The folks from Football Outsiders routinely put out their playoff odds report over at ESPN Insider, and this week they have some extra analysis on the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. I can't give you the entire article, because you should just pay for the Insider subscription if you want to read the whole thing. But there are some very interesting highlights and points they raise that are worth mentioning here. The short of it is, they still give the Packers better odds to win the NFC North title than the Vikings. Obviously a win for the Vikings this Sunday would change a lot of projection models, but here is what they had to say about it:
Yes, our simulation still believes that the Green Bay Packers are the favorite to win the NFC North, even though they are now a game behind Minnesota. It's a close call. Both teams have an average of 10.0 wins in our simulations, but the Packers win the division 53.8 percent of the time compared with 44.7 percent for Minnesota (and 1.5 percent for Chicago).
So first off, a 53.8% to 44.7% difference in odds is not huge. It's statistically significant yes, but the Packers are just slightly better than 50/50 odds against the Vikings to win the NFC North title at this point. Add in the fact that both are projected for 10 wins on the year, and you can see why this game is so important for both teams. A win by either team likely sets the table for an NFC North title. A Vikings win moves them to 8-2 against a 6-4 Packers team with a 2-game cushion. A Packers win moves them up to 7-3 against a 7-3 Vikings team and ties it up. It's a big game this Sunday. Football Outsiders continues their discussion about why they think the Packers have better odds, and it's largely due to the remaining schedule for both teams:
We wrote a little bit last week about why our DVOA numbers seem to underrate the Vikings. Minnesota had its highest-rated win of the year against Oakland this week, but the Vikings still are just 17th in weighted DVOA. Why is Minnesota rated so low despite its 7-2 record?
1. The Vikings take a huge hit from their Week 1 loss to San Francisco, although that now looks like a complete fluke. That game has already started fading in the weighted DVOA formula and will continue to fade as the season moves forward. Because it is such an outlier -- and because the Vikings were playing a super-late game in the Pacific time zone -- it's certainly reasonable to argue that the San Francisco loss has even less meaning than a normal game from two months ago.
2. The Vikings have played a very easy schedule so far, the easiest schedule in the league based on average DVOA of opponent.
3. The Vikings have had phenomenal luck recovering fumbles. Certain types of fumbles are more likely to be recovered by the offense, others by the defense, but in general, fumble recovery is about 50-50. Recovering a high percentage of fumbles gives your team a positive turnover margin without any value for predicting future takeaways. The Vikings have fumbled 10 times on offense and recovered seven of them, and they've forced five fumbles on defense and recovered four of them.
The schedule is also much tougher for Minnesota in the second half of the season. Based on average DVOA of opponent, Minnesota has the toughest remaining schedule in the league. Green Bay's schedule ranks 25th. Some of that comes from the two teams playing each other, but if we remove those games, the Vikings still have the tougher-rated schedule (eighth compared with 22nd for Green Bay). Both teams have to go to Arizona, but the Vikings also have the Seahawks and Giants coming to visit.
While it's true that the Vikings have a tougher slate of opponents coming up than the Packers, the Packers have struggled the past three weeks, and there's no reason to think they can get out of their funk in a divisional road game. In fact, the sharps in Vegas have already moved their betting line this week from a 3-point Packer advantage to a 1-point Vikings advantage. I'd like to see that Vegas line at a 3-point or larger advantage to feel better about it, but it's essentially a coin flip game. And just to illustrate again how important this game is for both teams, Football Outsiders again explains:
Next week's game in Minnesota will determine who's really in the driver's seat in the NFC North. In simulations in which the Packers steal one on the road in Minneapolis, their chances of winning the NFC North go back up to 76 percent. In simulations in which the Vikings win at home, Green Bay's chances of winning the NFC North drop down to 29 percent.
Regardless of what happens this Sunday, in the end, Football Outsiders still predicts the Vikings to finish the year 10-6 with our playoff odds at slightly less than 75%, which is a huge jump up by 25 percentage points compared to last week. That road win in Oakland was huge. They finish their analysis saying:
No matter who wins the NFC North, the other team (Minnesota or Green Bay) gets a wild card in roughly 60 percent of simulations.
While this game is huge in determining who will win the NFC North, it doesn't automatically knock the other team out of the playoffs. In fact, the Vikings odds of making the playoffs are still very high even when Football Outsiders gives the Packers better odds to win the NFC North title. Skol Vikings, beat the Packers.