New York Giants (6-8) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5)
The Giants have lost wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for this critical late season game, as he was suspended for a game for a number of personal fouls in last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers, including a headbutt of cornerback Josh Norman. The Vikings, meanwhile, get key defenders back from extended absences, as defensive tackle Linval Joseph (3 games missed), outside linebacker Anthony Barr (2.5 games missed), and safety Harrison Smith (2.5 games missed) are all expected back, huge boosts to a defense that has allowed opponents to move the chains at a 79.38% rate over the past 3 games, as opposed to 69.94% in the first 11 games of the season. Running back Adrian Peterson is missing practice time with an ankle injury he suffered last week, but he too is expected to play.
The question is how much will any of those players play and how much effort will the Vikings put into winning this game. If the Packers lose in Arizona earlier in the day (this is the Sunday night game), this game actually won’t matter for the Vikings. The NFC North and a home playoff game will come down to next week’s Packers/Vikings showdown in Green Bay and the result of this game will be irrelevant. Assuming the Packers lose, win or lose this game, the Vikings will not be eliminated in the North and, win or lose this game, they’ll still need to win in Green Bay to clinch the division, as a loss in Green Bay gives the Packers the season series and the head-to-head tiebreaker, but a win in Green Bay gives the Vikings the tiebreaker, by virtue of their better divisional record.
Plus, if the Vikings lose to the Packers next week, they’ll need the Seahawks to lose out (including at home to the Rams this week as 13.5 point favorites) to finish any higher than the 6th seed, regardless of the outcome of this game. Assuming the Seahawks win and the Packers lose this week, the Vikings will be looking at a rare scenario where they get the #3 seed if they win next week, the #6 seed if they lose next week, and this week 16 game won’t matter either way.
If the Packers win in Arizona, the Vikings will need to win here to keep up with the Packers, as a Minnesota loss and a Green Bay win clinches the division for the Packers this week, but the Packers are 4.5 point road underdogs in Arizona against a Cardinals team that is 12-2, ranks 1st in rate of moving the chains differential, and has won 8 straight games (the longest winning streak in the NFL outside of the undefeated Panthers). Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has already raised the possibility of resting some injured players if the Packers lose, so everyone can stay healthy for a critical week 17 showdown, so while Peterson, Joseph, Smith, and Barr should all play, how much they play and the Vikings’ overall level of effort and motivation in this game could be highly questionable.
This game could also become meaningless for the Giants if the Redskins beat the Eagles in Philadelphia, as the Giants would be eliminated in that scenario, but the Redskins are 3 point underdogs in Philadelphia. Plus, even if the Giants are eliminated before this game, they’re a team with a veteran quarterback and head coach, so they should still give effort for pride and love of the game purposes, as most eliminated teams do. It would be a different situation than Minnesota’s, as resting injured starters and taking it easy this week would be actually a strategic move for them.
I could wait until right before gametime to make this pick, but, if the Packers lose and the Seahawks win, this line could drop significantly and we’d lose line value with the Vikings. The Vikings rank 14th in rate of moving the chains differential, as opposed to 19th for the Giants, so getting 5.5 points with a Giants team that is 61-40 ATS on the road in the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin era (since 2004) is a good deal, even without Beckham. Even if the Packers win, the Vikings are still in a bad spot with such a critical game upcoming and could overlook the 6-8 Giants. While the Vikings will be underdogs next week, the Giants will be favorites at home against the Eagles and favorites are 103-169 ATS since 2008 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. I’m taking the points.
Minnesota Vikings 17 New York Giants 16
Pick against the spread: NY Giants +5.5