The Minnesota Vikings formula for success in 2019 and beyond is not that complicated, and fans should not look to the offense to place blame.
The expectations were sky-high for the Minnesota Vikings following the 2017 season after finishing the regular season 13-3 and making their 10th NFC Championship appearance. Before the 2018 season, the Vikings seemingly did everything right to pass that last hurdle and return to the Super Bowl—42 years after their last of four losses.
On the offensive side, in March the Vikings signed free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to a hefty three-year, $84 million contract. In April, they added offensive line help, drafting offensive tackle Brian O’Neill in the second round and guard Colby Gossett in the sixth round. At the end of July, they signed Stefon Diggs to a five-year extension worth $72 million.
The defense was not left out. In March they signed free-agent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to a one-year deal worth $8 million. In April they signed linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five-year extension worth $50 million and in June they also signed a five-year extension with defensive end Danielle Hunter worth $72 million. In total, the Vikings committed to $286 million spread out over five years as the 2018 season approached.
It didn’t help. The Vikings struggled to finish 8-7-1 and failed to make the playoffs.
Cousins has been the focus of a lot of criticism for the Vikings failures in 2018. It’s easy to point at the offensive, ranked 19th in scoring, dropping from a top-10 scoring offensive in 2017 behind quarterback Case Keenum. A closer look, however, shows that the offense averaged 22.5 points per game—a measly 1.4 points less than the previous season.
Perhaps people are looking in the wrong direction? The success of the Vikings in 2017 was due largely to the top-ranked defense that allowed only 15.8 points per game. In 2018 the defense dropped to ninth in scoring allowing 5.6 points more per game. Combine these two effects, and the result is a touchdown difference in the wrong direction between 2017 and 2018.
Looking at the Vikings’ point differential over the past 26 years provides a lot of clarity and uncovers the formula for success. During this span, Minnesota made it to the postseason 13 times.
Comparing the Vikings’ overall point differential to their total number of wins results in a 91 percent correlation factor. Obviously, if a team scores more points than they allow, they stand an infinitely better chance of winning the game, and the more games a tea wins the better chance they have of making the playoffs. Yeah, I know, this is some real earth-shattering stuff.
What is very interesting is that the three highest point differentials for the Vikings over the past 25 seasons came in 1998 with a +16.3 point differential and 15 wins, 2009 with a +9.9 point differential and 12 wins, and 2017 when the Vikings had a +8.1 point differential and 13 wins. In all three of these seasons, the Vikings made it to the NFC Championship game.
The point differential tipping point for the Vikings to make the playoffs is 3.8 points. This is the average for the past 13 playoff seasons. This past season they only outscored the opposition by 1.2 points per game.
So, the conclusion can be made that the Minnesota Vikings defense, and the points they allowed, is responsible for the team’s success in 2017 AND their failure in 2018.
In order for this team to return to the playoffs, Cousins and the offense needs to improve the scoring by a field goal per game—which, with the kicking woes the Vikings have experienced maybe a lot tougher than it sounds. This would have the Vikings averaging 26 points per game and a point difference of 4.2, provided the defense performs the same as last season.
On the other hand, if the defense can return to their 2017 form, and limit the opposition to 16 points per game, the offense doesn’t need to do anything different from 2018. Even if the Minnesota Vikings defense can split the difference between 2017 and 2018, and reduce scoring by only a field goal, this should be enough to get the Vikings to the postseason.
It is that simple, right? Now the hard part is the execution.