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Vikings at Jaguars preview: Black (and teal) Mirror

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As the Vikings slip further into oblivion during a star-crossed 2016 season, the Jaguars are beginning to look startlingly familiar.

One of my favorite TV shows of the past few years has been Black Mirror. The show started on BBC for its first two seasons and was picked up by Netflix for the third season that just came out in October. There are only 13 total episodes to date, so you can binge watch the entire series in no time. In fact, if you haven’t seen the show yet, stop reading this article right now and watch it all. Believe me, it’ll be much better than reading a couple thousand words about the Vikings and Jaguars. I’ll wait.

...

Told you it was good! But just in case you skipped ahead and haven’t watched yet, here’s a brief synopsis of how the show works: each episode has a completely different cast, plot, and setting. The common thread is how technology in the not-so-distant future that is intended to improve our quality of life actually has grave consequences. Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator, came up with the show’s title because “The 'black mirror'...is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” Each episode stands alone yet the underlying theme remains basically the same: all the wonderful new screens and gadgets at our fingertips don’t necessarily mean the world is becoming a better place. Technology is unearthing a lot of ugly things about our society that we might not be ready to deal with. (If Twitter hasn’t already made that painfully clear today.)

In that vein, I’m going to use technology to unearth some ugly things about our football team that we might not be ready to deal with. The Vikings are visiting the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, a team that has been a perennial laughingstock of the NFL for much of its 22 years of existence. The Jags haven’t won more than 5 games in a season since 2010. They haven’t had a winning record or a positive point differential since 2007. They have never won the AFC South. (The only two division titles in franchise history came in the AFC Central in 1998 and 1999.) While many pundits were picking Jacksonville as a possible sleeper team before the season, they have spent most of 2016 in a football coma. The Jaguars will almost certainly fire Gus Bradley, who has the worst head coaching record in the modern NFL, after the season.

(Between Bradley, the free-falling Carson Wentz, and me making feeble attempts at tying Netflix shows into my preview articles, this is not a banner year for North Dakota State University alums. But hey, Marcus Williams and Kyle Emanuel are still having decent seasons!)

The Vikings’ season has gone from encouraging to egregious in a hurry, but at least they aren’t Jaguars bad.

Or are they? Here are some statistics for both teams since the Vikings’ bye week—a seven-game sample size of how each team has performed over the past two months. I won’t reveal which team is which; instead we’ll go with Team A and Team B.

Team A: 4.99 yards per play (25th)
Team B: 4.65 yards per play (30th)

Team A: 1,551 passing yards (15th)
Team B: 1,533 passing yards (19th)

Team A: 5.17 net yards per attempt (29th)
Team B: 5.27 net yards per attempt (27th)

Team A: 149 first downs (4th)
Team B: 131 first downs (t-15th)

Team A: 41.7% 3rd down conversions (15th)
Team B: 37.5% 3rd down conversions (21st)

Team A: 5.09 yards allowed per play (7th)
Team B: 5.26 yards allowed per play (12th)

If those traditional numbers aren’t doing it for you, or if you think I’m being too harsh because I’m only including the bad part of the Vikings season, perhaps some season-long advanced metrics might do the trick. Here are the same teams ranked over all twelve games thus far by Football Outsiders:

Team offense weighted DVOA
Team A: -15.7% (28th)
Team B: -13.2% (27th)

Team defense weighted DVOA (the more negative, the better)
Team A: -3.9% (12th)
Team B: -12.5% (5th)

Offensive line adjusted line yards
Team A: 3.33 (29th)
Team B: 3.17 (t-31st)

Quarterback Total QBR*:
Team A: 51.2 (t-28th)
Team B: 51.2 (t-28th)
* Yes, this is another great case of how the Total QBR metric is extremely flawed.

Defensive line adjusted line yards
Team A: 3.51 (8th)
Team B: 4.06 (22nd)

Defensive adjusted sack rate
Team A: 6.3% (12th)
Team B: 7.8% (2nd)

The numbers are surprisingly close, aren’t they? Even the defensive stats are comparable—most people would assume that the Vikings should be head and shoulders above the Jaguars there. Given these numbers, which team would you assume was better? Obviously neither team is great, but overall you might lean toward Team A, right?

