How the Minnesota Vikings Can Win the Super Bowl

Can the Minnesota Vikings become the first NFL team to win the big game at their home field?

It’s been a tough year to be a Green Bay Packers fan in Minnesota Vikings country (it’s always about me, let’s be honest).

The rivalry between these two NFC North foes has mostly been tepid over the last 25 years, sort of football’s version of the pre-2004 New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox clash: one team dominated the regular season annually and made frequent playoff trips (with three championships in that span), while the other viewed it as an actual rivalry.

The 2017 season saw a potential changing of the divisional guard, though. With quarterback Aaron Rodgers injured, there was no one standing in the way of the Vikings pillaging a divisional crown and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

On the back of an incredible defensive unit and despite a cobbled-together offense, Minnesota is poised to be the first team in National Football League history to play in a Super Bowl at their home field.

And they could be the first to win at home, too. Here’s how.

Courage is Immortal

The big storyline of the Vikings’ Divisional Round matchup is that they will face the New Orleans Saints in the postseason for the first time since the 2009 NFC Championship Game. In that contest, the Saints went marching into the Super Bowl thanks to a back-breaking Brett Favre interception and gut-wrenching Garrett Hartley overtime field goal.

Eight years later, there’s a very similar tune playing for this contest, but one that Minnesota fans hope ends on a different note.

This year – as in ’09 – the Vikings and Saints are evenly matched. We can compare their strengths and weaknesses in terms of numberFire’s signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score production, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows the 2017 Vikings’ and Saints’ team schedule-adjusted NEP per play rates and their ranks in the NFL, both for offense and defense (as well as for passing and rushing).

Year Team NEP/P Pass NEP/P Rush NEP/P Def. NEP/P Def. Pass NEP/P Def. Rush NEP/P
2017 MIN 0.09 (8th) 0.19 (5th) -0.04 (22nd) -0.06 (2nd) -0.08 (2nd) -0.06 (6th)
2017 NO 0.15 (2nd) 0.22 (3rd) 0.09 (3rd) 0.01 (13th) -0.02 (8th) 0.05 (28th)

Minnesota’s easiest path to victory over New Orleans lies in the Defensive NEP department, the one area they’ve excelled over their opponents this year.

Defensive end Danielle Hunter will be one major key, as his 12 tackles and 5.0 combined sacks and tackles for a loss over the last month of the season pace the Vikings’ front seven. Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Hunter has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 16.67 percent of his snaps over this past month, one of the NFL's highest marks.

Defensive pressure is quarterback Drew Brees’ one Achilles’ heel. Per Pat Thorman of PFF, Brees' passer rating under pressure ranked 23rd this year, and PFF confirmed that his passer rating under pressure during the Wild Card Round was lower than Alex Smith's 42.4. The challenge, though: Brees diced up the opposing secondary for a 122.8 passer rating when blitzed (different than when pressured) last weekend; the Vikings have to get home with four or fewer rushers, or they’ll leave themselves open to Brees’ laser strikes.

Our models give the Vikes a decent, but not overwhelming, 60.3 percent chance of advancing from the Divisional Round.

The Dark World

Things get murky beyond this point. We obviously don’t know yet which of the Atlanta Falcons or Philadelphia Eagles will advance to the NFC Championship Game, so there is some measure of guesswork here.

If the Vikings do end up playing the Eagles they'll face a very different offense without Carson Wentz leading the way. Through Week 14, Philadelphia produced the fourth-most schedule-adjusted Passing NEP per play (0.25); with Divisional Round starting quarterback Nick Foles under center from Week 15 to 17, Philadelphia produced -0.07 schedule-adjusted Passing NEP per play – the 11th-worst rate in that span of time.

If the Vikings end up playing the Falcons, it has the makings of an intriguing matchup that may be a complete and utter shootout.

Year Team NEP/P Pass NEP/P Rush NEP/P Def. NEP/P Def. Pass NEP/P Def. Rush NEP/P
2017 MIN 0.09 (8th) 0.19 (5th) -0.04 (22nd) -0.06 (2nd) -0.08 (2nd) -0.06 (6th)
2017 ATL 0.08 (9th) 0.18 (8th) -0.03 (19th) 0.03 (14th) 0.07 (18th) 0.01 (22nd)

These two teams both rank in the top-10 of the league in Adjusted Passing NEP per play while also having lower-half placement in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. I, for one, would be thrilled to see a postseason duel between the quarterbacks tied for eighth in Passing NEP per drop back: Case Keenum and Matt Ryan.

By Passing Success Rate (the percentage of drop backs resulting in positive NEP), Ryan’s league-leading 51.54 percent barely surpasses Keenum’s 50.30 percent. But using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, we can see a little more disparity: looking at Air Yards to the Sticks and Aggressiveness Rate, Ryan is simply slinging the ball downfield and testing close coverage more than Keenum, who is playing a game manager type of role.

It will be crucial for defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith to lock down the deep passes that open up the Atlanta offense. Minnesota allowed the fourth-fewest yards and seventh-lowest first down rate per deep pass over the last month, so it can be done.

If they can shut the deep game down again and the Falcons continue to allow open looks to Keenum (Atlanta ranked 20th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play over the last month), the way will be open for a Minnesota Super Bowl appearance.


The NFC is a minefield to try to predict, but the AFC is possibly worse.

The top-seeded New England Patriots are the most likely team in the conference to win the Super Bowl, per our models, but the Pittsburgh Steelers (2 seed) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3 seed) still have around a 10 percent chance, as well. The Jaguars would have to get through two top-three offenses on the road in Pittsburgh and New England to make it, and even if Pittsburgh bounces Jacksonville that means they'll travel to Foxborough – where the Patriots are 9-1 over the last three years in 45˚ weather or colder, earning an average point differential of +16.9 over their opponents.

Right now, New England is Minnesota's Super Bowl boogeyman.

Year Team NEP/P Pass NEP/P Rush NEP/P Def. NEP/P Def. Pass NEP/P Def. Rush NEP/P
2017 NE 0.17 (1st) 0.24 (1st) 0.02 (8th) 0.09 (29th) 0.10 (22nd) 0.05 (30th)
2017 MIN 0.09 (8th) 0.19 (5th) -0.04 (22nd) -0.06 (2nd) -0.08 (2nd) -0.06 (6th)

If you thought the Falcons’ offense looked daunting, this is terrifying.

The Vikings’ ground defense fortunately matches up well with the Patriots’ rushing strength, and the Minnesota passing defense has a legitimate chance to take away some of the upside New England has through the air. The question will be, however, if the Vikings can score enough themselves to keep up with Tom Brady.

Brady’s Passing Success Rate is about neck-and-neck with Keenum’s this year, remarkably consistently picking up value. His Passing NEP per drop back, however, was a league-leading 0.28 and well above Keenum’s 0.19. Even though the Patriots' pass defense has been abysmal at points this year, without an aggressive way to play catch-up (remember, Keenum throws short and conservatively) the Vikings will need to get out to an early lead on the Patriots and burn the clock with the run game while the defense stymies New England.

It's a long shot, but this is the battle plan that may lead the Vikings to be the true kings of the north on their home turf.