Once upon a time, legendary statistical analyst Bill James created a formula for estimating how many games a team should have won based on their run differential.
The website Football-Reference reworked the formula, which can be used to demonstrate when a team should have been better or worse than their final record and in turn help predict which direction a team will go in the future. Here’s the formula:
Expected record =~ -----------------
PF^2.37 + PA^2.37
Last season, the Vikings had an expected record of 8.6 wins and 7.4 losses based on their 327 points for and 307 points against.
Great teams have to get a ton of bad breaks to miss the playoffs or choke like crazy in the clutch. Atlanta, for example, had an expected record of 10.6 wins and 5.4 losses. They ended up 11-5.
The Vikings ranked 23rd in points scored last year. Tacking on 30 points would only move them up from 23rd to 20th – a feat that should be very attainable considering the front office added two new tackles, two new running backs, a deep-threat receiver, a center and three more potential pass-catching draft picks.
Based on Pro-Football Reference’s expected points statistic – which is based on the number of points expected in each situation – Minnesota’s improved running game alone should get them into 10-win range. In 2016, the Vikings ranked 32nd in rushing with an estimated 59 points lost between being their performance and that of an average team.
If the Vikings had scored 59 more points last season, they would have ranked 13th in the NFL total points.
Bradford and the passing offense ranked 14th in expected points in 2016 – a mark that is likely repeatable or could be topped with better pass protection. There was a 15-point gap between 14th and 12th (Indianapolis).
It isn’t crazy to think the Vikings could be an average running team and above average passing team, which would mean they have the capability of adding somewhere in the range of 75 more points or 4.6 extra points per game.
With an elite defense, a large bump offensive production would push the Vikings to an expected record of 11-5.
But there should be some expected regression on the defensive side. Teams rarely repeat top-five performances year after year (as was studied here
). And Bradford had the best season of his career in 2016, making it difficult to know whether he will slip back or take the next step forward.
The numbers don’t tell us whether everything will go the offense’s way, but they do tell us that the Vikings will need their offseason moves to be a big hit in order to become a serious contender again.