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Vikings Season Outlook After Going 0-2

Vikings are down but not out of the postseason

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The Vikings started the season 0-2, largely if not entirely due to having a 7-1 turnover deficit over those two games. That puts them in a significant hole they need to climb out of if they’re to make the postseason.

NFL Football Operations has produced an updated postseason probability chart updated for the 17-game season- and 7 playoff teams- that looks like this:

As a 0-2 team, the Vikings have just a 22% chance to make the postseason according to this updated chart. That’s basically the same probability as the Vikings winning a game with a zero-point spread after going down 10-0 mid-way through the first quarter, starting 1st and 10 from their own 25-yard line. The way things have gone for the Vikings luck-wise this season, it’s also like having given up a field goal to their opponent and then giving up a pick-six on a tipped ball that bounced off the receiver’s hands right into those of a defender.

And if you think about 0-2 from a point spread basis for both games, the Vikings are 0-2 instead of the expected 1-1 after two games, having been favored against Tampa and the underdog against the Eagles. But however which way the Vikings got to 0-2, or what the expectations were for those two games, they’re still 0-2 and there is no changing that.

Down But Not Out

For all the disappointment that comes with starting the season 0-2, the Vikings are far from out of the postseason race. There are a few reasons for that.

NFC North Roundup

The best way to punch your postseason ticket if you’re an NFL team is to win your division. And as it stands now, the Vikings are one game out of first place. Hardly an insurmountable deficit. The other thing about the NFC North is that if anything after two games, it seems more wide open than it was before the season started.

First off, the 2023 Chicago Bears look remarkably similar to the 2022 Chicago Bears. After much ballyhoo during the offseason, Justin Fields has not improved. Rather than the seven games I predicted they’d win this season, it looks like it could be another 3-win season for the Bears.

Secondly, the Lions juggernaut hype has dissipated significantly over two weeks. Yes, they’re a good team, but perhaps not much better than last year’s Lions. Their defense hasn’t improved much statistically, despite the influx of free agents. They managed to sneak past the Kelce- and Jones-less Chiefs to start the season, only to fall to the Seahawks, who don’t seem to be rising quite as fast as was believed a few weeks ago, in overtime at home. The Lions also lost a few starters in that game, including starting running back David Montgomery for at least a few weeks, slot corner CJ Gardner-Johnson (likely for the season with a torn pec), edge rusher James Houston for 6-8 weeks with a broken ankle, and starting guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai will also miss time with a knee injury. Starting left tackle Taylor Decker remains out with an ankle injury and appears doubtful to start Sunday against the Falcons, and the same is true of cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, with a hamstring injury.

The Lions have a number of games against mid-tier opponents in the coming weeks, and being down key starters could have an impact in the win-loss column. Atlanta, @ GB, Carolina, @ Tampa, @ Baltimore, and Las Vegas before they enter their bye week nine. And apart from two games against the Bears, their schedule is if anything more difficult after their bye week.

Third, the Packers are 1-1 against the Bears and Falcons. While not much of an achievement, there is some optimism in Packerland, as Jordan Love hasn’t been a disaster. That optimism may begin to fade as the Packers schedule gets tougher, especially after their early bye-week six. The Packers have home games against the Saints and Lions next in quick succession, given they play the Lions on Thursday night, and then travel to Las Vegas. All three games could go either way. But after their bye-week, their schedule gets a lot tougher and it wouldn’t be surprising for the Packers to fade away as the weather gets colder.

The bottom line here is the NFC North is looking if anything less formidable than prior to the season’s start, and the Vikings still have all six division games remaining. Going 6-0 in the division may be on the optimistic side, but 5-1 or 4-2 seems realistic.

Vikings Remaining Strength of Schedule has Softened

The way the opening two weeks have unfolded, some of the tougher games on the Vikings schedule don’t look quite so tough now. The 49ers at home looks to be the biggest challenge on the schedule at this point, with the Bengals looking pretty tame and even the Chiefs looking less than super to start the season. The rest of the teams present some challenges but look like very winnable games if the Vikings can stop turning over the ball.

I think the Chargers will be a challenging game, and could be a barn burner, but that Chargers defense is ripe for the Vikings passing game. They’ve given up 333 passing yards a game so far (Miami, Tennessee) and nine yards per attempt. The Dolphins have a similar offense as the Vikings and gouged the Chargers for 535 yards in the air and 36 points.

If the Vikings can get right at home against the Chargers, traveling to Carolina looks to be an easier matchup, which could get the Vikings back to .500 before facing the Chiefs at home. That game will be a challenge, but a winnable one the way the Chiefs have played so far. The Vikings then travel to Chicago, followed by the big Monday night game against the 9ers. The next six games are all very winnable for the Vikings: @GB, @Atlanta, NO, @Denver, Chicago, bye-week, @Las Vegas. If the Vikings are going to make a run and gain momentum, this will be the stretch to do so. They end the season @Cinci, Detroit, @GB, @Detroit. We’ll have to wait and see if the Bengals are able to put it together to make the postseason- they were 0-2 last season as well- but they’ve got a pretty tough slate this year. I doubt the Packers will be in postseason contention by week 17, so that game could be an easier one- it’s also at home and not on sloppy Lambeau Field. But the two games against the Lions could potentially be for all the marbles in the NFC North, but also a long time away and who knows what will happen over the ten games until the first matchup.

Overall, based on DVOA and win-loss record for teams so far, the Vikings remaining strength of schedule has gone from one of the most difficult to one of the easiest. That can and will probably change, but so far its gotten a lot easier.

The Vegas View

The odds for the Vikings to make the playoffs are currently at +250, which equates to a 28.6% probability- a bit higher than the generic table from NFL Football Operations above, which gives them just a 22% chance at 0-2. The over/under for Vikings’ wins this season is down to 7.5, with a bias toward the under. Both indicate the expected pessimism for the Vikings chances to make the postseason after an 0-2 start, but perhaps not as severe as expected either.

It’s interesting that the Vikings are now +500 (16.7% probability) to win the NFC North division this season, which seems like pretty good odds given the Vikings are only one game out of first place and the state of the NFC North so far this season.

We’ll have to wait and see how the season plays out- and there is a lot of football yet to be played. Stay tuned.

Follow me on X/Twitter @wludford


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