At this point in the season, you’re probably aware the Vikings have some rather unusual stats for a 12-3 team.
On the one hand, they rank highly in a couple key metrics such as:
- Turnover margin (5th)
- PFF overall team grade of 90.9 (4th)
In turnover margin plus 4th down stop margin (how many 4th down stops they’ve had defensively less failed 4th down conversions offensively), they rank third overall- tied with the 49ers.
On the other hand, they rank historically low (i.e. the lowest ever for a 12-3 team) in play-by-play efficiency metrics such as DVOA at -9.4% (25th). They also rank historically low in point differential (+5) and will likely be one of only a few teams to make the playoffs having given up 400+ yards on average defensively per game in the regular season.
But the signature stat for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings is their 11-0 record in one score games- the only team in NFL history to have so many one score games without a loss in a single season. Many in dramatic fashion, including the biggest comeback in NFL history. Kirk Cousins is now tied with Matthew Stafford for the most game winning drives (8) in a single season in NFL history as well.
And so the Vikings have been both historically good and bad (for a 12-3 team) at the same time, depending on which metrics you choose to look at.
So What Does All This Mean for the Vikings in the Playoffs?
Most oddsmakers and other forecasters take a fairly dim view of the Vikings’ playoff chances considering they’re guaranteed no worse than the third seed in the NFC playoff tournament and currently hold the second seed. Philadelphia and San Francisco are the clear favorites in the NFC, followed by Dallas.
For example, the Vikings’ current odds to win the NFC Conference Championship are at +1000, which translates into a 9.1% chance. The Eagles and 49ers are favorites at +170 and +225- a 37% and 30.8% chance respectively. The Cowboys are at +450, an 18.2% probability.
So, betting markets have the Vikings firmly in the likely ‘also-ran’ category of playoff teams. The forecasting website 538 gives the Vikings just a 5% chance of winning the Super Bowl and The Upshot gives the Vikings just a 4% chance of doing so. Both are in line with betting market odds, which have the Vikings at +2200. The Athletic gives the Vikings an 8.6% chance of winning the Super Bowl, the difference being that their model puts more weight in the Vikings’ ability to win close games.
Given all that, it’s fair to say that the most expected outcome for the Vikings in the postseason is for the Vikings to win a close game in the wildcard round, then lose in the divisional round, most likely to the 49ers.
What Does Recent History Suggest?
Of course there is no individual metric that reliably predicts which team will win an NFL playoff game, or even a combination of several. If there were, somebody would know by now and have made several fortunes betting with that knowledge.
But there are some metrics that are not too bad at predicting winning teams in the playoffs. For example, over the past five postseasons:
- The home team has won 66.6% of playoff games (excludes neutral site Super Bowl games)
- The team with the better overall team PFF grade in the regular season has won 64.4% of playoff games.
- The team with the better DVOA in the regular season has won 59.3% of playoff games.
- A team with a 2-point or better overall team PFF grade than their opponent has won 80% of playoff games.
- Home teams with also a 2-point or better overall team PFF grade than their opponent have never lost a playoff game (11-0).
- The home team that also has the better overall PFF team grade has won 71.8% of playoff games (excludes neutral site Super Bowl games).
- Teams with a first-round bye have won 75% of their first (divisional round) playoff games.
- Teams with a first-round bye and a better overall team PFF grade than their first opponent have won 84.6% of those games.
- Teams with a DVOA lower than -1.0% have won 4 of 12 (25%) playoff games.
- The 2021 Steelers were the only playoff team with a DVOA lower than the Vikings currently in the last five years. They lost their first game to the Chiefs 42-21.
Beyond the last five postseasons, no team with a rookie quarterback has ever made it to the Super Bowl. This has implications for the 49ers. Additionally, only one team (2019 Chiefs) in the last ten years have won the Super Bowl with a regular season overall PFF grade below 90, and every Super Bowl winning team in the last ten years has had a DVOA of at least +9%, and most 20% or more.
How Does All that Apply to the Vikings in the Upcoming Postseason?
Barring some collapse over the next two games, the Vikings will likely be both the home team in the wildcard round and have a better than 2-point higher overall PFF team grade than their opponent- whoever that is between the Packers, Lions, Commanders, Seahawks, or Giants. Given that no team has lost under those circumstances (albeit small sample size), that bodes well for the Vikings to win their wildcard round game, assuming they’re either the second or third seed. In the unlikely scenario they get the first seed, they’ll have a bye week which also gets them to the divisional round.
Assuming the Vikings win that wildcard game, the 49ers and Cowboys are both favorites to win their games. The Cowboys most likely against the Buccaneers. But assuming both the Vikings and 49ers win their games (and they’re both home teams that will have +2 point PFF overall team grades over their opponents) they will play each other in the divisional round, while the Eagles will play the winner of the other game- most likely the Cowboys.
