The good news for fans of the Minnesota Vikings is that they are the reigning, defending, conquering (enough antecedents?) NFC North champions. The bad news is, based on where things stand right now, the Vikings are going to have to earn a repeat as division champ like no other team in the NFL.
With eyes turning toward the draft, the tie-breaker that comes into play when teams draft when they finish with the same record is based upon their strength of schedule from last season. Likewise, when it comes to schedule difficulty for the following season based on the teams they’re going to play, the same formula comes into play.
Last season, the four teams from the NFC North had it about as bad as you could get it. With non-division games against the NFC West and AFC West, things couldn’t have been much worse. The teams in the NFC West had a combined record 37-27 (a 58 percent winning percentage). The AFC West had a combined record of 33-31 (52 percent).
Things will be considerably different this season, as the teams from the NFC North will play the NFC East and AFC South. In 2015, the NFC East had a combined record of 26-38 (41 percent) and the AFC South had a combined record of 25-39 (39 percent) – a complete reversal of fortunes from what the Vikings were facing last season.
The result of that switch has dropped the Vikings all the way down to 18th on the list of schedule difficulty in 2016, based on 2015 records.
At first glance, that would appear to be a good thing.
Not so fast, my friend.
While the schedule on face value appears to be a big advantage over 2015 for the Vikings, there is a rub. Based on 2015 records, Detroit is tied with two other teams for the 27th easiest schedule, Chicago is tied with the Giants for the 30th easiest schedule and nobody has things better than Green Bay, who sits alone at 32nd.
Here is the full breakdown of the schedule difficulty heading into 2016:
- 1. (tie) Atlanta and San Francisco .555 (142-114)
- 3. Los Angeles Rams .551 (141-115)
- 4. New Orleans .547 (140-116)
- 5. (tie) Seattle and Tampa Bay .543 (139-117)
- 7. (tie) Arizona and New York Jets .531 (136-120)
- 9. New England .523 (134-122)
- 10. Buffalo .520 (133-123)
- 11. Miami .516 (132-124)
- 12. Carolina .512 (131-125)
- 13. San Diego .508 (130-126)
- 14. Denver .504 (129-127)
- 15. Oakland .500 (128-128)
- 16. Kansas City .496 (127-129)
- 17. Washington .492 (126-130)
- 18. Minnesota .488 (125-131)
- 19. (tie) Baltimore and Houston .484 (124-132)
- 21. Cleveland .480 (123-133)
- 22. Indianapolis .477 (122-134)
- 23. (tie) Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Tennessee .473 (121-135)
- 26. Philadelphia .469 (120-136)
- 27. (tie) Cincinnati, Dallas and Detroit .465 (119-137)
- 30. (tie) Chicago and New York Giants .461 (117-139)
- 32. Green Bay .457 (117-139)
The biggest disadvantage the Vikings face as division champion is that they draw Carolina and Arizona in conference matchups in the only two games that differ on their schedule from the other teams in the division. With a combined record of 28-4, they were much stronger than the teams the Packers drew (Seattle and Atlanta, 18-14), Detroit (New Orleans and Los Angeles, 14-18) and Chicago (Tampa Bay and San Francisco, 11-21).
For the 2016 Vikings, they just happen to draw the two teams that earned byes in the NFC playoffs.
As they tend to say with investments, future performance can’t be based on past results – just ask Dallas, which went from 12-4 in 2014 to 4-12 in 2015 – but it would appear that if the Vikings are going to defend their crown of the NFC North, they’re going to have to earn it because the numbers tell you that the road to repeating will be difficult.