Vikings Just Can’t Shake One Habit

Odds for Next Year
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Do you remember the good ol’ days when a Minnesota Vikings game wasn’t high-octane and pressure-cooked late in the 4th Quarter?

Some fans may be cynical enough to believe that’s always been the case, but that opinion is false.

Vikings Just Can’t Shake One Habit

During the last four seasons — under two different coaches in Mike Zimmer and Kevin O’Connell — the Vikings absolutely cannot shake one persistent habit: close games.

Shake One
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Mike Zimmer era of Vikings football, when the club was at its Zimmer-led finest, Minnesota either defeated an opponent convincingly or lost convincingly. It was the way of the world for five seasons; folks could flip on the television and watch the Vikings cruise to a 24-10 win or 24-10 loss. There was little in between compared to other NFL teams.

But in 2020, when Zimmer’s defense died, the Vikings began a quest totally hellbent on one-score games. There was no ceremony to announce the arrival; it just happened.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports.

From 2020 to 2023, nearly every Vikings game is an anxiety-inducing, nailbiting squeaker. Few exceptions exist. For context, Minnesota has not beaten an opponent by 17 points or more since December 2019. That contest was at the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center, and the Vikings demolished Philip Rivers’ team 39-10.

That was 1,436 days ago.

A New Wrinkle
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Nowadays, the Vikings no longer handily defeat the opposition, nor does the opposition wallop Minnesota for a lopsided victory. Sized up against the rest of the NFL, the Vikings currently play more tight games than any team.

Here’s the stat to remember, particularly if you tend to think, “Why is every game like this?”

Games Decided by 8 Pts or Fewer,
Vikings,
Since 2015:

2015-2019 = Least in NFL
2020-2023 = Most in NFL

magic entering
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

It’s not a mirage, not one bit. From 2015 to 2019, just 38% of Vikings games were decided by eight points or fewer. Fast forward to 2020 through 2023, or the last four seasons, and a mind-boggling 74% of Minnesota’s games have been decided by eight points or fewer.

Sunday Night Football was simply the most recent example. Minnesota lost 21-20 at Denver after three clumsy turnovers. Or — the week before when the Vikings grabbed a 27-3 over the New Orleans Saints and later won 27-19.

Among two head coaches and a robust batch of roster turnover, the Vikings cannot avoid squeaker games. It’s a part of their recent DNA.

And it didn’t use to be that 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 OverTheCap.com.

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