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NFL Thursday Night; Cowboys at Vikings

It’s been a difficult six weeks for Sam Bradford and the Vikings. Minnesota must rally for a playoff spot that seemed a lock two months ago. (Photo by Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota’s formula for success is quite simple; limit opponents to less than 17 points. The Vikings are 5-1 when following that formula. They’re 1-4 otherwise. Taking that into consideration, Thursday night likely won’t go well for Minnesota. The Cowboys have scored fewer than 24 points only once, and have reached 30 points in nearly half of their games this season. The Viking defense will surely have its hands full. Additionally, the Cowboys lead the NFL in time of possession thanks to a punishing ground game that grinds opposing defenses to powder late in games.

Minnesota’s offense, despite ranking dead last in the NFL in yards, manages to stay on the field for most of the game. Like Dallas, the Vikings have been able to control time of possession. On average, they keep possession for 31 minutes per game, which is 10th in the league. The Vikings are even a “capable” team on 3rd down. Their 3rd down conversion rate, while ranking in the bottom half of the NFL is better than potential playoff teams like the Dolphins, Seahawks, Chiefs, Giants and Ravens. Obviously none of the aforementioned teams are known for explosive offenses, but again, you’d expect much worse from the league’s worst offense.

If the Vikings can keep possession and convert a decent amount of 3rd downs (39%), why can’t they score? Well, there are a few contributing factors here. First of all, despite a competent 3rd down conversion percentage, the Vikings face the 10th most 3rd downs per game in the NFL, meaning their production on 1st and 2nd down simply isn’t good enough. Furthermore, the Vikings produce the lowest yards per play in the NFL. Even Brock Osweiler and Case Keenum’s offenses produce more per play (albeit barely). Additionally, and this is related to their low yardage per play, the Vikings rank 30th in 1st downs. Finally, like most bad offenses, the Vikings struggle to score touchdowns in the red zone. The NFL’s top red zone teams convert 70% of their red zone opportunities into six points. Ten more teams convert at least 60% of their trips into touchdowns. The Vikings are in the NFL’s basement at 46%. Controlling time of possession is nice and all, but it’s an empty accomplishment if you can’t score points. COWBOYS If I were Charles Barkley; Cowboys -3.5

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