Through six games this season, the Minnesota Vikings have allowed sixteen points per game. Couple that defensive showing with the Vikings' offenses of the late 1990s and we might be talking about a return to Super Bowl champion contention this season rather than merely wondering how far a solid defense can carry a club that has yet to live up to even the most pessimistic of expectations.
In week seven, the Viking showed glimpses of a capable offense, putting up 24 of the team's 31 points against a team that had been yielding an average of 22 points per game. That total was not only an improvement over the league mean against Seattle, but also an improvement over the Vikings' offensive output of 12 points per game. And it reversed Vikings' trends of scoring fewer points against their opponent than the league mean and scoring well below their expected output.
But one game does not a season make. And that's why many remain hesitant to annoint the Vikings a challenger even in the not-surprisingly sub-standard NFC. A victory tonight, particularly with a reasonable display of offensive aptitude, would go a long way toward eradicating any lingering skepticism, however.
Despite continuing losses of key personnel on both sides of the ball, the New England Patriots manage to remain competitive. Part of that is due to the overwhelming mediocrity that is today's NFL. But much more of that success is attributable to the ability of head coach Bill Belichek to retain the right players and fill holes with talent found late in the draft.
After a slow start in 2006, the Patriots appear to have positioned themselves for yet another playoff run as their division rivals move ever further back into the pack. Through six games, the Patriots have scored 136 points and allowed a scant 80. They have also hit right on their expected scoring total (EST) of 23 points while holding opponents well below their EST of 21 points, allowing a mere 13 points per game.
Like the Patriots, the Vikings have held their opponents well below their EST, albeit to a slightly lesser extent of -4 per game. On offense, however, the Vikings have not been nearly as proficient as have the Patriots, averaging a -3 EST. That number looks even worse when adjusted for the numerous touchdowns that the Vikings' defense has tallied this season.
For the Vikings to win tonight, they will need to accomplish what few teams have been able to accomplish against the Patriots this season--they will need to move the ball on the ground. The Vikings' numbers from last week suggest improvement in this area with the team recording 175 rushing yards. Ninety-five of those yards came on one play, however. And while all plays count, some distort tendencies.
For the Vikings, the prevailing tendency remains one of a weak right side of the offensive line and an over-stacked left side. That's spelled difficulty for the Vikings' running game, making it difficult for the left side of the line to open holes for Chester Taylor. And, absent a strong game from Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson, that trend will only reverse itself by employing the play-action and the mid- to deep-range passing game that will force New England to respect the pass.
The numbers suggest a tight New England victory in the neighborhood of 18-17. But numbers don't account for home team momentum. Despite what the numbers suggest, instinct suggests that the Vikings will build off of last week's offensive improvement, prevailing at home.
Prediction: Vikings 23 over New England 22.
Up Next: Post game.