Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
The Vikings are in the playoff mix in the NFC at 7-7 and are a trendy sleeper pick because it’s well-documented that the Vikings haven’t lost more than 8 points this season and could have easily won a few more games. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. For one, two of their losses required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score (Arizona and Baltimore) closer than it would have been and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score.
On top of that, most of their wins have been close, with just one coming by more than 8 points, so, while they could easily have a couple more wins, they could also have a couple more losses. Their point differential of +19 is about in line with their record and schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on yards per play and first down rate, shows them to be even worse than that, as they rank 16th, 26th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and 23rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency.
The Vikings were winning by two scores against the Bears last week before a garbage time touchdown, but that game was relatively close throughout, as the Vikings’ offense didn’t allow them to separate from a skeleton crew Bears team, even though the Bears lost the turnover battle by two, went 2/12 on third down, and went 2/5 on fourth down. The Bears won the first down rate and yards per play battle in that game by margins of 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, holding the Vikings’ offense to a pathetic 3.16 yards per play, despite legitimately being without most of their regular secondary, as well as stud edge defensive Khalil Mack.
The Vikings are likely to benefit from the return of wide receiver Adam Thielen with injury this week, but now they will be without feature back Dalvin Cook, which should cancel out Thielen’s return. The Vikings also face a much tougher challenge this week, with the Rams coming to town. The Rams will be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth due to COVID protocols, but they will return tight end Tyler Higbee, safety Jordan Fuller, and right tackle Rob Havenstein, who missed last week, while cornerback Jalen Ramsey and center Brian Allen missed the previous game, two games the Rams still won despite being short-handed.
Even without Whitworth, the Rams are relatively healthier than most teams in the league right now, including the Vikings, who are without their top two edge defenders on the defensive side of the ball, in addition to Cook’s absence and the uncertainty around Thielen’s injury. The Rams have also been one of the best teams in the league this season, ranking 7th, 6th, 17th, and 4th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, while my roster rankings show them to be even better than that, even with Whitworth missing.
Given that, the Rams should be able to beat the Vikings with relative ease and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hand the Vikings their first multiscore loss of the season. My calculated line is Rams -5, so I don’t necessarily foresee a blowout, but we are getting some line value with the Rams at -3.5. I would need this line to go down to 3 to be at all confident in the Rams though, as right now the line value does not cross a key number. The Rams are the better side for pick ‘em purposes either way though.
Update: This line has moved to 3 in some places. As I said, I would like the Rams better at that number, so I am increasing this to a low confidence pick.
Los Angeles Rams 24 Minnesota Vikings 20
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3