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These days I can't look at Twitter or listen to an NFL podcast without hearing someone call the Vikings "frauds." In fact, I just heard it again this morning listening to a prominent podcast recap the NFL weekend. People point to their minuscule point differential (+2), record in one-score games (10-0), and Kirk Cousins dancing shirtless with 14 pounds of gold chains around his neck as evidence of the "fraud" claim.

Now, I'm not here to defend the Vikings as a primary NFC contender, let alone a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Yes, I'm a Vikings fan, and that needs to be stated up front. That's why I just did it! And I think people are both right and wrong in how they're talking about the Vikings right now. Read what I have to say and you be the judge.

The Colts Game as Paradigmatic

This week's game against the Colts was paradigmatic of who this team is. They are a team that can go down 33-0 to a team in the bottom third of the league AND they are a team that can complete the largest comeback in NFL history. Let's examine each half.

In the first half, the Vikings exhibited numerous flaws that plague them as a team. They came out flat. This was a game where they should have been ready--after all, it was to clinch the division--but they weren't. They had no energy and were outworked by the Colts in every facet of the game. They were outplayed on special teams. The long kick return on the opening kick and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown were the biggest examples of this. Kirk Cousins was missing open receivers by a couple of yards. Despite his high completion percentage, this has been a problem to start games. The defense allowed massive gains on most plays, which they've done all year as the team giving up the most yards per game in the league. Perhaps most importantly, they had a -2 turnover differential. One of these was a fumble by Cook when the Vikings were driving and approaching the Red Zone, the other was a pick 6 by Cousins. This doesn't even include the blocked punt returned for a TD, since it's not technically considered a turnover. In short, they sucked in every way there is to suck in an NFL game.

In the second half, it was entirely different. The offense moved the ball effectively, utilizing not only Jefferson and Cook, but finding Osbourne and Thielen as well. The defense was more aggressive and opportunistic. They got one turnover, and even more than that, they had two others returned for TDs that were taken away by the officials. You can argue the first one, the second one was obvious. Had those been allowed the defense would have played a major role in getting them back in the game. The Colts may have dialed back their play calling, but in the first half it didn't matter, the Vikings couldn't stop anything. In the second half and overtime, they allowed 3 points. They also played with energy and effort--something completely lacking in the first half.

The Vikings are volatile. You can rightly destroy them for the first half, but you can also rightly praise them for the second half.

What about that point differential?

One of the pieces of evidence used to call the Vikings "frauds" is their paltry +2 point differential. I want to examine that, but remember, I am not making the case the Vikings are a top team in the league, only that they aren't frauds.

What if we took out the Vikings' top two and bottom 2 performances this year? This would be a +16 versus the Packers, +8 versus Arizona, -17 versus the Eagles, and -37 against the Cowboys. This would make their point differential +32, making them 8th in the league behind Philly, Buffalo, San Fran, Dallas, KC, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. I'm not even making the case they're the 8th best team in the league. What I am saying is people are using a stat that is dramatically skewed by a small number of games. This stat is used as proof without context.

What the Vikings are is a team that doesn't really blow anyone out and a team that got blown out in one game.

What turnover differential tells us about the Vikings.

One stat that has a significant impact on winners and losers is turnover differential. Lose the turnover battle and it's about 70% likely you'll lose the game. Lose it by more than one and that jumps over 80%.

There are 7 teams that have a winning record when you combine even and negative turnover differentials this year.

  1. Philadelphia (3-1)

  2. Kansas City (7-3)

  3. NY Giants (5-2)

  4. Buffalo (6-3)

  5. Cincinnati (5-3)

  6. Minnesota (5-3)

  7. Dallas (4-3)

What you'll see is that five of the teams generally considered to be in the top tier of the league are on this list along with the two most commonly called frauds. My contention is that it takes more than just luck to win more than you lose when the turnover differential isn't in your favor. Maybe the Vikings and Giants aren't as big of frauds as people say they are.

The Vikings look good when...

The Vikings can look very good, and even be pretty good when the conditions are just right.

  1. Their defense plays aggressively and creates chaos. This is not a defense that can sit in their base defense and stop ANYONE with regularity. Their only chance is to blitz, change coverages, even hold a little in the secondary--in short, be very aggressive. If you're going to give up points eventually sitting back in base coverage, why not take risks? Yes, they might score, but that's going to happen anyway. The problem is Ed Donatell is committed to playing the worst defensive schemes possible. Someone should hold him accountable for this.

  2. Kirk Cousins has time to throw. It's no secret at this point--Cousins with time is good; Cousins without time is terrible.

  3. Dalvin Cook holds onto the ball. He only has 3 fumbles on the season, so that's been good, but he's had one in each of the last two games. The one against the Lions was on the goal line and the one against the Colts was around the Colts 30 yard line. These were very impactful plays and the Vikings won't regularly be good enough to overcome that.

The Vikings look bad when...

The opposite of all the stuff I just wrote happens. And when they get outplayed on special teams.

So who are the Vikings?

The Vikings are a slightly above-average team that is highly volatile.

They have a better record than they deserve, without a doubt. They also are not frauds in relation to what I hear people say about them. They are only frauds in relation to rabid fans who think they are Super Bowl contenders or imaginary people Vikings haters create who believe the same.

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