First off, I don’t come here to bash Football Outsiders. They put out some great product, and they were kind enough to sit down with Fearless Leader and give us honest answers about how they saw the 2013 Vikings season unfolding. So, gentlemen, thank you for doing that.
But you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s time to deconstruct their narrative, so let’s get to it.
Let’s start with their win prediction of around five. The scientific term I’m looking for here is ‘wildly ignorant’. Their win total is based on the regression of three things: Adrian Peterson not repeating 2012 (and as much as I love AP and his bluster, I don’t disagree), a drop in special teams production because of the Harvin trade, and the ‘toughest schedule in the NFL’. Let’s take these one at a time.
Since Adrian Peterson came into the NFL, he’s averaged 99 yards a game on the ground. Assuming he can keep that pace, he will finish the year with 1,600 yards, and if his TD totals remain the same, he’ll score between 12-13. Yes, that is a regression from 2,097 yards, but if you consider that Washington’s Alfred Morris, the second leading rusher in the NFL from 2012, had 1,613 yards…it’s tough to call AP putting up numbers like that a ‘regression’.
But still, the Vikings would need to make up those 500 yards (2100 – 1600) elsewhere. That comes out to an average of 31 yards a game. Is it unreasonable to think Christian Ponder can’t add 31 passing yards per game to his total? Let’s take a look. In 2012, Ponder averaged 183.4 passing yards/game, which was 30th in the NFL. If we add 31 yards to that, he’s now sitting at 214 yards/game, which puts him at 20th. Is he capable of being a top 20 passer in the NFL? I don’t think that’s unreasonable. So, let’s call that regression theory ‘blown out of the water’.
Next, let’s talk special teams. I really don’t have a leg to stand on here with the Football Outsiders guys because of two things. For one, Harvin’s production as a special teams guy is a known commodity, and Cordarelle Patterson, assuming he’s the main kickoff return guy, hasn’t played a snap in the NFL yet. But I would argue that the Vikings special teams production has actually been upgraded…but hear me out. Had the Vikings not traded Harvin, he would be out for at least 8-9 games, and the Vikings special teams would be getting almost zero production from that position. Without Harvin, the Vikings have an opportunity with Patterson…who is just as fast…to make up for that loss and put up numbers they could not have replicated had the trade not gone down. Let’s face it, no Harvin trade, no extra draft picks in the first round, and the Vikes don’t go after Patterson. And while I concede to the experts that Patterson is a raw receiver prospect, and it's a stretch to think his numbers as a receiver would approach what Harvin can do given a full 16 game schedule…how friggin’ tough is it to catch a ball at the goal line, scan the field, and run to daylight? It’s tough to say that Patterson will even match Harvin’s special teams results, but he isn’t going to regress the position to the point that the Vikings are a five win team, either.
Finally, let’s look at the schedule, and we’ll break it down by quarters. If we remember last year, in order for the Vikings to make the playoffs, they needed to run the table in their last four games to make the dance, and that closing schedule was brutal—Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston, and Green Bay. They had a combined record of 40-24-1, both Houston and Green Bay were playoff teams, and had the Vikings not defeated Green Bay in week 17, the Bears would have taken the Vikings place in the post season. Two of those games were on the road, and the other two were against division rivals.
With that in mind, let’s look at their 2013 schedule: The first four games are at Detroit, at Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh (in London). Whatever good vibrations were coming out of Detroit are gone, and a 3-1 start is not out of the question here. The Vikings never win in Chicago, but the Bears are a beatable team. I’m sorry, I’m just not impressed with Pittsburgh—Ben Roethlisberger is getting old and not what he was even three years ago, they have no offensive weapons that you have to gameplan for on every play, and their defense is not what it once was. And if the Vikings lose to Cleveland at home, blow it all up and start from scratch.
The second quarter is Carolina, at the Giants, Green Bay, at Dallas. Maybe it’s me, but everyone always overhypes the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys. Always. The Vikings won’t win the Giants game, because they never do well there, but they’re going to beat Dallas, Carolina, and Green Bay at home.
Okay, I’ll let the laughter die down.
Seriously, everyone is looking at Green Bay like they’re world beaters. Their defense is still average, until Eddie Lacy proves himself they have no running game, and this just in…the Vikings beat Green Bay last year, which is a convenient little nugget people like to forget. I see 2-2 worst case scenario in the second quarter, so that puts us at 5-3 at the turn.
The third quarter is Washington, at Seattle, at Green Bay, Chicago. Yeah, that middle part might be ugly, but they’ll hold serve at home, so now we’re looking at 7-5, maybe 8-4. Finally, we close out with at Baltimore, Philly, at Cincinnati, and Detroit. Everyone is jumping all on Philly’s bandwagon because…why, exactly? Chip Kelly? The same Chip Kelly who’s Oregon offenses got absolutely throttled when they played defenses that weren’t the Weak Sisters Of The Blind And Merciful? Color me skeptical, especially with Jeremy Maclin out. Also, if Nick Foles or Michael Vick are your answers at quarterback, you probably don’t want to ask the question. Just sayin’…
Baltimore will be a tough game, but they are a team in transition, as their defense has been gutted, and their offense lost some key parts. Yes, they are the defending Super Bowl champion, but they can be had. I think this Cincinnati game is the toughest one of the four, to be honest. They are a good, young team, and the game is in Cincinnati. Finally, closing out the Metrodome era means the Vikings will beat the piss out of Detroit.
Add all that up, and that feels like a 10 win season, kids. A bounce or two for the good guys, and 11 isn’t out of the question. And yes, a bounce or two in the other direction and nine wins is possible, maybe even eight. But five?
As our newest Hall of Fame inductee is wont to say on ESPN…C’MON, MAN.
Finally, I think Football Outsiders, like most media folks do, tend to emphasize Christian Ponder’s negatives while glossing over his positives. I agree that 2013 is a make or break year for him, but I really disagree that he will repeat his 2012 numbers. Yes, Harvin is gone, but with Jerome Simpson 100% healthy, Greg Jennings in the fold, Cordarelle Patterson ready to contribute, and Jarius Wright with a year under his belt, I would argue that the Vikings receivers, top to bottom, are better as a group than last year. He also seemed to get better the last three games of the season, when the season was on the line the most, and had QB ratings of 83.9, 81.8, and 120.2. The only other time he went above 83.9 in 2012 were wins against San Francisco in week three and Tennessee in week 5.
I’m not saying Christian Ponder is going to be an All Pro, but he isn’t going to be the worst quarterback in the league, either. All he needs to do is just be league average, and I feel he is very capable of doing that. Like I said earlier, I really respect what the guys at Football Outsiders do and the knowledge bombs they drop on a regular basis, but I just think they’re way off on this.