Vikings - 49ers Matchup
Should the Vikings and 49ers face each other in the divisional round, and are the second and third seeds, which team holds the second seed and home field advantage will be a key factor.
The Vikings will need every advantage they can get over the 49ers, who have a higher PFF overall team grade (92.4 vs. 90.9 currently) and a massive 36.4% advantage in DVOA.
For the Vikings, finding a way to rattle 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy will be key. The 49ers are on their 3rd string quarterback- the last player drafted this year- after injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Purdy would be on his sixth career start if the 49ers make it to the divisional round. No team starting a rookie quarterback has made it to the Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean the 49ers can’t beat the Vikings with a rookie quarterback, but often times a rookie can fall victim to the pressure of the postseason, and/or they get hit with coverages and pressures they aren’t prepared for. The 49ers have lost every game this season in which they had more than one turnover.
NFC Conference Championship
Should the Vikings advance to the NFCCC, their most likely opponent now would be the first-seed Philadelphia Eagles, whom they’d play in Philadelphia in a repeat of their week two matchup which the Eagles won 24-7.
A lot has changed since that game for both teams. First, the Vikings are better prepared against man coverage than they were week two, which as much as anything was their downfall week two. They weren’t expecting man coverage after the Eagles played mostly zone coverage week one. Secondly, the Eagles are down some players to injury which may impact them going forward, even with some coming back for the playoffs. The Vikings also have TJ Hockenson now, which will help too.
But the Eagles are nearly 2-points (1.9) better in team PFF grade and would be playing at home, in addition to being a lot better in DVOA, so those factors do not favor the Vikings. The Vikings are unlikely to be favored in matchups against either the 49ers or Eagles, whether playing at home or away, so they’ll need to bring their best game to beat them. The Eagles have lost two of the four games in which they lost the turnover battle. Their two wins were narrow ones over the Colts and Bears.
There has been a lot of talk about the Vikings as frauds because they rate poorly in some efficiency metrics and/or because they haven’t blown more teams out. While doing well in those metrics is preferrable and gives you more confidence in the team going into the playoffs, those metrics don’t guarantee success in the playoffs either. The 1998 Vikings blew away most teams during the regular season, and were 3rd in DVOA that year, but still lost the Conference Championship. The 2019 Vikings were ranked lower in DVOA, point differential, and overall PFF team grade than the Saints, but also ended their season in New Orleans.
For a variety of reasons, mostly to do with methodology and the unusual nature of the Vikings games this season, I don’t think DVOA captures the Vikings performance that well. In the Bills game, the Bills had a DVOA of around +40% while the Vikings had a DVOA around -12%. That just doesn’t represent that game very well- in large part because of the unusual nature of it. And so I don’t think DVOA will be a good predictor of the Vikings performance in the postseason. In other metrics like PFF overall team grade (which correlates higher than DVOA in predicting playoff wins in recent years) and WAR the Vikings rank 4th and 3rd, which may represent their performance better- as unusual as it has been. They certainly correlate better with their winning percentage.
One metric that doesn’t seem to have a big impact on playoff success is one-score games during the regular season. Neither winning percentage in, or number of, one-score games during the regular season seems to be much of a predictor of playoff success overall or in one-score playoff games- one way or another.
One aspect of the Vikings performance recently that has been somewhat lost in the drama of the last couple weeks is the improvement in the Vikings defense. It hasn’t shown up much on the scoreboard or in yards allowed, but the Colts and Giants game were the 2nd and 3rd best defensive showings of the season for the Vikings according to PFF grading. The best was week one against the Packers. If the Vikings can continue to play better defensively- particularly in coverage which has improved the most over the past two games- that could go a long way in improving the Vikings’ playoff chances.
Barring any injury setbacks in the next two games, the Vikings should be without any missing starters entering the playoffs- assuming Garrett Bradbury is back by then which seems likely. Other playoff teams like the Eagles, Cowboys and 49ers will likely be missing some key starters entering the playoffs. Teams that are healthiest entering and throughout the playoffs tend to fare relatively well.
Strong Finish to Regular Season
But for now, the best thing the Vikings can do is finish the regular season strong- and without injuries. Keeping the second seed- and keeping the slim chance of gaining the first seed alive- by winning their last two games would put the Vikings in the best position possible at this point and provide some momentum heading into the postseason.
Which team is most likely to win the Super Bowl? (Most recent winner in parathesis)
This poll is closed
Best PFF overall team grade (Rams ‘21)
Best DVOA team (Patriots ‘16)
First-Seeded team (Eagles ‘17)