Mike Zimmer Earned His New Contract with the Minnesota Vikings
The pre-Mike Zimmer era was not a bright and shiny one for the Minnesota Vikings. They had failed to win at least seven games in three of the previous four seasons, and their one playoff berth resulted in a first-round exit.
It doesn't seem like they want to return to that era any time soon.
Mike Zimmer contract extension, per Spielman. #vikings
— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) July 28, 2016
This is only two years into Zimmer's tenure as the team's head coach, yet they felt confident enough in what he had done thus far to ensure he'd be sticking around. And when you dig deeper into the analytics behind Zimmer's first two seasons, you can see why they'd be eager to make such a move.
We can check this out using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP metric). This is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players with the team totals being weighted based on strength of opponent. You can check out the full explanation of how it works in our glossary.
In looking at NEP, we can see that Zimmer earned himself this extension, even if they're not quite an elite-level team just yet.
The Vikings' record has certainly improved with Zimmer at the helm, going from 5-10-1 in their final year under Leslie Frazier to 7-9 in 2014 and 11-5 last year. But with a 16-game sample, it's often hard to tell a team's true abilities based on their record alone. That's how NEP can help us.
Instead of operating on a 16-game sample, we're looking at every single play the team ran that year both offensively and defensively -- and even on special teams. Showing improvement here would be much more significant than holding a better record.
As such, here's a comparison of the team's final year with Frazier to the two seasons they've had under Zimmer. Total NEP will show the expected points the team had relative to expectation for the entire year, Adjusted NEP per play is the team's per-play, schedule-adjusted efficiency on offense, and Defensive Adjusted NEP per play is the same on the opposite side of the ball. Not only are they better, but they improved from Zimmer's first year to his second, as well.
|Season||Total NEP||Rank||Adj. NEP/P||Rank||Def. Adj. NEP/P||Rank|
When you combine both offense and defense, the Vikings were effectively 151.75 points -- or almost 22 touchdowns -- better in 2015 than they were in 2013. That's how you get yourself an extension.
Those 2015 offensive numbers also came with immense struggles out of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a banged-up offensive line. The team invested heavily in the latter over the offseason and added wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round of this year's NFL draft. If things click in those areas -- and that is a sizable "if" -- then the team could certainly bust the top off in 2016.
With this upward trajectory comes increased expectations. With a playoff berth in their back pocket, the Vikings can no longer get by on just being "better." Can they live up to the hype in Zimmer's third year?
Our preseason projections don't quite see that happening just yet. They're 13th in the power rankings, sitting fifth among NFC teams. That puts them right where they were last year, on the positive fringe of the playoff picture.
With a projected final record of 8.6-7.4, the Vikings have a 46.9% chance of reaching the postseason and a 30.7% chance of repeating as NFC North champs. Their beloved friends across the border in the Green Bay Packers hold the edge there with 38.4% divisional odds.
This doesn't mean it's all doom and gloom for the gents in purple. The algorithms assign them 3.3% odds of winning the Super Bowl one year before the event ventures to their brand new stadium. That would likely tip the scales even further in Zimmer's favor and make this new extension look brilliant.
The Vikings aren't an elite team yet based on their efficiency metrics. But they have made tremendous strides in their first two years under Zimmer, and that's certainly enough to earn a new deal. If the team can keep improving as they have the past two seasons, then the franchise's first ever championship would certainly be a realistic goal in the not-so-distant future.