The Minnesota Vikings arguably are facing their first “true” test of the season, what with the St. Louis Rams being discounted by national and local media alike (for national media, somewhat post-hoc) for fairly legitimate reasons.
But the New England Patriots aren’t just a different beast from a talent perspective, they’re entirely different category of schematic obstacle. Not for nothing, the Patriots are known as one of the most creative teams in the NFL on both sides of the ball. From pioneering hybrid fronts to bringing the H-back to the fore, there are significant influences the Patriots have leveraged to the rest of the league, and there are more to come.
Against the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots fell short, especially after an inefficient second half, where they scored zero points. Much has been made of the Patriots’ record after a loss (13-1, according to Zimmer in the last 14 losses and 32-4 since 2003 according to Brian Hall). I don’t think that’s particularly relevant. In that time frame, they’ve gone 138-38, or 78.4%. A 32-4 record is 88.9%, which is what you’d expect is similar to the record a team would have if you eliminated their 38 best opponents.
Instead, the New England Patriots are just very good and there’s not a lot of evidence that we should pay much more attention to the fact that they’ve done better off of losses. The converse of this, of course, is that the Patriots would be worse after a win (75.7%) which is difficult to conceive of as important.
Historically, Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner have done well against New England. Since 2001, Zimmer defenses have met New England offenses three times. In that time, they’ve allowed an average of 18.7 points and had a defensive DVOA of -24.0% (negative defensive DVOAs are good). That DVOA would be the second-best defense of 2013. Further, a recency-adjusted DVOA would be 39.2%, the best in the NFL and 15.8 points allowed. It’s not a large sample size, but it’s encouraging. Though the Mike Zimmer Bengals likely had more proven defensive talent, there’s reason for optimism.
Norv Turner has scored 20 points a game and a recency-adjusted points of 21.1 per game. The offensive DVOA is 3.0%, and recency-adjusted offensive DVOA is 6.5%. Because there are 11 data points, it is slightly more robust. Once outliers are eliminated, the points per game and DVOA rise to 21.9 and 10.8% respectively. Again, there are really not that many data points to draw a real conclusion, though many of Norv Turner’s teams were not as talented—his 2002-2003 Dolphins met the Patriots four times and had fewer weapons and likely a worse quarterback. His 2004-2005 Oakland Raiders were even worse. This may be balanced out by his 2007-2012 Chargers, but including his stints in San Francisco and Cleveland tilts his available talent against him.
Regardless, shallow historical analysis would imply that the Vikings are well equipped to coach against the Patriots, with a 1.3 to 6.9 point advantage in prior meetings. Still, the game isn’t won with history, it’s won with current matchups and coaching, and the Vikings are in a tough spot in that regard.