VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
Sunday afternoon, many of you watched the Green Bay Packers knock Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys out of the NFL Playoffs. As it seems to go more often than not lately, the game went the way of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. For the third time in the past eight seasons, the Packers are on their way to the NFC Championship game, one win away from another Super Bowl appearance.
It’s tough to look across the Hudson, at the landscape of the NFL in Green Bay and not feel like they have everything and we have nothing. They have Rodgers, we’ll start our third new quarterback in as many years. They have the reigning rookie of the year (Eddie Lacy), we have a question mark at running back. They have Lambeau, we are currently displaced. They are playing in the NFC Championship game next weekend, we are watching from our couch.
For the past 10 or so years, outside of a flash in the pan in 2009, this has been the way things have gone. The future is starting to look a little brighter in Minneapolis, but the gap is still wide.
But how wide is it? It’s time to quantify the gap and answer the question, just how far behind the Green Bay Packers are the Minnesota Vikings?
To do this, we’ve created a fictitious 100-point grading scale with five categories. Each category brings with it a value scale of 0-20 points, with 20 points being the highest. Grading each of these teams across the Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Fan Base, we’ll come up with a number to show us just how far the Vikings are from where the Green Bay Packers currently reside.
Buckle up, Vikings fans, the results are not expected to be pretty.
OFFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 19, Minnesota 8
The Green Bay Packers hold the trump card when it comes to the offensive category, his name is Aaron Rodgers. A-Rodg is currently the best quarterback in the league and I’m not sure there are any questions any more. He has the skills, he has the attitude and he has the confidence it takes to be a star in this league, and he does it on a regular basis, calf injury or not. Sprinkle in a decent offensive line, a top-5 wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and a dominant running back in Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers offense is one of the best in the league. The only knock that kept them from a perfect 20, is the offensive line that lacks consistency from time-to-time.
For the Vikings, we’ll split the middle and give them a 10, based mainly on potential. Teddy looks like he’s going to be the guy, but there’s really no telling what that ceiling is. Does he have the potential to be a guy like Aaron Rodgers or will he be an adequate starting quarterback, something like Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan? We just don’t know. With a gigantic question mark in the backfield given Adrian Peterson’s current situation, holes at the wide receiver spot and an offensive line that functions like a leaky sink, there are some big concerns for the Vikings on offense after the 2014 season.
DEFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 13, Minnesota 14
This may be the only category where the Vikings walk away on top, but I’m not sure that a one-point loss will mean much to the Packers. The two teams finished 14th (Minnesota) and 15th (Green Bay) during the regular season this year but the Minnesota defense is younger and seems to be trending in the right direction. Julius Pepper is playing on borrowed time and despite still being a dominant defender, even Clay Matthews is starting to show signs of normalcy. For the Vikings, Zimmer’s scheme mixed with Rhodes’ progression, Smith’s steady play and the upside that is Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, the Vikings played poorly down the stretch and still finished ahead of the Pack. Give some of these young players another year or two and it will be very interesting to see where these two defenses stand.
SPECIAL TEAMS (20): Green Bay 12, Minnesota 12
By most accounts, this year was one of the worst special teams years for the Vikings in recent memory. Bad punts followed up by missed field goals preceding poor kick returns, that seemed to be the recipe for the Vikings season this year. Locke, Walsh and Patterson all had down seasons and their stats were all still better than the Packers lot.
Masthay, Crosby and Cobb had a down season across the border too. That said, the problems seem less pressing when your offense is able to score no matter the starting position. Giving both teams a 12 in this category is kind of a cop-out, but trying to weigh potential on something like special teams is a bit of a crap shoot. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings how their assessment of Cordarrelle Patterson played out this year?
COACHING STAFF (20): Green Bay 18, Minnesota 12
The most promising thing about comparing the two coaching staffs for these teams is the fact that last season, the gap within this category would have been twice as wide. Mike Zimmer has given the Vikings hope for the leadership of this team in the future. Norv Turner adds to that equation and we’ll sprinkle in the GM here too, Rick Spielman seemingly makes more good decisions than bad ones (yes we remember Christian Ponder). The attitude, the direction and the coaching seem to be the right mix for a successful team here in Minnesota.
Over in Green Bay, they’re working off of the same recipe card, but they are about six steps ahead of us here in Minnesota. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have this football thing figured out. The way they have not only identified the talent, but then go and utilize those skills is second to none right now. Again this is trending in a positive direction, but it has to be the Packers by a good margin right now.
