Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at Chicago Bears (1-0)
The Vikings were one of the teams I predicted a big win change for. Part of the reason for this is the Vikings went from 3 wins to 10 last season. Ordinarily, we can expect teams that have big win changes to have an opposite change of about half the following season, so a 7 win increase is, on average, followed by a 3.5 win increase. This is because the NFL has such a short season that, when teams have big win changes, it has more to do with bad or good luck than an actual change in talent level.
However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not going to get into all the details again, but they were unsustainably good in close games (5-1), had unsustainably few injuries (2nd fewest in the NFL), and got an unsustainably good performance from Adrian Peterson. This season, they’re without top cornerback Antoine Winfield and they’re also without fullback Jerome Felton for the first 3 games. He was as valuable as a fullback could be last season and a big part of the reason why Peterson had such a big season.
Christian Ponder averaged just 6.1 yards per carry last season. How improbable was it that the Vikings made the playoffs despite this kind of quarterback play? Well, since 2006, 22 teams have averaged 6 yards or fewer per attempt. Of those 21 teams, 20 won 5 or fewer games, none won more than 7 and as a group they averaged 4.0 wins per season and 14.8 points per game. The Vikings won 10 games and averaged 23.7 points per game. I know the Vikings technically averaged 6.1 YPA, but I don’t really think that extra 1/10 of the yard was what got them the extra 6 wins. Ponder was even worse without Percy Harvin, completing just 5.4 yards per attempt without him. Harvin is gone and replacements Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are washed up/injury prone and incredibly raw respectively.
The Vikings lost by 10 in the opener, but it was even worse than that. Detroit had 28 first downs and 469 total yards to 16 first downs and 330 total yards for Minnesota. Exclude Adrian Peterson’s 78-yard touchdown on his first carry and it would have been a 34-17 game and Peterson would have just managed 15 yards on 17 carries. They simply can’t rely on him to do what he did last year again. 93 rushing yards total isn’t bad, but he surpassed that 10 times last season. Ponder again struggled, completing 18 of 28 for 236 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions.
This week, the Vikings go to Chicago and will play outside, where Christian Ponder especially struggles. In his career, he completes 58.2% of his passes for 5.7 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions outside, where his lack of arm strength is magnified. He’s been even worse in the Windy City in 2 starts, completing 33 of 60 (55.0%) for 258 yards (4.3 YPA), 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, both blowout losses. I don’t feel like this line fully takes into account how bad the Vikings are going to be this season. It should probably be at -10 considering Ponder’s issues outside, so I like the Bears moderately as only 5.5 point favorites.
Chicago Bears 23 Minnesota Vikings 12
Pick against spread: Chicago -5.5