The Dallas Cowboys really need a win when they travel north to take on the Minnesota Vikings this week. Even with the Cowboys recent loss, being on the road, and their worse record than the Vikings (6-3 vs. 8-1), the Cowboys are somehow the favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook by 1.5 points.
We spoke to the Daily Norseman, the SB Nation site for the Vikings, to get their answers to some of our questions.
Blogging The Boys: The Vikings are tied for the best record in the NFL. Are they way over-performing expectations coming into the year? Was there any hint they would be this good?
Daily Norseman: I think they’re overperforming expectations a bit, but maybe not wildly so. The Vikings played in fourteen one-score games last year and went 6-8, while this year they’ve gone 7-0 in games that have been decided by one score. In the NFL, a lot of things can be determined by a small handful of plays and/or bounces, and the Vikings are getting those bounces this year when they weren’t last year. As far as whether or not there were any hints, I think a lot of people expected there to be an improvement because of the coaching change that the team made, but I don’t know if they expected this much of an improvement. However, new coach Kevin O’Connell has this team believing in themselves and has brought a significant culture change from what we saw at the end of the Mike Zimmer era. I don’t think a lot of people think that Zimmer is a bad football coach, honestly, but he had just sort of reached the end of the line with the Vikings and it was time for both sides to move on. Now, with O’Connell at the helm and new philosophies and schemes on both sides of the ball, this team is finally reaching its potential.
BTB: DVOA and other advanced rankings show the Vikings as an average team. But their record says different. How are they doing it?
DN: I think it has a lot to do with the team doing a lot of the little things. They have the second-best turnover margin in the National Football League right now, and that’s something that generally goes a long way toward helping teams win football games. They’ve also “won” the fourth quarter in eight of their nine games this season, the exception being the Philadelphia game where neither team scored in the fourth quarter. But, again, the biggest one might be something I mentioned earlier, that being the culture shift that Kevin O’Connell has brought with him to Minnesota. Last year, being down 17 to the Bills with under two minutes left in the third quarter would have been a signal for this team to fold up the tents and start conserving themselves for the next game. This year’s team doesn’t have that sort of mentality, and they’ll fight to the very end of every game they play. I know it doesn’t necessarily translate to the stat sheet or anything like that, but the attitude that the team has this year is a night-and-day difference from last year and has quite a bit to do with their success, in my opinion.
BTB: What’s your take on Kirk Cousins. He is certainly a polarizing QB, how do you see him?
DN: I don’t think anyone is ever going to put Cousins into the “elite” quarterback tier, but I also think he’s a whole lot better than most folks want to give him credit for. I’ve long said that Cousins is a “top ten-ish” quarterback and I certainly feel that you can win a lot of football games with him behind center. He’ll have games and moments where you wonder exactly what the heck he’s doing, but those are generally far more outnumbered by the positives he brings to the team. I don’t know how much longer his tenure in Minnesota is going to be, and I do wish that the Vikings would make an effort to try to develop a younger quarterback behind him to eventually take over at some point, but for now Cousins has made a lot of Vikings fans pretty happy with his performance this season. He’s definitely given the Vikings some stability at quarterback that they haven’t had for a long time, which is always a positive for any team.
BTB: The skill positions on offense are really strong for the Vikings, but what are their weaknesses on offense, and on defense?
DN: The interior of the offensive line for the Vikings is a bit of a work in progress. After working on the offensive line for what seems like forever, the team has gotten the tackle situation figured out with Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, and Ezra Cleveland has been solid at left guard. However, center Garrett Bradbury still has plenty of moments where he’s gotten pushed around due to being undersized (though he is having the best season of his career so far this season), and right guard Ed Ingram has been having the sort of growing pains that you would expect a rookie to have. The offensive line is much better than its been in recent years, but those two guys on the interior are probably the weakest point of the Vikings’ offense at this point.
As far as the defense, the red zone defense has been pretty atrocious for most of the season. This season, they are allowing opposing teams to score touchdowns on 72% of their trips into the red zone, which is the second-worst percentage in the league. (Only the Raiders are worse, and only by about .5%.) If your defense is predicated on a “bend but don’t break” philosophy as the Vikings’ defense has been over the better part of this season, giving teams a seemingly automatic touchdown when they get inside the 20-yard line is a bit of a dangerous game to play. Thankfully, the Vikings’ defense has had plenty of times that they’ve stepped up and forced either turnovers or three-and-outs when they’ve needed to. But, at some point this season, they absolutely need to get better performance out of their defense in the red zone if they want to have a chance at a deep post-season run.
BTB: Somehow, the Cowboys are 1.5-point favorites in this game. Do you buy that at all, or is this just more of the disrespect the Vikings have been getting all year?
DN: I think the Cowboys are a very good football team, obviously, and that this is going to be a close ball game. That said, I didn’t really get the line when it came out, either. You would think that a team at home riding a seven-game winning streak and hosting a team coming off of a pretty bad loss would be a favorite, but I’m not sure how the people that determine these things go about coming up with these numbers. Had the Vikings lost in Buffalo on Sunday the number wouldn’t be as much of a surprise, I don’t think, but with the way things have played out I am a bit surprised that the Vikings are a home underdog in this one. Maybe the sharps will end up being proven right, but I certainly hope that they’re not.