It started with a desire to see if there might be some under-the-radar statistics that might explain beyond "culture" or "fourth quarter playmaking" why the 10-2 Vikings seem to be outperforming so many advanced statistical models (in addition to surprising a lot of us who predicted a team that went 8-9 last season with a lot of the same players didn't figure to be any better this year).

It ended with not just a few satisfying data points to share, but perhaps something bigger: A revelation that new coach Kevin O'Connell hasn't just improved the environment inside the Vikings' locker room but has perhaps solved what any fan of the franchise could only describe as a decades-long officiating conspiracy against the purple.

How else can we explain data point No. 1: That the Vikings, through 12 games this season, lead the NFL in the number of first downs (32) obtained via penalty.

After all, the Vikings last year were No. 25 in that category and paid the price. And lest you think it's not the O'Connell influence, consider that the Rams — the team he helped to a Super Bowl title as offensive coordinator last year — are dead last (13) in first downs via penalty this season now that he's gone.

OK, let's dial back the hyperbole a bit (even while noting that the Vikings have benefited from more calls, both subjectively and objectively, than in many recent years).

We can at least draw some correlation between that stat and success. The last two times the Vikings made the playoffs, in 2019 and 2017, they ranked No. 9 and No. 5 in first downs by penalty, respectively. In their non-playoff years of 2018, 2020 and 2021, they never finished better than 16th.

Want something far less conspiracy-worthy to help explain their success? How about the very glamorous world of ... field position.

Ryan Wright has punted 57 times without a touchback this this season, making the Vikings the only team that hasn't kicked it into the end zone. But Wright has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard-line on 49.1% of those punts, the second-best rate in the league.

Getting close to the goal line without going all the way in is a huge yardage saver, helping explain how the Vikings can give up so many yards while still (usually) not giving up enough points to lose.

The Vikings have also been very good on fourth down offense and with red zone offense this season, but I'll forgive you if you want to fixate on the penalty statistic.

Add it all up and it helps explain why they're often at least in a position to win despite deficiencies in other areas. And with an NFL-best six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or OT this season, that's right where the Vikings want to be.