FAN BASE/GAMEDAY ATMOSPHERE (20): Green Bay 20, Minnesota 8
I’m sure that this will upset certain factions of Vikings fans, but anybody that has ever visited Lambeau Field on Green Bay Packers gameday cannot argue that the atmosphere around that stadium, the level of passion inside the gates and the overall knowledge of the game among the fan base is top-notch. That’s what comes with a history of winning. I’m not saying that Minnesota doesn’t have those fans, but 4 Super Bowl losses and 0 victories followed by decades of disappointment have left those fans in hibernation mode. The new stadium in Minnesota will bring out the fan base again, if the team can pair that with a quality product on the field the fan base will mobilize again and this number will even out a bit. That said, mainly because they’re crazy, I’m not sure that Vikings fans will ever fully catch up to that of the Packers fan base. Trust me, I hate saying this, and they are annoying as can be, but they might be the best fan base in the league.
GREEN BAY 82 - MINNESOTA 54
It’s obviously not a scientific scale, but doing our best to compare the two franchises as a whole, the Vikings are currently 28 grade points behind the Green Bay Packers. Understanding that the Vikings are trending in the right direction in almost all categories, I honestly thought it was going to be worse. Let’s take another look at this in two years when the Zimmer/Spielman crew have had a few more draft classes and Teddy has a few more games under his belt. I’m not saying they will have usurped the Packers on top of the division by then, but this conversation will likely be a lot more interesting then.
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
The Green Bay Packers spent most of the 1960s building a mystique on the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" – a line, incidentally, that NFL Films legend John Facenda never once uttered, but hey, when has Chris Berman let the facts get in the way of a good story? Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jerry Kramer and the great Vince Lombardi dominated the NFL, winning five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) from 1961-67.
That mystique was put on hold for a 25-year period during which the Packers made the playoffs just twice, but it was resurrected in 1993 when a good old Southern boy named Brett Favre picked up where Starr, et al, left off. Through the 2001 season, the Packers had played 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field, and they had won 13 postseason games at Lambeau Field.
Since 2001, however, the fabled Lambeau mystique has gone AWOL. The Packers are just 2-4 in their last six home playoff games:
Along the way, a few trends have emerged, both in the Packers' Lambeau losses and in their two wins (both over the Seattle Seahawks, in 2003 and 2008). The following points lay out something of a blueprint for the Vikings to follow if they want to pull out a win tonight. The path to victory might appear to be common sense on the surface, but the stats behind the concepts should help illustrate their importance.
For the Vikings to beat the Packers tonight at Lambeau, they need to do the following:
1. Score first – The Falcons took a 24-0 lead into halftime (whereupon announcer Bob Trumpy uttered the often-replayed line, "The silence you hear … is Lambeau Field"). The Vikings jumped out to a 17-0 cushion in the first quarter. In 2007, the Giants led 6-0 before the Packers got on the board. In 2011 the Giants led 3-0 and took a 20-10 cushion into the locker room at halftime. The best way to get a team out of its gameplan is make it play from behind. Plus, with alcohol sales being cut off at halftime, if the Vikings lead in the third quarter the stands might empty out fast. (Of course, it's not a guarantee – Seattle scored first in both of its losses at Lambeau – but it's still your best bet.)
2. Win the turnover battle – In their four losses, the Packers coughed up the ball 15 times – nine interceptions (including four by the Vikings against Favre in 2004) and six fumbles – and had just two takeaways. In their two wins over Seattle, the Packers turned it over twice and forced two turnovers.
3. Run the ball effectively and stop the run – This could be a chicken-or-egg phenomenon, because teams often run the ball more when they're protecting a lead, but you still have to be effective to make that strategy work. In Green Bay's four losses, their opponents averaged 136 rushing yards and chewed up the clock by running the ball an average of 34 times per game. The Packers averaged just 21 attempts and 84 yards in those losses. In their two wins over Seattle, Green Bay outrushed the Seahawks by an average of 157 to 39 yards.
4. Make them work for their passing yards – The Packers have been a passing team since Mike Holmgren and Favre came to town in 1992. They're going to move the ball through the air. Just make them work for it. In their four losses, Packers quarterbacks put the ball up an average of 39 times and completed just 55.8 percent of those passes, with nine interceptions and an average gain of 6.2 yards per attempt. In their two wins, Favre averaged 30.5 passes and had a 72.1 completion percentage, with no picks and an 8.1-yard average per attempt.
Sounds simple, right? Four easy steps to victory at Lambeau Field. Again, all four points are pretty much common sense to win most any game, but in the playoffs, sometimes it's good to remember that the best approach is to keep it simple.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
Four weeks ago, the Vikings hit a low point in their season. The December 2 loss in Green Bay left the Vikings at 6-6, and with four losses over their previous five games, it appeared as though an improbable run from 3-13 to the playoffs was over - just another crushed dream for the Minnesota sports scene.
