From 2010 to 2013, the Minnesota Vikings were a middling organization with only one playoff appearance (2012) and three very unmemorable seasons under former head coach Leslie Frazier.
Following Frazier’s departure, the team went out and hired highly respected Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The organization also selected quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Bridgewater assumed the starting spot in Minnesota’s fourth game after Matt Cassel was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. The Vikings took their lumps and finished the season an unassuming 7-9, but it was clear Zimmer was a difference maker. In the NFL, straight up wins and losses are largely correlated to a team’s pointspread success. The fact Minnesota won only seven games but posted a 10-6 against-the-spread record was, for bettors, a positive sign.
The lumps of 2014 paid off in spades as Minnesota skyrocketed to an 11-5 record, including the NFC North division crown the following year. What’s even more amazing is the rate at which this team covered numbers.
The Vikings went 4-1 ATS in the preseason and 14-3 ATS in the regular season and playoffs. And while every team seemingly has a pointspread ceiling, the Vikings never reached theirs as they closed the year with five straight covers, including one in a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Entering this season, there were many questions that needed to be answered about whether or not the Minnesota could sustain its pointspread success – most notably, had the betting markets caught up?
The team was dealt a major blow before the season even started when Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL in practice. They made what looked to be a bit of a panic move by trading for injury prone Sam Bradford. Minnesota gave up a lot to get him, including a first round pick.
The trade was met with plenty of scrutiny given Bradford’s past and the need of having to learn a new offense on the fly. Shaun Hill got the start for the Vikings in their first game against Tennessee and didn’t play well, but in typical Minnesota fashion the defense took charge in a 25-16 win and cover.
Bradford then took over in Week 2 – a win and cover over rival Green Bay – and has since looked like the quarterback he was originally pegged to be as the first pick in the 2010 draft. Bradford is currently averaging a career high 7.9 yards per pass attempt to go with a stellar 109.7 QB rating.
Another challenge thrown at Minnesota this season was the injury to running back Adrian Peterson. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata have been serviceable but the Vikings enter this week with the league’s worst rushing numbers (70.6 ypg, 2.5 ypc).
Last season they posted 133.5 ypg and 4.5 ypc. Even without Peterson, you’d expect this year’s numbers to improve though the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil for the season is a concern.
Minnesota is on one of the most amazing pointspread streaks in the modern era: 40-11, 78% in the preseason, regular season, and playoffs since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in 2014. The question is how long will this continue?
Last season, of Minnesota’s eight home games, on only three occasions were they asked to lay over a field goal. And only once were they favored by more than -6 (touchdown favorites over the woeful New York Giants in Week 16). They were also favored on the road only twice – against bottom feeders San Francisco (-2.5) and Chicago (-1.5).
We’ve already seen the Vikings priced as -2.5/-3 road favorites in Week 1 at Tennessee and -3.5 and -6, respectively, at home against the Giants and Houston Texans. And while the pointspread tax continued to climb, let’s also pay attention to how ridiculously “clean” the Vikings have played thus far. Bradford has yet to throw an interception despite tossing 14 in 14 games for the Eagles last season.
The team as a whole has a sports league-leading +11 turnover margin thanks in large part to only one giveaway. Yes, Minnesota leads the NFL in yards per play allowed (4.4) but their differential is only +0.5 – undoubtedly correlated to their inability to rush the football.
Overall, there is a lot to like about this organization. Zimmer brought in three former head coaches with Norv Turner, Tony Sparano, and Pat Shurmur all on staff. The emphasis and execution of basic fundamentals is rivaled by few in the NFL. But this is no longer a team power-rated as slightly above average.
When you get pegged as a Super Bowl contender you get priced like one. And as mentioned, every team has a pointspread ceiling. The results show the Vikings haven’t hit theirs, but they’re certainly knocking on the door.