Through just four weeks of the 2023 season, the Vikings are only one loss shy of their 2022 total. Yet, this version of the Vikings is nearly identical to last season’s team in every way.

In 2023, the Vikings have three losses by seven points or less. In 2022, they played nine such games and won them all. From 9-0 to 0-3 in games that at some point could have just as easily ended the other way. Importantly, when games are this close, they often come down to singular plays and moments where luck plays a big role.

For example, how different does this win probability chart from Week 2 look if Justin Jefferson crossed the goal line before fumbling through the end zone for a safety, leading to a last second Philadelphia field goal?

Should Jefferson have fumbled? Of course not, but the skill and execution required to complete the long pass and run is far more indicative of who Minnesota is offensively than the fluke fumble-touchback. This is what DVOA is for - to isolate the aspects of each game that tell us who a team has been, and to then help us predict who they will be moving forward. In baseball, we refer to a batter’s hard-hit rate because it strips away the variance and tells us about a player’s true skill set. Justin Jefferson’s fumble-touchback was like a player getting robbed of a home run. The result was bad, but the play itself reminded us of just how good at football he really is.

Comparing the 2023 and 2022 Minnesota Vikings with DVOA

From a record standpoint, it may seem hard to argue that last year’s 13-4 Vikings were no better than this year’s 1-3 Vikings, but once we dive into the DVOA that picture becomes crystal clear.

Let’s begin with the 2022 team (reminder - positive numbers are always good for the offense, bad for the defense):

Offensive DVOA: -6% (20th)
Passing DVOA: +8% (20th)
Rushing DVOA: -13% (27th)
Strength of Offensive Schedule: 24th

Defensive DVOA: +6% (24th)
Passing DVOA: +14% (27th)
Rushing DVOA: -6% (18th)
Strength of Defensive Schedule: 19th

Last year’s Vikings not only benefited from the luck and chaos of close games, but they also took advantage of a weak schedule. In fact, they were slightly below average on each side of the ball.

This isn’t some huge secret, by the way - the Giants were one of the most popular bets of last year’s playoffs, as so many people believed the Vikings to be “frauds”. In other words, the surprise isn’t that last year’s team wasn’t as good as their record, it’s that this year’s team isn’t as bad as theirs. 

In 2023:

Offensive DVOA: +5% (12th)
Passing DVOA: +19% (14th)
Rushing DVOA: -9% (20th)
Strength of Offensive Schedule: 16th

Defensive DVOA: +3% (20th)
Passing DVOA: +12% (20th)
Rushing DVOA: -8% (17th)
Strength of Defensive Schedule: 12th

There are a few things of note here. First is that Minnesota has played a tougher schedule. It’s no revelation to say that a tougher schedule can lead to more losses without a change in the quality of the play. Second is that by every single DVOA metric, this year’s team is actually slightly better than last year’s.

Now, this is still a fairly small sample, so the latter point doesn’t really matter - the point is that they’re no worse despite the losing record. 

Lastly, remember the title - This Year’s Vikings are Last Year’s Vikings. Not only is this team just about exactly as good overall as they were a year ago, but they’re getting there in exactly the same way. They’re better through the air than on the ground offensively, while better at defending the run than the pass.

Where Do the Vikings Go From Here?

The obvious question is what to make of this. As a Vikings fan, it’s not like you can be relieved to know they’re just as good as they were last year because who gets excited for mediocrity? Perhaps this analysis will be most relevant in the worlds of fantasy football, DFS, and betting. Will the public sentiment go too negative on this year’s team, believing the regression chickens have come home to roost and Minnesota will never again be able to win a close game? 

There’s one thing I know for sure… as Brian Flores ramps up the variance of each game with his enormous 60% blitz rate, the Vikings are sure to find themselves in a number of close, high-scoring affairs, just like in 2022. They may be mediocre, but they are fun.