Well, until you see this last group of total season stats:

Team A: 4.97 adjusted net yards per attempt
Team B: 6.14 adjusted net yards per attempt

Team A: 76.9 quarterback rating (29th)
Team B: 95.8 quarterback rating (t-11th)

Team A: -89 point differential (29th)
Team B: +24 point differential (t-12th)

Team A: 25 turnovers (t-30th)
Team B: 9 turnovers (t-4th)

Team A: 2-10 record (30th)
Team B: 6-6 record (t-15th)

Sam Bradford hasn’t been amazing, but at least he has been serviceable under extremely difficult circumstances. Blake Bortles has not been serviceable under any circumstances outside of garbage time. Bortles’ wildly frustrating play and penchant for turning the ball over has torpedoed any chances of Jacksonville being relevant this season. Just imagine Bortles at the helm of the 2016 Vikings offense; it would be an abject disaster. Because all things considered, Minnesota and Jacksonville aren’t all that different lately outside of quarterback play. At this point the Vikings are basically a hot start and a Bortles away from being the Jaguars.

I told you there would be some ugly things we might not be ready to deal with.

And yes, it has been that ugly for Bortles this season. You may have heard the stat going around this week that he has more pick sixes (11) than wins (10) in his career. It’s unfair to place all the blame for the Jaguars’ woes at Bortles’ feet, but he’s certainly the easiest flaw to pick out.

Last week was a prime example of exactly how Bortles can take wins off the table. Paxton Lynch and the Broncos had only 206 total yards of offense, less than half of which came through the air. Despite Bortles already gift-wrapping this truly awful pick six in the third quarter:

Jacksonville scored early in the 4th to make it a one score game. The Jaguars defense held firm the rest of the game and gave the offense FOUR separate chances to drive for the game-tying score. The results of those drives:

  • Turnover on downs
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • This:

I’m being 100% serious when I say that the Vikings’ best chance to score touchdowns on Sunday might be when Blake Bortles is on the field.

But it isn’t all bad for ol’ Blake and the Jaguars offense. Bortles is a sneaky good runner. He already has over 1,000 career rushing yards, good for 25 yards per game. (Which means Bortles is literally better at running the ball for Jacksonville than Toby Gerhart ever was.) And while the Jaguars running game is normally maligned, they have been coming on as of late with the 1-2 punch of T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson. The Jags are 4th in the NFL in rushing yards and 7th in yards per carry over the past seven weeks. With Harrison Smith out, Jacksonville could find some holes in the run game.

Ah yes, Harrison Smith. The latest Vikings star to have his season cut short by injury. At this point the Vikings are less of a football team and more of an Oscars "In Memoriam" video. The year 2016 has killed off as many Vikings body parts as it has beloved celebrities. Someone should totally make one commemorating all of the players (and coaches) that we’ve lost this year. OH WAIT SOMEONE ALREADY DID!

Losing one of the best safeties in the game will definitely hurt, but at least the Vikings’ defensive line is still relatively healthy and playing at a very high level. After acquitting themselves quite nicely against the best offensive line in football last week, they should excel against a decent but not great Jaguars line.

Oh, how I long for the days that we could call the Vikings line “decent but not great.” I feel bad for harping on T.J. Clemmings yet again in this space—he’s a great guy doing his best while being over-matched in an unfamiliar position—but I feel it’s necessary. Clemmings has a 25.7 out of 100 grade from Pro Football Focus, which is of course the very worst grade in the league. In fact, you could double Clemmings’ grade and he’d still have only the 59th highest tackle grade!

And then you watch the tape and completely understand why.

The fact that Bradford and Pat Shurmur’s offense is scoring any points at all behind this offensive line is nothing short of sorcery. Minnesota’s offense is what it is by now; I don’t think we can expect anything different down the stretch. We just have to hope that the defense and special teams shoulder most of the load and the offense can capitalize on the few opportunities they get.

