ponder was installed as the starter mid-season.
That moves us to 2012, where the Vikings were going into the season with question marks everywhere. . .along the offensive line, at wide receiver, at quarterback, and on defense. Oh, and that Adrian Peterson fellow was coming off of a pretty nasty knee injury in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season and nobody was sure how his comeback was going to go.
Despite the fact that many "experts" were predicting the 2012 Minnesota Vikings to be in play for the top overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Football Outsiders projected the Vikings for 6.4 wins last season. . .a projection that appeared to be a pretty brave one at the time. Granted, they were facing the third-weakest schedule in the league by FOA's projections, but after they had been so bad the year before, that seemed like pretty high cotton. I'm pretty sure that I said that if the Vikings got all the bounces to go their way in 2012, they had a shot to be a .500 team.
And we all know what happened last season. Adrian Peterson went absolutely nuts over the second half of the season, the defense stepped up when it needed to, and despite Christian Ponder's up-and-down season, the Vikings finished with a 10-6 record and got into the NFC playoffs on the final play of the regular season. Just like folks couldn't see the Vikings being as bad as they were in 2011, many couldn't see them being as good as they wound up being in 2012.
Which brings us to 2013. I'll caveat the projected win number by saying that the 2013 FOA projects the Minnesota Vikings as having the second-toughest schedule in the league in 2013, as opposed to the "weak" schedules that they were projected to have in 2011 and 2012. Then again, the Vikings wound up the 2012 season having played one of the toughest schedules in the NFL as well. So, take that portion with as much salt as you'd like.
However, despite Adrian Peterson being healthy going into the season (coming off of a year when he won both the Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year Awards), three first-round draft picks that one could reasonably argue were the best at their positions in the 2013 NFL Draft, another year in Coach Leslie Frazier's system, and the other positives this team appears to have going their way. . .the 2013 FOA has the Vikings projected for 5.5 wins.
I may be misinterpreting, but I can't help but take that to mean the Football Outsiders folks mean that the Minnesota Vikings have somehow gotten worse from last July to this July. And you can call me biased, call me a homer, or call me a biased homer. . .but there's really no way I can see that as being the case. I just can't. Yes, I know that the Vikings lost Percy Harvin (who they didn't have for the last 7 1/2 games of the 2012 season anyway. . .5-2 record without him, if you're scoring at home) and Antoine Winfield, but there are a lot of positive changes on this squad, too.
I guess that's why I'm not too dismayed over the projection. I don't think the 2013 Minnesota Vikings are (essentially) a 6-10 football team. I mean, they could be, I guess. . .just like I would have guessed that the 2011 Vikings could have gone 3-13 or the 2012 team could have gone 10-6. Personally, I think this team will, at the very least, be closer to the post-season than they will be to the top of the 2014 NFL Draft. Significantly closer, at that.
We'll go more in-depth into Football Outsiders' analysis of the 2013 Minnesota Vikings when we do our Q&A with them next week. If there are any questions you'd like for us to send to the folks at FO, feel free to leave them in the comments section here.