Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles: 2017 NFC Championship Pick

Minnesota Vikings (14-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)

I am kicking myself for not betting on the Eagles as 3-point home underdogs last week. I knew the Eagles had a great chance to cover and even win straight up if the Falcons played like they had all season, but was hesitant to bet on the Eagles because of the possibility that the Falcons would start to click and play like they did last season, when they made the Super Bowl with essentially the same core of the team. The Falcons never really found their Super Bowl form all season and thus were eliminated in Philadelphia by the final score of 15-10.

The Eagles will try to follow the same formula this week, hiding Nick Foles with their defense and running game. Even without Carson Wentz, the Eagles still have a lot of talent on this roster. Because of their supporting cast, I picked the Eagles to get a first round bye before the season started and I wasn’t even completely sold on Wentz at the time. Given that, I wouldn’t be shocked if they were able to advance to the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, especially since they are at home, where their top level defense has allowed just 13.00 points per game this season. The Eagles get a tougher opponent this week, as the Vikings are a step up in class from the Falcons, so I’m not that excited to take the Eagles as 3-point underdogs, but I do think we are getting some line value with Philadelphia.

Outside of the quarterback position, I have these two teams about even and, while the Vikings have the edge under center, I don’t think Keenum has enough of an advantage over Foles to justify the Vikings being favored by a field goal on the road. Keenum has been impressive this season, but he hasn’t had to play in a lot of tough situations and could struggle on the road against a tough Philadelphia defense. He’s also coming off of a relatively weak performance in the wild card round and was really saved by that miraculous play at the end. I’m not that confident in the Eagles unless you can still get +3.5, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Minnesota Vikings 17 Philadelphia Eagles 16

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: Low

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 NFC Divisional Round Pick

New Orleans Saints (12-5) at Minnesota Vikings (13-3)

These two teams met way back in week 1, with Minnesota winning 29-19 at home, but so much has changed since then. At the time, that game was seen as a breakout game for both Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford (346 passing yards, 3 TDs) and Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook (137 yards from scrimmage) and yet another example of the Saints struggling defensively, as they had for years. Bradford and Cook combined to play just 4 games the rest of the way due to knee injuries, while the Saints’ defense finished in the middle of the pack statistically this season thanks to breakout performances by rookie defensive backs Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams, who both got better as the season went on.

The Vikings’ offense obviously managed pretty well without Bradford and Cook, but they too finished middle of the pack, despite looking like potentially a top offense back in week 1. The Vikings would go on to win 13 games with Case Keenum under center and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray as their backs, but their defense was the primary reason they were winning games, as they finished 2nd in first down rate allowed, only behind the Jaguars.

On top of that, the Saints’ leading rusher week 1 was Adrian Peterson with 18 rushing yards and he is no longer on the team, getting traded to the Cardinals back in week 6, which cleared the way for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (who combined for just 35 rushing yards on 13 carries back in week 1) to become the first running back duo ever to both compile 1,500 yards from scrimmage. After losing their first 2 games of the season to teams that would finish 13-3 (Minnesota and New England), the Saints ripped off 8 straight wins and finished as 11-5 champions of the NFC South, despite having the toughest schedule in the league by opponents’ record.

After all that’s changed with these teams, these two teams are the best in the NFC and very evenly matched on paper. The Vikings have a dominant defense and a capable offense, while the Saints have a dominant offense and a capable defense. It’s a shame that these two teams had to meet before the NFC Championship and I think the winner of this game will be playing in the Super Bowl in 3 weeks. I said last week that I think the Saints are the most complete team in the NFC and I stand by that, but the Vikings are very close.

I give the edge to the Saints because of experience. Case Keenum is starting his first ever playoff game and quarterbacks do not have a good track record in their first playoff start, while the Saints are easily the most experienced team in the NFC, with the duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton together for 11 playoff games since they united in 2006. The Vikings obviously have homefield advantage, which could end up being the deciding factor in this game, but the Saints have a good chance to cover this 4-point spread even if they can’t quite pull the upset, as about 30% of games are decided by 4 points. The money line is also worth a bet because this game is close to a toss up.

New Orleans Saints 24 Minnesota Vikings 23 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +4

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-10) at Minnesota Vikings (12-3)

I’ve bet the Bears frequently this season because I’ve thought they were underrated for most of the season. However, I won’t be doing so this week because they are way too banged up. They’ve had injury issues all season, but just in the last few weeks they’ve lost three starters on the offensive line (left guard Josh Sitton, right guard Kyle Long, and right tackle Bobby Massie) and a pair of valuable contributors in their front 7 (outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and defensive end Mitch Unrein). With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Vikings this week, though only for a no confidence pick. I have this line calculated at Minnesota -12.5, so we aren’t getting any line value with them at -12, even as banged up as the Bears are.

Minnesota Vikings 23 Chicago Bears 10

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -12

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (11-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-7)

The Packers squeaked out overtime victories over a pair of bad teams, the Buccaneers and Browns, to stay alive in the playoff race with Aaron Rodgers returning to action week 15. Unfortunately for the Packers, the schedule got tougher and Rodgers was not 100% in his return, as the Packers fell to the Panthers 31-24, ending their playoff hopes. Now with the season essentially over, the Packers have shut down Rodgers for the season and will turn back to backup Brett Hundley for the final 2 games of the season.

