In trying to figure out what to make of the Vikings’ 1-3 start, there are three general possibilities:
*This is a bad team that is destined to win just a handful of games (3-5) this season and is deserving of that mark.
*This is a mediocre team that maybe isn’t quite as bad as it looked the first two weeks but still is headed for a disappointing season (6 or 7 wins).
*This is a team considerably better than it showed early on that could rebound and win at least 8 games and contend for a wild card spot in the expanded NFC playoffs.
I’m inclined to think it’s either the first or second (probably the second) bullet point. But one bit of evidence suggesting maybe it’s No. 3 caught my eye this week.
Sharp Football Analysis took a look at fumble and field goal luck through the first four weeks of this NFL season. Why those two specific things? Because fumble recovery rate (own and opponent) as well as field goal make rate (own and opponent) have a high degree of luck and tend to even out over time.
And the Vikings, so far, have had very bad luck in both areas.
In terms of fumbles, the Vikings are minus-2.3 on their expected recovery rate — second-worst in the league. Out of nine total fumbles for the Vikings and their opponents this season, the Vikings have recovered just two.
They also have (by far) the worst field goal luck in the NFL so far. The Vikings have made about 1 field goal less than expected so far, while opponents have made a whopping 2.59 more than expected in just four games. That’s a net of minus-3.5 field goals (more than 10 points over what would be expected).
Per Sharp Football: The Minnesota Vikings are the biggest outlier here in terms of opposing field goals, both in success and volume. No team has faced more field goal attempts than Minnesota's 15 and every kick has been successful, including four of at least 50 yards.
Many of those were directly responsible for the Vikings’ third loss this season, a 31-30 defeat to the Titans. Stephen Gostkowski made all six of his field goal attempts, three from at least 50 yards (and two of those in the fourth quarter). If he has even an average day — or if Dan Bailey makes the 49-yarder he missed — the Vikings likely win that game and are 2-2 right now.
So the Vikings could be due for better luck on both fumbles and field goals as the season goes on. The flip side of that, though, is this: the Vikings had good luck in both areas last season. They were plus-9 in fumble recoveries and had a net plus-3.1 field goals go in their favor vs. what was expected.
Maybe they got a little lucky last year, and things are evening out in 2020?