Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-9) at Detroit Lions (5-10)

I thought the Vikings were an underrated team for much of the season, but I have mostly stayed away from betting them in recent weeks due to the absence of key linebacker Eric Kendricks. The Vikings still have a very productive offense that ranks 3rd in first down rate over expected at 2.88%, which is important because offensive performance tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance, but their offense takes a hit this week without Dalvin Cook and their defense has fallen to 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.19% and hasn’t stopped much of anybody without Kendricks. 

Making matters worse, the Vikings will also be without their top cornerback Cameron Dantzler and top defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo this week, among other absences on defense, giving them one of the least talented defenses in the league on paper. Their offense can trade points with a lot of teams, even without Cook, but I have the Vikings ranked 18th overall in my roster rankings due to the absence of Cook and their absences on defense, which is a significant fall from where they were at their highest point, especially when you consider how many other teams also have significant injury absences right now.

Detroit has struggled for most of the season, ranking 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.19%, and they have had injury problems in recent weeks as well, culminating in a humiliating 47-7 home loss to the Buccaneers last week. The good news for the Lions is that they’re actually getting healthier. Matt Stafford didn’t play most of last week, but is expected to start this week, as is center Frank Ragnow, returning from a 2-game absence, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, returning from a 4-game absence, and possibly linebacker Jamie Collins, returning from a 1-game absence. 

The Lions’ defense has been awful this season, allowing the highest first down rate over expected in the league at +4.38%, but their offense hasn’t been bad, ranking 10th at +1.19% and playing noticeably better with Matt Stafford in the lineup. As I mentioned earlier, offensive performance is much more consistent and predictive week-to-week. The Lions rank 23rd overall in my roster rankings, just a few spots down from Minnesota, and have the ability to trade points with a Vikings team that might actually have a worse defense than Detroit does. My calculated line is Minnesota -1.5, so we’re getting good line value with the Lions at +4.

On top of that, this is a good spot for the Lions, coming off of last week’s blowout loss. Teams tend to be overlooked and motivated in that spot, covering at a 57.8% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more. That’s especially true with home underdogs who previously lost as home underdogs, as they cover at a 53.8% rate, including a 61.7% rate after a loss by 24 points or more. I like to see that the Lions have players willing to play through injury in a meaningless game, led by Stafford, as it seems they’re ready to give much more effort than they did last week, while the Vikings could have one foot in the off-season after a disappointing, injury plagued season. Between the line value and the good spot, there is enough here for the Lions to be worth a bet, but the possibility of a in-game re-injury by Stafford is enough to keep this a smaller play.

Minnesota Vikings 34 Detroit Lions 33

Pick against the spread: Detroit +4

Confidence: Medium 

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