Rodgers isn’t the only one that is going to be missing from action in this one, as wide receiver Davante Adams is out with a concussion, while outside linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews and right guard Jahri Evans are likely out after missing practice all week. The Vikings, meanwhile, have no notable injuries and have their offensive line back together healthy for the first time since week 8, with left tackle Riley Reiff, right tackle Mike Remmers, and center Pat Elflein all healthy after missing time in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, this line has swung 12 points since Minnesota was 3-point underdogs on the early line last week, so we’ve lost all line value with the Vikings. Even with all of the injuries, I have this line calculated at Minnesota -6.5. It’s a shame because I love the spot the Vikings are in. The Packers’ season is over and they have another tough divisional game next week in Detroit. The Vikings, meanwhile, need every win they can get as they compete for the #1 seed in the NFC and have another easy divisional game on deck, with the Bears coming to town.

Favorites of 6+ are 72-43 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again, while underdogs of 6+ are 39-60 ATS over that same time period before being underdogs of 6+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 6+ are 23-7 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again, when their opponent will next be underdogs of 6+ again. Superior teams tend to take care of business with another easy game on deck, especially if their inferior opponent has another tough game on deck to potentially be a distraction. I wish we were getting a better line, but the Vikings should be the right choice for pick ‘em pool purposes.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Green Bay Packers 13

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -9

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

The Vikings lost last week as 3-point favorites in Carolina, but this line still moved from Minnesota -9 over Cincinnati on the early line last week to -11 this week, as a result of the Bengals’ 33-7 home loss to the Chicago Bears. I haven’t soured on the Bengals quite as much as the general public seems to have. The Bears have been an underrated team for most of the season and the Bengals were also in a terrible spot, missing a couple key players with injury, coming off of a close loss at home to the division rival Steelers, with this tough game in Minnesota on deck.

Even with the big loss last week, the Bengals still rank 20th in first down rate differential at -0.86%. They aren’t the same team without stud linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who remains out with a concussion for the 2nd straight game, but they could get running back Joe Mixon back from a one-game absence with his concussion after he returned to practice on Thursday and Friday. They also are fortunate enough to be playing a Minnesota team that is having their own injury issues. Right tackle Mike Remmers and center Pat Elflein are set to return from injuries, but left tackle Riley Reiff and tight end Kyle Rudolph will miss this game.

Minnesota is also in a terrible spot this week, much like the Bengals were last week. They are coming off of a tough loss to the Panthers and have to turn around and go to Green Bay next week to face Aaron Rodgers and company. Double digit favorites typically don’t cover before being underdogs, which is what the Vikings will be in Green Bay next week. Teams are 58-78 ATS in that spot since 2002. The Bengals, meanwhile, should be completely focused with only a home game against the Lions on deck, especially given how they got embarrassed last week.

Much like the Bears caught the Bengals off guard last week, the Bengals could easily catch the Vikings off guard this week. They’re probably not going to win easily like the Bears did last week, as the Vikings are still a lot better coached and more talented than the Vikings, but they could easily keep this close against a Minnesota team that has just 4 wins by more than 10 points this season (Buccaneers, Packers, Rams, Browns). The Bengals are worth a bet as long as this line is 10 or higher.

Minnesota Vikings 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +11

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (10-2) at Carolina Panthers (8-4)

One of my favorites things to do as a bettor is go against significant week-to-week line movement, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. That’s definitely the case in this game, as this line has shifted from Carolina -2.5 last week on the early line to Minnesota -3 this week. The Vikings won in Atlanta last week, but Atlanta was missing their top cornerback Desmond Trufant and had another game in 4 days, so that win wasn’t a huge surprise.

The Panthers lost to an undermanned Saints team (Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Terron Armstead) that also had another game in 4 days, but that game was closer than the final score, as the Panthers botched a punt in their own territory and then extended a New Orleans drive with a personal foul penalty 3 plays later. Had that not happened, the Panthers might have been able to kick a field goal early in the 4th quarter, rather than going for it on 4th and 6 down 14. The Saints only ended up winning the first down rate battle by +0.09%, despite the 10 point win.

The Panthers were also without center Ryan Kalil and tight end Greg Olsen last week, both of whom figure to be back this week. That should be a big boost to this offense. I still have this line at Carolina -1.5, so getting a full field goal with the Panthers at home is a great value. The Vikings are also in a tough spot in their 3rd straight road game. Teams are 77-95 ATS in that spot since 1989. I like the Panthers a lot this week. As long as you can get the full field goal, this is a high confidence pick. I also like the money line at +125.

Carolina Panthers 17 Minnesota Vikings 16 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Carolina +3

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (9-2) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

The Falcons have had an up and down season, but they have consistently ranked in the top-5 of my roster rankings all season. They are not as well coached as last season, when they were the best team in the NFC, but they still have essentially the same core as last season and they could be ready to go on a run. I bet on the Falcons as 9.5 point home favorites over the Buccaneers last week because I thought they were undervalued. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d consider betting on the Falcons as 3 point home favorites over the Vikings this week, as this line suggests these two teams are about even and I have the Falcons as about 1.5 points better.

These are not ordinary circumstances though, as the Falcons have to turn around and play another tough game against the division leading Saints in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites are 64-95 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football, as it’s understandably tough to give your best effort when you have another game in 4 days. The Vikings have another tough game next week too, as they next head to Carolina to face the 8-3 Panthers, but that game is at least on normal rest. The Falcons are my pick for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -3

Confidence: None