The Jacksonville defense is a formidable foe for any offense. Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara are nice young bookends at corner. Telvin Smith has looked outstanding next to Paul Posluszny at linebacker. Yannick Ngakoue already has 6.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. The Jags are a mess on the offensive side of the ball but their defense should keep them hanging around all day on Sunday.

The magic number for the Vikings if they want to start their quest to win out and make the postseason: 21. Since Dread Pirate Mike Zimmer took over as Head Coach (you had to know you weren’t getting through this article without an eye patch joke), the Vikings are 18-2 when scoring 21 points or more. Unfortunately I don’t see either team hitting that mark unless their opponent makes some costly mistakes. With these struggling offenses and solid defenses, I can’t remember previewing a game where the turnover and field position battles were so important. As long as the Vikings can avoid beating themselves with turnovers and penalties—and as long as Jeff Locke can go back to punting like he did before the Dallas game—they should be able to do enough to win.

Staying in the playoff hunt for at least one more week would be nice because it sounds like that might be the only way we see Adrian Peterson in purple again. I know a lot of you are emotionally done with AP at this point, but he’s still one of the best football players I have ever seen. It would be nice to see him make at least one big play at the new stadium. I think the Vikings will delay the self-destruction on Sunday, giving us one last chance to see #28 do something special. Last week I warned against getting your hopes up (and was sadly proven right); this week I’m saying to hold onto that little shred of hope you have left.

Because if the Vikings lose this one, I’m turning off every Black Mirror in my house and abandoning our new technology (along with any residual hope) altogether.

Prediction

Vikings 16, Jaguars 10


And now for the rest of my Week 14 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

CHIEFS over Raiders

Great game between two very good teams. Since it’s a short week, I’ll go with the home team. Thursdays are more conducive to methodical, plodding football and defensive scoring anyway.

Steelers over BILLS

I have the feeling that we’re going to glance at this game around 1:45 Sunday afternoon and say “holy crap look at the score!” I think it’ll be the Steelers winning, but for all we know about these two streaky teams it could be 30-7 Buffalo at halftime.

LIONS over Bears

I’m 3-9 picking Detroit games this year, which is two games worse than any other team. Here’s to going 3-10!

Bengals over BROWNS

I mean, this might be the best chance for Cleveland to avoid 0-16, and they’re still touchdown underdogs. More like RG0-13, amirite?!

TITANS over Broncos

Every time I think Marcus Mariota and Tennessee are ready to take control of their crappy division, they lay an egg. So here I am, completely not learning from my mistakes and picking the Titans anyway.

COLTS over Texans

Speaking of teams that can’t take control of their crappy division...the Texans might actually be good if Brock Osweiler wasn’t currently having literally one of the worst seasons ever.

DOLPHINS over Cardinals

Another game where I wouldn’t be surprised if either team won by 30. The running backs in this game are going to sway millions of fantasy playoff matchups.

Redskins over EAGLES

I’m rooting for Carson Wentz to help the Vikings out! It’s the perfect scenario! And yet I have zero faith that he can actually pull it off.

PANTHERS over Chargers

If Cam Newton needs a tie to avoid another one-drive suspension, I’m sure Philip Rivers has a few bolos he could spare.

49ERS over Jets

Neither team even deserves a snarky joke about how awful they are. Let’s move on.

Falcons over RAMS

Nobody in the NFL is better at failing upwards than Jeff Fisher. I’m simply in awe at this point.

PACKERS over Seahawks

I’m telling you, the Packers coming back from the dead and making the playoffs is the only way to end this horrible year. With Earl Thomas out and Seattle already coasting to the NFC West title, this is gonna happen.

BUCCANEERS over Saints

I picked Dallas as a reverse jinx in my Survivor Pool last Thursday (now 11-2 on the season) and it almost worked. Hopefully it comes all the way through this Sunday by me going with the Bucs.

Cowboys over GIANTS

Doesn’t it seem like 90% of the games these two teams play against each other are on Sunday Night Football?

PATRIOTS over Ravens

What will ESPN show more of on Monday: actual game footage or highlights of all the memorable playoff battles New England and Baltimore have had over the years? I say the latter.

Last week: 8-7
Season so far: 114-75-2