Call it luck, skill or a combination of both, but the Minnesota Vikings have been a historically great team in close games this season.
The Vikings' last-second 27-24 win over the New York Giants in Week 16 marked Minnesota's 11th win in one-possession games this season, which surpassed the NFL record the Vikings tied with the 2019 Seattle Seahawks and the 1978 Houston Oilers. Kirk Cousins also became the first quarterback to lead eight fourth-quarter comebacks a week after Minnesota completed the largest comeback in NFL history against the Indianapolis Colts.
Their success has been contentious for multiple reasons. The Vikings sit one game back from the NFC's No. 1 seed at 12-3 despite a paper-thin plus-five point differential on the season and the 25th-ranked DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Minnesota has also been the biggest beneficiary of fumble recoveries this year with a league-leading plus-1.07 net win probability added, according to Tom Bliss, an NFL data scientist.
The Vikings also have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They've given up the 28th-most points per game this season and the second-most yards-per-play. That doesn't leave much room for error on the offense, but somehow Minnesota has made it work. It's helpful having first-year head coach Kevin O'Connell lead the seventh-best scoring offense
In case you're curious, here's how the Vikings have managed to pull off improbable victory after improbable victory: five field goals, three touchdown passes, one touchdown run and two defensive stands. Say what you want about how it happened, but Minnesota knows how to win games.
The Vikings are in the playoffs and are knocking on the door of a first-round bye. So do these types of performances equate to postseason success? Or does luck eventually run out on teams that sneak past opponents in the regular season?
Five other teams won at least nine one-possession games (meaning eight points or fewer) since 2010. All five made the playoffs. Only one of those teams won the Super Bowl that year. Two lost in the divisional round, while the other two were ousted in the wild-card game.
2012 Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck led the Colts to an 11-5 record and a postseason berth in his first NFL season thanks to a veteran-laden team and a weak AFC. The Colts had a middling offense and defense, but seven game-winning drives by Luck that included four fourth-quarter comebacks helped Indianapolis go 9-1 in one-score games. They ran into a buzz saw in the wild-card round and were walloped by the eventual Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, 24-9.
2015 Denver Broncos
The lone Super Bowl winner of the group, Denver won nine of its 12 one-score games thanks to the stingiest defenses in the NFL that season. The Broncos allowed the fewest yards-per-play and the fourth-fewest points-per-game with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller up front and defensive backs Aqib Talib and Charles Harris in the secondary. Peyton Manning didn't do much in his final NFL season, but he played well enough to score 24 points while the defense limited Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to only 10 points.
2016 Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr turned in one of his best seasons in the NFL and helped the Raiders roll to a 12-4 record. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards and the Raiders had the seventh-best scoring offense on the season. Defensively, the Raiders ranked near the bottom and that played a role — along with a devastating leg injury to Carr in Week 16 — in their 27-14 loss to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round.
2018 Dallas Cowboys
Dallas benefited from the sixth-best defense in 2018 and a 7-2 record in their final nine games to win the NFC East and secure a home playoff match. Dallas eked past the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card game thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns but ultimately fell to the Super Bowl runner-up Los Angeles Rams in the divisional game, 30-22.
2019 Seattle Seahawks
This Seahawks team helped create arguably the two most accurate tweets about any one football franchise, which included the "Let Russ Cook" meme (RIP). Seattle won 10 of its 12 one-possession games behind the ninth-best scoring offense in the league. Russell Wilson led five game-winning drives but lost to the Packers in a divisional game after rallying from an 18-point second-half deficit.