Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Time for Zimmer to Dispel Another Notion--That Vikings Lack the Fortitude to Win as Favorites

Over the course of this NFL season, there are probably not two more comparably matched teams than the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.  In addition to identical records, the teams have nearly identical points scored (345 and 355, respectively) and allowed (289 and 303, respectively).  That those numbers were achieved against nearly identical competition makes the comparison all the more apt.

Inspecting more recent trends suggests that Minnesota and Green Bay have similar prospects.  Over the past five games, both teams have had one game that they would like to forget about.  Minnesota's came in the form of a 38-7 pasting at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay's in the form of a 38-8 thrashing at Arizona.  Neither game was as close as the score might suggest.

In the remaining four games of their previous five-game stretches, both Minnesota and Green Bay went 3-1.  The lone additional loss by each team was by four points or less.

Given these statistics, both teams look to have similar prospects.  That usually bodes well for the home team, particularly when a division title is on the line, and particularly when that title game is being played at Lambeau Field.

But, over the past five games, and even more so over the past three games, some alarming trends have emerged in Green Bay that portend dire season consequences for the Green and Gold.  Conversely, Minnesota has realized some favorable trends over the past three games--trends that tend to bode well for teams looking to make long playoff runs.

In its past five games, Green Bay is plus one on turnovers.  That's not bad.  But the trend has been negative (+2, 0, +1, 0, -2).  Minnesota, meanwhile, has been +4 over the past five games, with the trend  positive (+2, 0, -3, +2, +3).  More significantly, in the game that Minnesota was a -3, the team lost 23-20 at Arizona.  Green Bay lost a game in which it was +2 and was destroyed in the game in which it was -2.  These numbers suggest that Green Bay's margin for error is not as great as Minnesota's.

For a Packer team coming off of its worst defeat of the season, that would be cause enough for concern this weekend.  More alarming, however, should be the fact that Minnesota's embarrassing loss to Seattle came in the absence of three defensive stalwarts and another cornerback.  Those players have now returned to their starting positions.  The results have been immediate, with the team a +3 in turnovers in last week's game.  Green Bay appears to have no such savior on the horizon.

And, if all of that were not cause enough for concern for Green Bay, consider that, while Minnesota's offense has remained in the mid- to upper-300-yard-output range for the past three games, Green Bay's output has dropped precipitously over the past three games from 435 to 293 to 178.  More alarming is that in last week's game, the team's fulcrum, Aaron Rodgers, passed for a nearly inconceivable 77 yards, despite Green Bay being in catch-up mode almost the entire game.

None of this means that it is imminent gloom and doom for the Packers this weekend.  It does suggest, however, that the Vikings ought to consider themselves the clear favorite heading into the game.  The question is whether Vikings' head coach Mike Zimmer will make it his mission this week to dispel the notion that the Vikings are not up to playing as the favorites.

Up Next:  The Zimmer Effect.  Plus, Kicking and Running.