Back when the Vikings were 2-2, fresh off a subplot-filled loss to the Bears, it would have been hard to imagine asking this question.
But here we are, armed with data after a 5-1 stretch, the latest of which was a significant win at Dallas, asking it anyway: Are the Vikings the best team in the NFC?
Let’s start with FiveThirtyEight’s ELO ratings, which have been high on the Vikings for a while now but suddenly have Minnesota all the way up to No. 3 in the NFL — behind the Patriots and Ravens, both of whom of course are in the AFC.
Three NFC teams are right below them (Saints, Seahawks and 49ers), while the Eagles and Packers are also in the top 10.
Pro Football Focus has the Vikings with the second-best overall grade (90.1) of any team, trailing only Dallas — a team the Vikings just beat on the road.
The Vikings also show off great balance in both the PFF and Football Outsiders DVOA rankings, sitting in the top 8 in both offense and defense in both metrics. Only the Saints can also say that. Other top teams are heavy on one side of the ball (like San Francisco on defense or Dallas on offense).
*The title of “best team in the NFC” probably belonged to either the 49ers or Saints before last weekend, given that San Francisco was the lone unbeaten team and the Saints deftly survived without Drew Brees. But both lost last weekend — the Saints in stunning fashion to Atlanta. And San Francisco’s schedule, which has been the fourth-easiest so far (per FBO) is the eighth-hardest in remaining games.
*The Vikings lead the Packers in all of these measures, but they trail in a very important one: the standings. Green Bay’s 21-16 win at Lambeau in Week 2 — combined with its 3-0 division record compared to 1-2 for the Vikings — gives the Packers (8-2) a big edge in the division race.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Packers a 63% chance of winning the NFC North, while the Vikings are at 35% (and the Bears get the other 2%). New Orleans is given an 80% chance of winning its division (best of any NFC team), a big reason why New Orleans is given the best chance to win the Super Bowl (10%) among NFC teams, followed by the 49ers (8%) and then the Vikings and Seahawks (tied 7%) and Packers (6%).
Those tightly packed Super Bowl odds indicate there isn’t one dominant team in the NFC, which matches the eye test.
Are the Vikings the best of the bunch? I’m not ready to say that yet. But if they take care of business against the Broncos and then win at Seattle coming out of the bye, I’ll be convinced.