Aaron Schatz started Football Outsiders in 2003 as a way to make sense of what was troubling his favorite NFL team, the New England Patriots. He’s still the head of the site, which has morphed into a much bigger warehouse of analytics and data since then. Simulations on the site recently concluded the Vikings have the best chance of any team of winning the Super Bowl this season. With that as a backdrop, Schatz recently chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q Aside from being 5-0, what do the numbers from Football Outsiders like about the Vikings?
A Well, not the running game. That’s what it doesn’t like. … The defense is really, really good. If you looked at our site last year, you know that we really weren’t that big on their defense [in 2015]. They were only 14th in our numbers. What we said going into the season was that the talent was there for the defense to be superb but it wasn’t there yet. Now it is. It’s really good all around. And the special teams have been very good except for Walsh’s field goals. I think he’ll come back.
Q Where does that leave the offense?
A There has always been this worry about [Sam] Bradford — is he really good and has he just been disadvantaged by everyone around him? Or is he really average? And the people who thought he was good have been proven right. Cian Fahey, who is our film room guy and a huge Bradford fan — and he was before the trade — feels like his feelings about him have been borne out. But the problem is the running game. They’re not getting any run blocking and they’re not getting any long runs. But there’s no reason it should be this bad all year.
Q How do you reconcile the turnover differential [plus-11 through five games, best in the NFL], and how does that factor into what you think of the Vikings?
A They have only fumbled once on offense and they recovered it. The defense has recovered four. Over time, that’s going to regress to the mean, but it’s not that big of a regression. And they’re not going to go through the whole year with no interceptions. But they can have few picks, few fumbles. They can absolutely lead the league in turnover differential. It’s not like they have a bunch of interceptions that bounced in weird ways or were fluky.
Q At this point in the year, how are your team ratings determined?
A It’s 30 percent from our preseason preview and 70 percent from the season so far. And Minnesota in our preseason preview was slightly above average. We had them into the playoffs with Teddy Bridgewater. And then we had them .500 when it was Shaun Hill. And then we had them seventh in the conference when it was Sam Bradford.
Q How did this site get started?
A I was a Patriots fan and a longtime fan of [baseball sabermetrics pioneer] Bill James. Nobody was doing this stuff for football. A couple sites were trying, but one was very gambling-focused and the other was fantasy-focused. I wanted to know about which teams were going to win. … I was playing around with the stats and created the site in 2003 as a side project. I was lucky and created it right when Michael Lewis published “Moneyball.” Everyone came looking for it.