But a funny thing happened while fans were punching Christian Ponder's ticket out of town, calling for the entire coaching staff to be fired, and wondering what wide receiver the Vikings might target with their top-15 pick... the Purple won their final four games and earned the NFC's sixth seed. Amazing.
How refreshingly wonderful does this feel? Over the last four weeks, the Vikings stepped up, defied odds, exceeded expectations, and ripped off wins over the Bears, Rams, Texans, and Packers. Even the most grumbly, curmudgeonly, passive-aggressive Vikings fan should be all smiles right now.
Sunday's win over the Packers was one of the sweetest victories in my recent memory, especially since I'm one of the many Minnesota sports fans often consuming by the pessimistic belief that our teams are somehow doomed to fail and slap us in the face. Every Aaron Rodgers counter-punch - and there were many in the second half; #12 was brilliant - threatened to end the Vikings' season, but MVP* Adrian Peterson, the much-maligned Ponder, and the entire team took the punishment, got off the canvas, and ultimately delivered the victory.
(*There should be zero doubt across the country that AD is the 2012 MVP. I have nothing against Peyton Manning, but he joined a team that won a playoff game last season thanks to an excellent defense and a strong running game. I can name 5-10 quarterbacks who might have led the 2012 Broncos to the playoffs. Replace Peterson with any other running back in the NFL and the Vikings aren't in the postseason.)
In the biggest game of his young career, Ponder may have secured his space atop the 2013 depth chart. We've all been pining for him to perform exactly like he did on Sunday - work off of Peterson's lead, keep the chains moving, protect the ball, and occasionally step up and make a big play or three. I'm still in shock that the Vikings completed four passes of 20-plus yards in one game, including the 65-yard strike to Jarius Wright**. Through 15 games, the Vikings owned a mere 24 completions of 20-plus yards, by far the worst in the NFL.
(**As an aside, this impressive four-game win streak and push to the playoffs has come without Percy Harvin, the team's MVP during the first half of this season. It will be interesting to see how this plays into what should be an interesting offseason when Percy could receive a contract extension, be traded, or begrudgingly play out his contract.)
Ponder has deserved every bit of criticism he has received for his poor on-field play this season, and he also deserves praise for improving in recent weeks and for the win over the Packers. No matter what happens in the playoffs, Ponder's recent play should be a confidence boost as he heads into a critical offseason and a make-or-break 2013 campaign.
The Vikings will be heavy underdogs when they head into Lambeau this coming weekend, and frankly, a victory would simply be extra frosting on what currently feels like a pretty sweet and fulfilling season. Then again, the Purple are peaking at the right time with four straight wins and coulda, shoulda won in Green Bay on December 2. Anything can happen in the postseason; just ask the 2005 Steelers or the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings.
But let's start worrying about the playoff game later this week. Take a moment to bask in the fleeting glow of a Minnesota sports team rising to the occasion and delivering a winning performance (and four weeks of winning performances) beyond our expectations.
The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.
Coming off a 3-13 season, that last thing any of us expected to be doing in Week 16 is discussing the Vikings' playoff chances, but here we are. As you all know, the Vikings are 8-6 and currently hold the sixth and final seed in the NFC Playoffs. Thus, if the season ended today, the Vikes would be in.
However, the season doesn't end today. It ends next Sunday. And strange as it might sound, the Vikings could win their final two games and still find themselves on the outside looking in.
That's right, the Vikings don't control their own destiny, for reasons that are probably far too convoluted to get into in a blog post. (It boils down to conference record – because the Vikings play an AFC team in Houston on Sunday, they have only one more chance to improve their NFC record, while most of the other teams in the 8-6 logjam play two more NFC foes.)
So who should Vikings fans root for this week? It's pretty easy to figure, actually, because most of the teams the Vikings need to lose are facing opponents who are non-factors in the NFC playoff race. The biggest question is the Niners-Seahawks game in Seattle. Vikings fans should be rooting for the 49ers to win that one, because even if the Niners lose out, their 10-5-1 record would be a half-game better than the Vikings' best possible record of 10-6. Thus, hope Seattle goes in the tank – just keep in mind that Seattle has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Purple by virtue of its win on Nov. 4, so if Minnesota hopes to leap-frog the Seahawks, it'll need to win out and have the Seahawks lose home games to the Niners and Rams. That's about as likely to happen as the networks to eschew their standard "fish tossing" shot at the world-famous Pike Place Fish Market on any given week. Meaning, not bloody likely.
We'll sort through the various scenarios in greater detail next week. For this weekend, just pull for the Purple, and pull for the Giants to lose at Baltimore, the Cowboys to lose to the Saints, the Redskins to lose at Philadelphia, and the Bears to lose at Arizona. Then we can pull out the calculators and slide rules and figure out what needs to happen in Week 17 for the Vikings to return to the playoffs.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
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