Sizing Up Vikings Value
The Minnesota Vikings enjoyed a breakout year in 2015, capturing the NFC North title away from the Green Bay Packers - with a prime-time win Lambeau Field to clinch it no less - before losing a heartbreaker to the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs. It follows that expectations are high for the Vikings this season. Is there value?
The key numbers we'll focus on here are the Minnesota is 2-1 to win the NFC North (trailing Green Bay), 20-1 to win the Super Bowl (10th-best in the league) and the Over/Under for wins is 9.5. That's the benchmark the betting market has set for the Vikings' third year under Mike Zimmer.
This is a throwback football team. They win with defense (5th-best in the league) and running the football (the incomparable Adrian Peterson). In an age that focuses on quarterbacks and the passing game, Minnesota is bucking the trend and hoping this formula works as well for them as it did for Denver last season.
There's every reason to think the defense will be up to snuff. This is Zimmer's specialty, as the coordinator for some excellent defenses in Cincinnati before coming to the Twin Cities. Minnesota is anchored up front with an outstanding interior duo in Linval Joseph and Shariff Floyd. They can plug the run and pressure the pocket from the middle. They also keep blockers off edge rushers, something that's enabled outside linebacker Anthony Barr to become one of the more prominent young defensive players in the game.
Even better, there's room for improvement. The secondary has some good individual talent in Harrison Smith, Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman, but they went and added the great Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander in the draft. We'd like to see this defense take the next step to greatness and that would begin by forcing more turnovers, an area they only ranked 22nd in the NFL last season.
It's the offense that's the question mark and questions surround both Peterson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With A.P., it's really simple - at age 31, how can long can he keep absorbing the hits that come with his workload? Peterson's 327 carries last year were easily the most in the league. He wears it well, winning another rushing title and still averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per pop. But 31 is old for a running back and the Vikings have to be on alert for any sign of decline.
Bridgewater is developing into a good quarterback for this system. He's high-percentage and steers clear of mistakes, ranking in the league's top half in both categories. The question mark lies with where his ceiling is. He ranked 18th in yards-per-attempt. That's not terrible given his completion percentage, but if Bridgewater can't elevate that stat - while still hitting a high percentage and steering clear of mistakes, he'll just be the next Alex Smith. Which there's nothing wrong with if you want to make the playoffs, but no one will bet on you to win a Super Bowl.
The market seems to have a pretty good read on the Vikings right now. Even though they won the division last year, no one wants to take them at 2-1 this year, given the likelihood of a resurgence from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. It's also possible that Chicago or Detroit could be better than they're given credit for, so it's not as though Minnesota is the only alternative to the favorite. The 20-1 price tag to win the Super Bowl looks about right.
Where this is some opportunity is on the Over/Under of 9.5. If the Vikings go 10-6 that would be regression from last year and you'd still pick up the Over. There is a price to be paid - it's (-155) to take the Over compared to (+135) to go Under, but if you're a Minnesota backer and are looking for a way to express that, this is your best spot before the games start.