Once Menacing Statistic is Now Working in Minnesota’s Favor

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Vikings climbed up to 13 victories. Curiously, Minnesota did so while being outscored by opponents.

The season’s conclusion arrived and the Vikings were sitting at -3 in their point differential. Kevin O’Connell’s 8th-ranked offense averaged 24.9 points per game while Ed Donatell’s 28th-ranked defense allowed an average of 25.1 points against per game. Add the totals together and Minnesota had scored 424 points while allowing 427 points. Or, put differently, -3.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell watches his team warm up before a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

A touch paradoxical, no doubt, but true nevertheless. Minnesota pulled off a winning record while putting up point totals suggesting the team should have finished with a thoroughly average record. The Vikings’ detractors — many of whom have a zip code belonging to Wisconsin — pointed out that O’Connell’s squad wasn’t elite like the record suggested, a theory that was confirmed in the opening round of the postseason.

Fast forward a year and things are looking a bit different. The record is no longer elite, sitting at a humdrum 6-5. Now, most within Minnesota are happy with that win/loss ratio given how the season began, but the record is what is is: just a hair above average. Do the points similarly point toward an average football team?

Once Menacing Statistic is Now More Flattering for Vikings

Going into Week 12, the Vikings have scored 253 points while allowing 230. Crunch the numbers and you’ll find that Minnesota is sitting at a much more respectable +23 when it comes to point differential.

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Most will think of the offense. After all, the head coach is a former quarterback who is now the main architect and playcaller for Minnesota’s offense. Star players like Kirk Cousins (who is done for the season), Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Christian Darrisaw are leading the charge on that side of the ball.

And, despite all of the turmoil, the coach and players are leading Minnesota to the league’s 11th-best offense by averaging 23.0 points per game. The lone time Minnesota has climbed beyond the 30-point threshold actually occurred in Week 9 with Josh Dobbs taking over. Even then, the point total sat at just 31 points, so most fans would like to assume that the offense’s true ceiling hasn’t yet been hit.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) react after a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Brian Flores has been more than holding up his end of the bargain. The Vikings are coming in at 15th in the NFL by allowing just 20.9 points per game.

The defensive coordinator has been coaxing excellent seasons out of players like Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks, Camryn Bynum, Ivan Pace, Akayleb Evans, Harrison Phillips, and several others. And while he’s best known for his fastball — a relentless commitment to bringing the heat by blitzing — the defensive coordinator is also capable of throwing his curve ball for strikes. Quite often, Flores can be found dropping eight men into coverage. The tactic has worked at various points.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Apart from the Green Bay victory, the Vikings have been in a single-score games every week this season. Teams like the Chiefs and Eagles haven’t been able to blow out Minnesota. Most recently, the Broncos won by just a single point.

Conversely, the Vikings really haven’t been able to win games comfortably (apart from GB, of course, where MN won by a pair of touchdowns in Week 8). The potential was certainly there against New Orleans — there was a 27-3 lead in the second half — but Minnesota failed to capitalize, instead opting to shoehorn a bit more stress into their fanbase’s collective life.

According to Ben Goessling of The Star Tribune, the Vikings have been involved in 36 single-score games since 2021. No question, there have been some wonderful wins but plenty in Minnesota would welcome a touch less anxiety in the waning moments of a football game.

At the end of the day, the only thing that truly matters in football are wins and losses. Any Vikings fan would gladly accept a season with negative points overall if it meant winning the ultimate prize. To be sure, the Vikings as a team would welcome the same outcome.

More often than not, though, the best teams make a habit of picking up a flattering point differential. Look for the Vikings to work toward improving both their points and record on Monday Night Football.

Kickoff takes place at 7:15 p.m. CST on November 27th.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.