Sometimes you are not what your record says you are
Heading on the road to face a 9-2 team is generally a daunting task.
However, the Minnesota Vikings may just be the worst 9-2 team in NFL history.
That is not to say that the Jets should overlook the Vikings; the Jets cannot overlook anyone in their playoff push. However, this is not nearly as difficult a matchup as the following week, when the Jets head into West New York to face the Buffalo Bills.
Football Outsiders, the analytics website that is the home of DVOA, lists a metric called Estimated Wins (EW) to approximate how many wins the team should have considering their performance in high-leverage situations, including red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. The number is adjusted for a league-average schedule and a league-average fumble recovery rate.
The Jets are listed at 6.9 EW, which is pretty much on par with their actual win total. It’s listed as the ninth-most in football. One caveat is that the Jets have faced and defeated five backup quarterbacks, so they may have been given too much credit by DVOA for some of their victories.
However, the Vikings are listed at just 4.8 EW. 4.8 for a team that has nine victories! No other team has even close to that big a discrepancy between their actual wins and Estimated Wins. The next-closest team is the Giants, who have seven victories but just 4.7 EW. That’s a difference of 2.3 victories, whereas the Vikings’ difference is 4.2.
This tells you that there are many factors other than superior play promoting the Vikings’ great record. In fact, the Vikings are the first 9-2 team since at least 1982 (the farthest back that DVOA is currently tracked) to have a negative team DVOA, and it’s not just negative, but significantly so. The Vikings are 22nd in the NFL in total DVOA at -9.2%. For reference, teams like Cleveland, Green Bay, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta have a better total DVOA than Minnesota.
Furthermore, Minnesota’s supposed strength on offense, their passing game, does not pass muster with DVOA. Though the Vikings rank 7th in the NFL with 240.9 passing yards per game, their pass DVOA is 20th in the NFL, which is one spot behind the Jets. This means that while Minnesota may pile up passing yards, their efficiency is poor.
Meanwhile, the Jets’ defense is the reverse: they will allow yardage at times but are highly efficient in preventing points. They are eighth with 197.5 passing yards allowed per game, which isn’t shabby at all, but their pass defense DVOA is ranked fifth.
A lot of that is due to sacks and turnovers in high-leverage situations. In fact, the Jets rank 7th in the NFL with 25 sacks when the opponent is inside the Jets’ 40, which is just about the edge of field goal range. They’re ninth with a 51.7% red zone TD rate allowed, and that number has been even better in their past three games when they’ve allowed just 28.6% of red zone drives to end in TDs (T-2nd in that span).
The Vikings’ pass defense, meanwhile, presents a chance for Mike White & Co. to keep up the positive momentum they started vs. the Bears. Minnesota is 27th in pass defense DVOA. They’re dead-last in allowing 276.1 passing yards per game. Mac Jones just shredded them for a career-high 382 yards. They are also 29th in defensive DVOA against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. Garrett Wilson is eagerly awaiting this matchup.
This is an exploitable matchup for the Jets. There are still areas that favor Minnesota, but the overall numbers trend in Gang Green’s favor.
However, the game isn’t played on paper. Let’s see if the Jets can get it done.