The Vikings Success Hinges On Two Undrafted Stars

Russell Wilson1382316.7– 2006Jon KitnaMike FurreyDetroit1,0861667.9 KC75KC84KC 9, NYG 12-16.1– 2009Tony RomoMiles AustinDallas1,3201682.5 PICKWIN PROB.PICKWIN PROB.RESULTREADERS’ NET PTS Case Keenum9255.4– Philip Rivers921213.0– NO79NO76WAS 31, NO 34-3.3– 2012Tony RomoMiles AustinDallas9431658.9 MIA59MIA54TB 30, MIA 20+4.0– Matt Ryan771519.5– Jameis Winston641320.3– Jay Cutler721318.1– YEARQUARTERBACKWIDE RECEIVERTEAMTOTAL YARDSGAMESYARDS PER GAME Check out our latest NFL predictions. NE79NE78NE 33, OAK 8-2.8– LAC54LAC54BUF 24, LAC 54-2.4– The NFL’s most out-of-nowhere QB-WR combosTotal yards between an undrafted quarterback and undrafted wide receiver in the past 20 years DET62DET67DET 27, CHI 24+1.8– PLAYERDROPBACKSSACKSSACK % When a team’s starting quarterback and running back both go down with season-ending injuries in the first half of a season, said team would be expected to prepare for a high pick in the draft and crumble into pieces in the meantime. But that’s not what’s happened in Minnesota this year. After limping to a 3-2 start on the season — a start that included rookie running back Dalvin Cook tearing his ACL and quarterback Sam Bradford playing in just two games before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery — the Vikings’ season could have easily gone south. Instead, head coach Mike Zimmer challenged his offense to see who’d be the next man up. Five games later, it would appear that Zimmer got more than just one player to take him up on his challenge.The offensive resurgence has been led by a pair of players who could easily not even be in the league: Quarterback Case Keenum and wide receiver Adam Thielen both entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Since Week 6, the two have been among the top players at their positions and have helped Minnesota reel off five straight wins to improve to 8-2. Minnesota now holds a 90 percent chance of making the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL predictions.Signed as a backup for Bradford to start the season, Keenum has the second-best total quarterback rating1Total QBR incorporates all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning, including how he affects the game on passes, rushes, turnovers and penalties. in the league since Week 6 behind only Tom Brady. Keenum’s been so good that he kept Teddy Bridgewater, who’s looking to make his first regular-season start since the 2015 season, out of the starting lineup. As for Thielen, it’s been a rapid rise to the top for the Minnesota native, who was playing for Division II Minnesota State-Mankato just five years ago and only made it onto the Vikings by paying to attend two NFL combines before being invited to Minnesota’s rookie camp. Thielen now leads the league in receiving yards since Week 6 and has averaged more than 100 yards a game in that span. Together, the unlikely stars have connected for 739 yards in the nine games they’ve played together. This partial-season total is already the sixth most in the past 20 seasons by a duo of undrafted quarterback and undrafted wide receiver. Eastern Illinois’s Tony Romo and Monmouth University’s Miles Austin hold the record by this measure, when the undrafted pair connected for 1,320 yards for Dallas in 2009. Keenum and Thielen need to average 97 yards per game in their remaining six games to beat the record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Jared Goff1001515.0– Can’t touch CaseShare of QB dropbacks that result in a sack, though Week 11 PIT76PIT74TEN 17, PIT 40-3.2– JAX77JAX82JAX 19, CLE 7+0.3– Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group 2017*Case KeenumAdam ThielenMinnesota739982.1 Drew Brees621016.1– DAL53%PHI66%PHI 37, DAL 9+13.7– 2014Brian HoyerAndrew HawkinsCleveland7561358.2 DEN60DEN56CIN 20, DEN 17+2.5– Blake Bortles1181613.6– * Six games remain in the Vikings’ regular seasonSource: Elias Sports Bureau With Keenum and Thielen dominating secondaries around the league, and with the team’s defense ranked No. 4 in points allowed per game, the Vikings will be a team to avoid in the playoffs. Zimmer’s men will travel to Ford Field to face Detroit in a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game, and a win would almost certainly lock up the NFC North. The Vikings would then have their eyes fixed on securing a first-round bye come January.FiveThirtyEight vs. The ReadersWeek 11 in our NFL predictions game — in which we invite you to outsmart our Elo algorithm — saw the readers claim one of their biggest wins of the year so far, netting 13.7 points when Philadelphia thrashed Dallas 37-9 at AT&T Stadium. Our Elo algorithm doesn’t take into account player injuries (or suspensions, in Dallas’s case) and continues to defy logic by picking the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers. The readers are too smart for that, however, and were rewarded with 12.8 points by putting their faith in Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens, who shut out the Packers 23-0.The biggest loss for the readers came at MetLife Stadium, where the Giants somehow kept the Chiefs and their No. 7 offense to just 9 points in a windy, miserable afternoon for Andy Reid’s team. With the loss, the Chiefs are now 1-4 in their last five games and suddenly look like one of the worst teams in the league. The other double-digit loss for the readers came at the hands of the aforementioned Vikings, who picked apart the otherwise impressive Rams to serve the readers with a net loss of 13.3 points.Make sure you get your Week 12 predictions in early with three Thursday games — thanks for playing. SEA58SEA56ATL 31, SEA 31-0.7– The scoring system is nonlinear, so readers’ average points don’t necessarily match the number of points that would be given to the average reader prediction. OUR PREDICTION (ELO)READERS’ PREDICTION 2004Billy VolekDrew BennettTennessee8681086.8 GB67GB54BAL 23, GB 0+12.8– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 11Average difference between points won by readers and by Elo in Week 11 matchups in FiveThirtyEight’s NFL prediction game MIN62MIN50LAR 7, MIN 24-13.3– The Keenum-Thielen partnership has been partly reliant on a rejuvenated offensive line that is currently tied for No. 1 with New Orleans for fewest sacks allowed in the league with 10. This has given Keenum a ton of time to survey the field for open receivers — Keenum’s average time from the snap to his release is 2.63 seconds, which is currently ninth longest in the league among qualified QBs, according to the ESPN Stats & Information Group. But another reason has been Keenum’s ability to scramble in the backfield and find a receiver for a big gain after the play breaks down.This scrambling skill and the already stout protection has made Keenum virtually impossible to bring down. Through Week 11, Keenum has the lowest sack percentage rate of any quarterback in the league. This also makes the league-best 10 sacks allowed by Minnesota a little misleading, because four of those sacks came in one half against the Bears against a visibly hobbled Bradford.2Bradford was also sacked in Week 1 against the Saints. Keenum would come on in relief in that game and lead Minnesota to victory. HOU57HOU51ARI 21, HOU 31-8.0– Deshaun Watson941920.2–