One Trusty Stat Claims Vikings Are Quite Good

Back at Jordan
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Per EPA/Play, an NFL efficiency metric, the Minnesota Vikings have arrived in 2023. It took about a month to start minimizing dumb turnovers and generate a sturdy defense, but the club is no longer a bottom-feeder, as the first few games suggested.

One Trusty Stat Claims Vikings Are Quite Good

The Vikings rank 10th leaguewide per offensive EPA/Play and 11th on defense via the same metric. But that’s not all.

One Trusty Stat
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports.

Some pundits rely heavily on Yards Per Play Differential as an indicator of a team’s ceiling, and wouldn’t you know it? Minnesota is fabulous in that regard, too.

The Vikings rank sixth in yards per play differential, only trailing the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Detroit Lions. The 33rd Team’s Jason Cole broke the stat this week, explaining it like this, “For years, one of the stats analysts and gamblers love to use in assessing how good or bad a team is performing is yards per play differential. While it sounds complex, it’s pretty simple.”

What is it? The total number of yards gained versus yards allowed. Cole elaborated, “How many yards does your offense gain on the average play vs. how many yards does your defense allow per play? If you have any hope of winning or even getting to a Super Bowl, the difference better be positive. This is a measure of how teams play on a down-by-down basis where the impact of one or two big plays or flukey circumstances can impact the results.”

Aspect of Vikings
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

And here’s where Minnesota stacks up in the league’s pecking order entering Week 10:

Image Courtesy of The 33rd Team

This is particularly noteworthy for Minnesota because the franchise was heading nowhere fast about a month ago. Following a Week 5 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Vikings faced a 1-4 record, basement positioning in the NFC North, and Justin Jefferson’s prognosis on injured reserve.

Yet, confronting the underwater win-loss record, Jefferson’s hamstring injury, and eventually Kirk Cousins’ ruptured Achilles tendon, Minnesota scoffed at the notion of dying, rattling off four wins over the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers. Green Bay Packers, and Atlanta Falcons.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports.

Newcomer quarterback Josh Dobbs, acquired five days before his Vikings maiden voyage last weekend, led the purple team to a road win over the Falcons, temporarily cementing Minnesota in the NFC’s No. 7 playoff seed, just 0.5 games out of fifth place in the conference and 1.5 games back of the Detroit Lions in the NFC North.

The Vikings once-dead season has fundamentally turned around.

Unveils Latest Danielle Hunter
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Why were operations so rotten out of the gate in 2023? Simple — turnovers. The Vikings were coughing up the ball for opponents — mostly 1st Quarter fumbles — and not forcing takeaways on defense. After Week 5, Kevin O’Connell’s team tamed the giveaways and began yanking the ball away from opponents.

So, to accompany the positive Yards per Play Differential, the Vikings cut out a lot of the stupid stuff and suddenly possess a winning record.

And if the YPPD status is a reasonable indicator — it usually is — the Vikings ceiling is surprisingly high the rest of the way.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by