The most frequent excuse for last year’s Minnesota Vikings was, Well, if only we were healthy. However, as I wrote back in March, the injury excuse didn’t necessarily hold up — especially in comparison to other teams. Last month, Pro Football Focus’s Tej Seth and Ben Brown released a data study where they introduced a new statistic that helps quantify the impact injuries have on a team’s season.
The new statistic is called WAR-Adjusted Injuries Lost (WAIL). Seth and Brown explained in their piece, “WAIL takes each player’s projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for each game of the season and calculates the WAR lost due to injury based on a player’s status on the injury report.”
Mike Zimmer used injuries as an excuse in the Week 16 postgame press conference after their 52-33 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But the Vikings felt the least significant negative impact due to injuries throughout the entire league last season, per PFF’s data study. The chart below illustrates how the Vikings fared when comparing their Wins Over Preseason Win-Total to their WAR Lost From Injuries.
If injuries weren’t to blame for Zimmer’s defense ranking 29th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed last season, maybe the short-fused head coach should’ve taken a peek in the mirror before pointing the finger.
Furthermore, PFF’s data study provided the WAIL for every team over the course of nine seasons from 2012-20 to determine who’s been impacted by injuries the most. Like last year, the Vikings have proven to be one of the most fortunate teams in the entire league over the past nine seasons as it pertains to injuries. The PFF chart below has the Vikings losing the sixth-fewest number of games in the entire league due to injuries from 2012 to ’20.
Over the past nine seasons, Minnesota’s record is 79-63-2, which translates to a win percentage of .549 — good enough for an average of just under nine wins per season. Zimmer’s success rate is less than flattering, considering that he’s had the benefit of being one of the league leaders in injury fortune throughout his Vikings tenure.
Since taking over as the head coach in 2014, the Vikings have an equal number of seasons where they finished third in the NFC North as they do seasons where they exceeded eight wins.
As the table above illustrates, a third-place finish within the division is the magic number throughout the Zimmer era, despite having some of the league’s best injury fortune.
Now don’t get me wrong, the 2017 season was a banner year for Zimmer’s Vikings. Not only was Minnesota the beneficiary of their own injury fortune, but Aaron Rodgers missing nine games due to injury played a significant role in Minnesota’s first-place finish within the division that year. And if PFF’s recent data study has taught us anything, it’s that 2017 wasn’t the only year where the stars aligned and provided the Vikings with outstanding injury fortune.
The only logical question that remains is: Why can’t Zimmer and the Vikings do more after being dealt a suited Ace-Jack year after year at the Texas Hold ‘Em Injury Fortune poker table?