New Orleans Saints (5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2-1)
These two teams met in the post-season on this same field in what ended up being one of the craziest post-season finishes of all time, with the Vikings scoring on a 61-yard, last second touchdown to pull away with a 29-24 victory and advance to the NFC Championship game. That was a very evenly matched game, but a lot has changed since then. Both teams remain in contention in 2018, but the Saints have looked a lot better than the Vikings in doing it, going 5-1 with a +41 point differential and ranking 7th in first down rate differential at +3.74%, despite getting off to one of their signature slow starts (2-12 ATS in the first 2 games of the season since 2012, 54-38 ATS after week 2).
The Vikings, on the other hand, have a solid record, but have not looked good in doing it. Despite an easy schedule that has featured the Cardinals, Jets, and Bills, the Vikings are just +12 in point differential and rank just 21st in first down rate differential at -1.57%. The big problem for them has been injuries. After having the fewest adjusted games lost to injury on defense in the league in 2017, the Vikings have had numerous injuries to key players in 2018.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph could return from a one-game absence this week, but that’s not a guarantee, as he didn’t get in a full practice all week. Defensive end Everson Griffen will be back after missing the last 5 games with mental health issues, but he probably won’t play every down immediately in his return. Even if those two play and play well, the Vikings will still be missing outside linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Andrew Sendejo, cornerback Mike Hughes, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, four defensive starters. They will also be without left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Tom Compton, and running back Dalvin Cook on the offensive side of the ball.
The Saints, meanwhile, are close to fully healthy and playing great football, after winning last week in a tough one on the road in Baltimore. Despite the wide talent gap between these two teams, the Saints are just 1 point road favorites in this one. I have this line calculated at New Orleans -4, so we’re getting significant line value that crosses the key number of 3. The Saints have a great chance to cover in a game they basically just need to win to cover. This is my Pick of the Week this week.
New Orleans Saints 26 Minnesota Vikings 20
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -1
Confidence: Pick of the Week