Tuesday, July 7, 2015

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A lot has been said about the effects of the Minnesota Vikings moving to a new stadium, from losing familiarity to selecting a strong-armed quarterback to deal with the wind. The wisdom of choosing a ten-year franchise quarterback based on a two-year stint aside, most concerns are seemingly overblown—the Vikings should be slightly better, maybe, if anything.

According to Chase Stuart at Football Perspective, teams have been one percent better when moving to a new stadium. In his set of 55 teams who have moved from one stadium to another (either permanently or temporarily), they’ve improved their record from 47.2 percent to 48.7 percent.

I had three initial reactions to this:

  1. So obviously, there’s no effect
  2. The fact that the record before moving to a stadium was less than 50 percent implies that the sample size is small (which we know to be true anyway)
  3. The fact that the record before moving to a stadium was less than 50 percent implies that improvement is more likely regression to the mean.

It does, however, fit another study done by Jason Lisk (now at the Big Lead) that specifically looked at home field advantage (against away record) when moving to a new stadium. Depending on what in your opinion causes home field advantage, the results are what you’d expect.

Home field advantage in the NFL is about +16% for a generic team—they win at a rate 16% higher at home than they do on the road. For teams in new stadiums, the first year is slightly higher than expected (consistent with Chase Stuart’s research) but perhaps not meaningfully so at +19.2%. The second year in the new stadium, however, is +22.7%—and it’s not because teams somehow get worse on the road (that record did not meaningfully change).

That difference is not all that extraordinary; an 8-8 team gets pushed to an 8.44-7.56 team. But teams that have a tendency to get into close games (say, like the Vikings last year) could use that additional push to grab a win they otherwise would not have. Using Game Scripts, which calculate the average point differential over every second of every game (and therefore doing a lot to eliminate the effects of garbage time), the Vikings’ “true ability” was that of a 6.5-9.5 team, not the 5.5-10.5 team they really were. Having a small push here or there would have very likely improved their record and the home field advantage in 2015 may make a team like last year’s Vikings into a 7-9 team.

For the most part, this is largely trivia. The fact that teams are better at home is not news, nor is it particularly shocking to learn that teams who visit more often have a smaller road penalty. The familiarity/comfort hypothesis for home field advantage carries a lot of circumstantial evidence in its favor, including the fact that teams that visit more often do better than teams that don’t. Divisional games only carry a 1.8 point penalty for road teams (vs. 3.1 points for non-divisional opponents) and home teams win divisional games 54 percent of the time instead of the 59.5 percent of the time they win against non-divisional opponents. First-time visitors to a stadium do worse than their spread projections by over a point.

The familiarity hypothesis also carries weight because home field advantage is strongest in the first quarter (of multiple sports) and decreases as the game goes on.

The Vikings, in theory, will not be all that familiar with TCF Bank Stadium in their first year, but will be somewhat more familiar than their opponents (aside from, I suppose, the Chicago Bears—meaning Corey Wootton should feel right at home). In their second year at the Bank (I swear I’ve heard that nickname for it before), they will be significantly more familiar with the stadium than the majority of their opponents and should have a more pronounced advantage.

HFA likely comes from a number of things, though I do think familiarity is the biggest cause—things like crowd noiseevolutionary biology, travel time/distance, climate and so forth do not have a large effect (though some do have a significant effect, it’s simply small) or are difficult to test. The most popular thesis, referee bias, usually relies on data (penalty differential) that does not extract opponent performance from actual bias (teams who are behind or players who are uncomfortable may be more likely to commit penalties) and doesn’t hold up to high-sample scrutiny—except in environments where referees may actually fear for their personal safety.

Regardless, it should be fun to see warm-weather teams visit during the winter. The only one on the schedule in 2014 seems to be the Carolina Panthers, on November 30th (they play the Dolphins in Miami).

Cornerback has been a consistent problem for the Minnesota Vikings ever since, well… I kind of want to say “forever.”  If the struggles continue over the next few seasons, however, it will not be due to a lack of investment.

Xavier Rhodes was a first round selection last year and Captain Munnerlyn will make his Vikings debut with high hopes after signing a lucrative free agent deal.  This month, the Vikings used later draft picks to select Kendall James and Jabari Price.  Marcus Sherels was retained on a nice two year deal and Josh Robinson hopes to move outside and rebound from a troubled sophomore campaign.  Veteran Shaun Prater was also retained while Derek Cox joined Minnesota with hopes of reestablishing himself as an NFL-quality cornerback.

The competition at cornerback is almost certain to be much discussed from today (first day of OTA’s) until the final cut.  For the sake of discussion and interesting debate, I’ve created a poll that will allow you to predict up to six cornerbacks to make this roster, so cast your votes now.  Rhodes and Munnerlyn are locks, and Sherels is close to a lock I’m betting, but after that the vote counts have a potential to get a little interesting.

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[NOTE FROM ARIF: Chris Serri wants to post again, this time about how excited he is for organized team activities to get started. He’s posted twice before, once about Johnny Manziel and once about Jared Allen leaving for the Bears. If you have a guest post idea, please feel free to email me at arifmhasan (at) gmail DOT com]

By Chris Serri

Today marks the beginning of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) for the Mininesota Vikings. The beginning of OTAs marks another early step towards the start of the NFL season, following the rookie and voluntary minicamps. They are important for NFL coaches, especially so for rookie coach Mike Zimmer, with this being another early opportunity to get some work done with his players. OTAs aren’t particularly too exciting, however, this year’s will be slightly more entertaining, mainly due to the position battle at quarterback. It will also be interesting to see our team’s rookies hit the field again after the conclusion of their mini-camp ending less than two weeks ago.

