The Minnesota Vikings Can Still Make the Playoffs Without Teddy Bridgewater
Just when you thought 2016 couldn't deal any more soul-sucking blows, it came out swinging yesterday.
Teddy bridgewater just went down looks serious Vikings end practice
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) August 30, 2016
Ambulance presumably taking Teddy Bridgewater to hospital #vikings pic.twitter.com/4Wl1N2ua9i
— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) August 30, 2016
And then a few hours later, it all became official.
Vikings announced Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL and suffered other structural damage.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 31, 2016
With a disclocated knee and a torn ACL, Teddy Bridgewater's season was done before it even got started. This would be a bummer for any player, but for a young quarterback whose head coach recently called him "the nicest kid in the world," it kind of digs the wrench a bit deeper.
Now that we know the diagnosis, we have to look forward to see the team's outlook without Bridgewater. The Minnesota Vikings had high hopes entering the season, but you'd assume those went up in smoke when Bridgewater went down.
That may not be entirely true.
Losing Bridgewater is certainly a big blow to the Vikings, but it's not one that will preclude them from making the playoffs. Let's take a closer look at the new projections with Bridgewater out to see what the outlook is now.
The New Projections
Prior to Bridgewater's injury, the Vikings sat 13th in numberFire's power rankings with a decent shot at claiming their second consecutive divisional title. While those odds have certainly changed, the Vikings don't appear to be out of contention just yet.
|Situation||Projected Record||Playoff Odds||Division Odds||Championship Odds|
Although the team is now projected to be below .500, still maintaining 34.3% playoff odds without your starting quarterback is about as good as you could hope. Part of that likely stems from the expected production of the passing game.
The Vikings finished 2015 ranked 20th in Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. NEP is our efficiency metric which tracks the expected points added and subtracted on each play throughout the season and then weights all team totals based on strength of opponent. While a 20th-place finish isn't necessarily poor, it's also not what carried them to an 11-win season last year. That's likely where part of the continued hope lies.
The true core of the team is still in tact. They succeeded with inefficient passing last year thanks to the legs of Adrian Peterson and a stout defense that ranked 11th against the pass and 13th overall. They also now have a healthy offensive line after losing two starters prior to the start of last season. In some ways, before Bridgewater went down, they were in a better position this year than they were last.
This doesn't mean all is fine and dandy in the land of the purple. They still need to figure out what the plan is at quarterback without Bridgewater. Thankfully, even though Shaun Hill isn't great, his past efficiency metrics are at least good enough to prevent a complete collapse.
Looking at Hill's Metrics
We're not going to have much data from Hill last season, when he essentially came on in relief only once while recording eight drop backs. This brings us back to 2014 for some insights.
That year, Hill logged 247 drop backs with the then-St. Louis Rams back once Sam Bradford was lost for the season. It's not an overly robust sample, but what was there could have been worse.
Of the 43 quarterbacks who logged at least 100 drop backs, Hill ranked 31st in Passing NEP per drop back. This is below where you'd hope he'd be, but he wasn't in the same realm as guys like Michael Vick, Josh McCown, and Zach Mettenberger, who could potentially crop up as options to replace Bridgewater.
In the table below, Success Rate refers to the percentage of drop backs on which the quarterback increased the team's NEP, and Passing NEP/P is shorthand for Passing NEP per drop back, which shows the expected points added on a per-drop back basis.
|2014 Season||Drop Backs||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
Success Rate is the area in which Hill created the most separation from the pack, and he graded out well versus the field here. He was 13th in Success Rate among the qualified passers, meaning that he was able to get the job done with decent regularity, even if he lacked the big-time, point-swinging plays.
We can also get a decent understanding of Hill by comparing him to his Rams teammates that season. Case Keenum and Austin Davis both logged significant snaps with that team, and in the same conditions, Hill out-produced them both.
|Quarterback||Drop Backs||Passing NEP/P||Success Rate|
In the same environment, both players' efficiency lagged behind that of Hill. And Keenum is still a starter for a legitimate franchise. There are worse things in the world than having Shaun Hill start games for you.
Again, all of this isn't to say that the team will simply brush off the loss of Bridgewater. But having Hill in their back pocket can at least help soften some of the blow.
Yesterday was a pretty awful day for Bridgewater, and you hope that his long-term diagnosis is an optimistic one. His team, though, is at least still in line to be a respectable squad.
The preseason projections on the Vikings were centered around the assumption that the team would continue to struggle through the air. That is certainly more assured now, and it severely limits the upsides of the team had Bridgewater progressed from where he was in his second season.
At the same time, it doesn't relegate them to the depths of the league. They still have quality pieces in place, and Hill has been a decent quarterback in the past. If they decide to roll with him, there is the possibility he could at least be passable enough not to destroy the other positive aspects of the team.
If the hope is to win the Super Bowl, then all optimism is likely out the tubes now. But if the aim is simply to make it back to the postseason for a second consecutive year, there is a chance that this team could do so even without its franchise quarterback.