Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
The Vikings have jumped to 6-6 after their 1-5 start, but I still think they’re a little underrated, as a lot of the metrics that suggested they’d be better after their 1-5 start still suggest they can be better going forward. They have a net -18.2% fourth down conversion rate, a 38.71% fumble recovery rate (30th in the NFL), a 3.31% interception rate (28th in the NFL) that is nearly double quarterback Kirk Cousins’ average from the past 5 seasons (1.90%), and -4 return touchdown margin, all metrics that tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.
In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which is a much more consistent metric, the Vikings rank 8th in at +2.13%, and, while their defense will have a big absence this week with top linebacker Eric Kendricks injured, they still rank a respectable 13th in my roster rankings, suggesting that, even without one of their best defensive players, the Vikings still are a little better than their .500 record.
The Buccaneers also have been better statistically than their record would suggest, ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.33%. They’re “just” 7-5, but three of their five losses came by one score or less and four of their five losses came against other teams in the top-4 in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (The Saints twice, the Chiefs, and the Rams). However, they have been led by their defense more than the Vikings, which is a concern because defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance.
The Buccaneers’ defense, which ranks 5th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.25%, has somewhat covered for an offense that has been inconsistent and ranks 11th in first down rate over expected at +1.08%, but their defense might not be able to do that going forward, not just due to the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, but also because the injuries are starting to pile up, with talented starting cornerback Jamel Dean joining stud defensive tackle Vita Vea on the sidelines. The Vikings, meanwhile, rank 7th in first down rate over expected at +1.76%, so they’ve been the more efficient of these two offenses this season.
The Buccaneers’ offense has the talent to be a lot better offensively than they’ve been, but they’ve underachieved thus far, in large part due to the fact that quarterback Tom Brady seems to be slowing down after all these years. He’s still a capable quarterback, even at age 43, but if you look at his performance over the past three seasons, you can see a steady decline and he should be producing a lot more with the talent he has around him in this offense.
Given all of this, there are reasons to be tempted to bet the Vikings, as we’re getting seven points with a team who has statistically been more efficient on offense this season, but I’m going to keep this as a low confidence pick only because of the chance that Tom Brady and this offense live up to their potential, at least for a week, as they’ll be rested coming out of their bye week, which also likely gave them some extra time to build needed chemistry on this offense.
With the bye included, the Buccaneers haven’t won a game in close to a calendar month (November 15th) and Tom Brady’s history off of a loss (46-22 ATS) is well noted at this point, so he should be as fully focused as possible. That doesn’t matter if Brady continues to be far from the quarterback he used to be, especially against an underrated Vikings team, and he hasn’t been as good at covering the spread after a loss when he’s favored by this many points, but the possibility that this offense has their best week of the season after a bye against a defense missing it’s top linebacker is enough for me to keep this as just a low confidence pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Minnesota Vikings 23
Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7