The NFL is full of statistics that analysts break down and pick apart. Have the edge in turnovers? We've got a stat for that. Games in which your quarterback doesn't throw an interception? We've got a stat for that. Record when your QB throws 40 or more passes for 275-plus yards? We've got a stat for that. In many cases, these numbers defy logic and lose the relevance as a yardstick of success or failure.
Surely most of you have been made aware that the Vikings had the top-rated rushing offense and rushing defense in the league last year – which has typically been a harbinger of success. What did those two coveted slots get the Vikings? An 8-8 record and a seat on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
It would seem that, for the 2007 season anyway, the stat meant little to the Vikings. It could be argued the rushing stat was overrated because it didn't translate into wins. But perhaps the most accurate stat in terms of the Vikings' success or lack thereof in 2007 was time of possession. Old-school coaches will tell you that if you have the ball longer you should win. They also say having the league's best rushing game or run defense will get you to the playoffs – which didn't happen – but they may have something when it comes to time of possession.
Few teams enjoyed the level of success or failure as the Vikings did in 2007. If one stat was the litmus test for winning or losing, it wasn't rushing yards or even turnovers. It was time of possession. It began at the start of the season and never let up. The following is a list of which team won the game-by-game battle of T.O.P. and the running record of the team with the time of possession edge.
Week 1 vs. Atlanta — Falcons win time of possession by having the ball for 33 minutes, 1 second. Vikings win 24-3. (Team record 1-0, T.O.P. record 0-1).
Week 2 at Detroit — Detroit holds a narrow edge in time of possession. Lions win 20-17 in overtime. (Team record 1-1, T.O.P record 1-1).
Week 3 at Kansas City — Chiefs maintain the ball for 31:37 and win the game 13-10. (Team record 1-2, T.O.P. record 2-1).
Week 4 vs. Green Bay — Packers hold the ball for 30:58. Green Bay wins 23-16. (Team record 1-3, T.O.P. record 3-1).
Week 6 at Chicago (following bye week) — Vikings win time of possession battle with the ball for 31 minutes, 19 seconds. Vikings win 34-31. (Team record 2-3, T.O.P. record 4-1).
Week 7 at Dallas — Cowboys dominated time of possession at 36 minutes, 35 seconds. Cowboys cruise to an easy 24-14 win. (Team record 2-4, T.O.P. record 5-1).
Week 8 vs. Philadelphia — Eagles hold a narrow time of possession edge at 30:56. Eagles win 23-16. (Team record 2-5, T.O.P. record 6-1).
Week 9 vs. San Diego — Vikings dominate time of possession with 34:07. Vikings win 35-17. (Team record 3-5, T.O.P. record 7-1).
Week 10 at Green Bay — The worst possession game of the season. The Packers had the ball for a whopping 40:40 and win the game 34-0. (Team record 3-6, T.O.P. record 8-1).
Week 11 vs. Oakland — The Raiders hold the advantage with 30:55 of possession time, but Vikings win 29-22. (Team record 4-6, T.O.P. record 8-2).
Week 12 at New York — The eventual Super Bowl champs hold the ball for just 27:46 and the Vikings win 41-17. (Team record 5-6, T.O.P. record 9-2).
Week 13 vs. Detroit — Vikings control the time of possession by holding it for 37 minutes, 2 seconds. Vikings crush the Lions 42-10. (Team record 6-6, T.O.P. record 10-2).
Week 14 at San Francisco — The 49ers hold the ball for 31:47, but lose to the Vikings 27-7. (Team record 7-6, T.O.P. record 10-3).
Week 15 vs. Chicago — The Vikings beat down the Bears with 35:45 in time of possession. Vikings win 20-13. (Team record 8-6, T.O.P. record 11-3).
Week 16 vs. Washington — The Redskins hold a slim edge in time of possession (30:44) and win the game 32-21. (Team record 8-7, T.O.P. record 12-3).
Week 17 at Denver — The Broncos hold the ball for 32:55 in the season finale and beat the Vikings 22-19. (Team record 8-8, T.O.P. record 13-3).
What did the numbers teach us? If the Vikings have the edge in time of possession, they win. The Vikings won the time of possession battle just five times in 2008 and won all five of those games. In the 11 games in which they didn't win the time of possession battle, they went 3-8. This is a double-trouble type of stat because, it would lead one to believe that if the Vikings can run so successfully, they would eat more clock up than their opponents and their ability to stop the run would force opposing teams to pass more. Yet the time of possession numbers don't reflect that. It is shocking that a team whose offense was based so much on ball control and effectively running the ball early and often lost the time of possession battle by more than a 2-to-1 ratio last year. In fact, the Vikings haven't lost in game in which they held the edge in time of possession since Week 13 of the 2006 season against the Bears, but, dating back to the end of the 2006 season, the Vikings have lost the time of possession battle in 14 of the last 19 games.
If the Vikings are to make the leap forward this year to the top of the NFC, this may be the stat to watch. Clearly, they win when the have the edge in T.O.P. If they can reverse the number of games in which they have the edge (which would be 11-5), a corresponding change in record could result.
The Key Stat for Vikings Victories
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