Houston Texans (3-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-0)
The Vikings are the NFC’s only 4-0 team (the Eagles are 3-0), on the strength of a +10 turnover margin and a +3 return touchdown margin. That’s very impressive, but it’s also unsustainable. In fact, there’s almost no week-to-week correlation in turnover margins; teams that have strong turnover margins in one week are just as likely to have poor turnover margins the following week as any other team. If the Vikings are going to continue winning, they’re going to have to play better and won’t be able to rely on the turnover margin.
The offense is the side of the ball with the most need for improvement, as they rank 30th in offensive first down percentage. Both with and without Adrian Peterson, they’ve struggled to run the ball, largely as a result of an offensive line that has been very shaky and is missing both week 1 starting offensive tackles with injury, Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. They’re not in a good spot to improve offensively this week, as Houston enters with the 2nd best defense in the league in terms of first down percentage allowed. The Texans haven’t faced a tough schedule so far and are not the same unit without JJ Watt, but the Vikings are expected to be without top wide receiver Stefon Diggs with injury. Without him, the Vikings are very weak at the wide receiver position. There’s just not a lot of talent around Sam Bradford on this offense right now.
The Texans, meanwhile, get left tackle Duane Brown back from injury after the talented blindside protector missed the first 4 games of the season with a quad injury. He’ll be a boost to an offense that has ranked 31st in offensive first down percentage thus far this season, though the Vikings’ defense is a very tough matchup. Even without defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who is injured, the Vikings rank 6th in first down percentage allowed, despite a pair of early games against the Packers and Panthers.
Both teams have weak offenses and strong defenses and they’re much more even than this line suggests. Especially in what figures to be a low scoring affair, getting 7 points is a dream. I wouldn’t put this line any higher than 4. The Texans are better than the Giants, against whom the Vikings were just 5 point favorites last week with a healthy Stefon DIggs. The one thing that prevents this from being my Pick of the Week is the fact that the Vikings are going into a bye. Big favorites tend to take care of business going into a bye, as home favorites of 6 or more are 61-22 ATS before a bye since 2002. However, usually big home favorites are significantly superior to their opponents, which is not the case in this game, as the Vikings do not deserve to be touchdown favorites. It’s a big play.
Minnesota Vikings 16 Houston Texans 13
Pick against the spread: Houston +7