The quarterback competition this offseason begins with this year’s OTAs. These next couple of days will be an early chance for each quarterback to impress their new coaches. The competition is a wide-open race, and while there have been suggestions as to who the favorite is to win the job, each of the team’s three  quarterbacks will be given a fair shot, as it has been  reported that the  three of them will split first-team reps.

As of now, it looks as though rookie Teddy Bridgewater or veteran Matt Cassel will be the starter week 1. The majority of fans are dissatisfied with Christian Ponder, and many are shocked that he is getting a  chance to  compete. While there have been ongoing rumors since prior to the draft of Ponder being traded, he is here to stay, at least for now, and he is looking to prove to Norv Turner and Mike Zimmer that he is their man. It will have a major uphill battle for Ponder, as he is seemingly the least-expected to win the competition.

The beginning of  the quarterback competition will not be the only thing we’ll have our eyes on at the start of OTAs. With rookie mini-camp having recently ended, it will be exciting to see them on the field again. Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr have drawn the most  buzz of the entire group, as they were both top draft prospects selected in the first round. They will be exciting to watch for sure, however, there are several other rookies to keep an eye on that could potentially make an impact both during and season and in the years that are to come.

Defensive end Scott Crichton is an important player to watch. He has a very strong motor, and while he may not be the most athletic defensive end to have been selected in the draft, he is certainly one of the smartest. His natural football instincts are clear when watching him on tape, and they also translate to his stat line. Crichton had a college-career high 74 tackle in 2011, and while his tackle numbers were slightly lower in each of his next two years, he still had 22.5 sacks total over the course of his three seasons, averaging 7.5 sacks per season, which is a solid number. The most impressive number when analyzing Crichton is his 51 total tackles for a loss. This is where his strong motor comes into play. Scott Crichton has all the tools to be a very good defensive lineman in the NFL, and having the chance to work with a great defensive mind in Mike Zimmer will certainly help his development.

Running back Jerick McKinnon is another rookie that Vikings fans should have their eyes on. McKinnon was drafted out of Georgia Southern, and while he was originally an option-quarterback in college, his switch to tailback proved to be a smart move. McKinnon rushed for 3899 yards and 42 touchdowns over the course of his Georgia Sournern career, with his most impressive season being 2012, when he rushed for 1817 yards and 20 touchdowns. McKinnon is a freak of an athlete. He had one of  the most impressive combines of any prospect in the 2014 draft, running a 4.41 40 yard while also bench pressing 32 reps. He also happened to be a top performer in the vertical jump, broad jump, 20 yard shuttle, and 3-cone drill.

Overall, his speed and versatility are superb. There are still several concerns with him, however. Many analysts believe he is a raw running back, having little experience as a traditional tailback. There are also concerns  with him in the pass game, as  he has little experience catching the football and his pass protection is not considered impressive. These perceived flaws can be fixed with proper coaching, as McKinnon has all the talent in the world world to become a very good running back in the NFL.

OTAs aren’t the most exciting part of the NFL offseason, but they are a good first step towards the NFL season. They give the coaches a chance to  get some work done with their players, and it is also fun for the fans, as they get an early glimpse at their team’s position battles, as well as a chance to see the rookies in action. There are several important players to keep an eye on for Vikings’ fans, so it is time to get busy!

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If Bradley Randle  becomes an NFL player with a great and long career it won’t be because it came easy.  If he doesn’t, it won’t be because he didn’t feel the love from the fans in Minnesota.

The little firecracker of a running back should consider giving lessons to other professional athletes on how to gain popularity within a fan base.  By being incredibly accessible to the fans via Twitter, and always willing to talk about Vikings football with the little guys (like us), Randle quickly became a favorite of Vikings fans despite never seeing regular season action.

The Vikings invested a third round selection on running back Jerrick McKinnon after retaining Matt Asiata.  The even sniffed around the likes of LaRod Stephens-Howling according to the rumor mill.  After the Draft, the Vikings wasted little time in cutting Randle loose, which resulted in an outpouring of disappointment from Vikings fans.

As if being released (again) by the Vikings weren’t enough to see Randle look elsewhere for a contract, surely watching them draft a young running back would have him facing facts, right?  Well, apparently not.

Randle continued to make himself a hero to Vikings fans on Tuesday when he revealed he actually turned down a tryout opportunity with the Packers because of his love for the Vikings.

The kid either has reason to believe he will be rejoining the Vikings again soon or he is truly a rebel like his Twitter handle suggests.  Perhaps maybe, just maybe, he’s just a little insane.

Whatever the case may be, though, he is certainly loyal and continuing to earn brownie points with the purple faithful.

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The Vikings selected Oregon State’s Scott Crichton with their third pick, 72nd player selected overall. By going back to the defensive front seven so quickly, Vikings brass provided a glimpse into how the defense will be built.

Crichton has an interesting story for how he got where he is today. He declared for the draft in January despite having a year of eligibility remaining. Crichton did so without seeking an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, having already planned to make the NFL jump in order to help his family, letting his parents retire specifically.

At 6’2⅞” 273 pounds according to NFL.com, Crichton is an end on the shorter and thicker end of the size spectrum as a defensive end. His arm measures 32¾ inches at length, which is rather short for ends. He’s not a spectacular athlete either.

Crichton looks like an average player on the surface. His production tells a different story. He totaled 165 tackles, 51 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, 9 pass deflections, and 10 forced fumbles over his three seasons with the Beavers.

Let’s go beyond box score statistics and size measurements to find the real meat of Scott Crichton as a prospect and as a schematic fit for the Vikings.

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