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TFD: Data says Vikings are a last-place team, Peterson is inconsistent

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated August 28th at 7:35am 272944381

adrianpetersonIf you were enjoying this 3-0 Vikings preseason a little too much, here’s the FiveThirtyEight site’s chance to throw water all over you.

Based on Vegas point spreads, the Vikings project to win 6.5 games this season — last in the NFC North. They have a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs and a mere 1 percent chance to win the Super Bowl.

That’s fairly expected. Maybe not even that bad. But the site also uses fancy numbers to arrive at this conclusion — not incorrectly — about Adrian Peterson and the running game:

Obviously Adrian Peterson’s long runs are worth something: They’re worth a lot of yards. But yards are easier than ever to come by in today’s game. No matter how great a running back is at breaking long ones, he’s not going to be as efficient at gobbling up yards as his team’s passing game is (no matter how mediocre the team’s quarterbacks are). On the other hand, the better a team is at strategically maximizing the running game, the more valuable those “bonus” yards become — because the running plays that produce them are no longer taking the place of passes.

In other words, if you can’t run consistently, it doesn’t matter if you can break a bunch of long runs, because you’d still be better off passing. But if you can run consistently, those long runs become gravy. None of this is to say that Peterson’s shortcomings necessarily reflect poorly on his running skills, no more than we can say the same for any running back’s underperformance. Peterson has simply produced a little below average at the bread-and-butter stuff that keeps the running game relevant, and this undercuts the value of his long runs considerably.

Long story short: Peterson is great at breaking long runs and a little below-average at churning out the good-but-not-great runs that eat clock, help the passing game and move the chains.

If you’d rather not think about that, let’s imagine a season in which Peterson actually gets some help from the passing game … and let’s end with Deadspin’s Green Bay Packers preview.

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