Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

The Dolphins pulled off one of the craziest victories in recent memory last week, beating the New England Patriots on a last second lateral play that went 69 yards, pulling the 34-33 upset as 8-point home underdogs. Teams are typically flat the following week after big upset wins like that though, going 70-93 ATS over the past 30 years after a home win as underdogs of 6 or more, and I would expect the Dolphins especially to have difficulty matching last week’s intensity because of how crazy the ending was. The Dolphins won their Super Bowl last week in incredible fashion, but there could easily be a hangover effect this week.

This line is relatively high at Minnesota -7, but most of the Dolphins’ losses have not been close this season, as 5 of their 6 losses have come by double digits and their average margin of defeat is 15.50 points per game. Their 7 wins, on the other hand, have all come by 8 points or fewer, as the Dolphins have made a habit of squeaking out victories in close games. That’s the kind of habit that’s tough to maintain every week though and the Dolphins rank 25th in point differential at -55. That’s -55 point differential comes despite a +8 turnover margin, which is also the kind of habit that’s tough to maintain every week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 28th at -4.81%, despite the 4th easiest schedule in terms of opponents’ DVOA.

The Dolphins have been better with Ryan Tannehill under center, but he’s not at 100%, dealing with shoulder and ankle injuries, and they are also missing top cornerback Xavien Howard, a massive loss on defense. The Vikings have disappointed this season, but they’re still a solid team and they’re healthier than they were earlier in the season. With the Vikings likely going to a much more balanced offensive attack under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, I have this line calculated at Minnesota -10.5 and I like their chances of handing a likely flat Dolphins team their 6th double digit loss of the season. Without a better option this week, this is my Pick of the Week at -7.

Minnesota Vikings 23 Miami Dolphins 10

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) at Seattle Seahawks (7-5)

The Seahawks are now 7-5 after a 0-2 start, but this is far from a vintage Seahawks team. Their offense has been solid, ranking 13th in first down rate at 38.09% and improving as the season has gone along, but their defense is far from what we’re used to from them, as they rank 26th, allowing opponents to pick up first downs at a 39.33% rate. Their defense has played tied for the 2nd fewest snaps in the league with 71, as a result of the offense going 9 of 12 on 4th down on the season and only turning over the ball 9 times, fewest in the NFL, but 4th down percentages and turnovers tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t always be able to depend on that making life easier for their defense.

The Vikings have had a disappointing season at 6-5-1, but they’re healthier now than they were earlier in the season and they rank higher than the Seahawks both in my roster rankings and in first down rate differential, in which they rank 16th at +0.19%. This line suggests these two teams are about even, with the hometown Seahawks favored by a field goal, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the visitors. It’s not enough for the Vikings to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Seattle Seahawks 24 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3

Confidence: Low

Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-4-1) at New England Patriots (8-3)

The rule of thumb with the Patriots is to bet them in the second half of the season, once they’ve figured themselves out. They are 66-42 ATS in the final 8 games of the regular season with Tom Brady under center. This year, they were on one of their signature mid-to-late season runs, only to see their 6-game winning streak stopped by a Tennessee team that blew them out 34-10. That was the biggest loss that the Patriots have had that late in the season with Tom Brady under center and it made many think that the Patriots are not the same team as they normally are.

That’s why I think this line is only at -5. If the Patriots were considered a true top level team, they would be favored by at least a touchdown at home over a good, but not great Minnesota team, especially with key cornerback Xavier Rhodes and key wide receiver Stefon Diggs both barely practicing this week due to injuries sustained in last week’s game in Green Bay. Both are expected to play, but if those two players are both limited, it’ll be noticeable in this big game.

Even with their loss in Tennessee, I’m still giving the Patriots the benefit of the doubt, especially since they bounced back well off their loss (as they usually do), winning the first down rate battle by 11.15% in New York against the Jets last week. They are also much healthier now than they were in that Tennessee game. Tight end Rob Gronkowski and right guard Shaq Mason did not play in that game and running back Sony Michel was not at 100% after missing time with a knee injury. All three were big parts of their win in New York last week.

The Patriots also have ugly losses in Jacksonville and Detroit from earlier in the season, but they weren’t at full strength in those losses either, without stud defensive end Trey Flowers, talented safety Patrick Chung, or wide receivers Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. At full strength, the Patriots have been very tough this season, especially at home, where they are 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 13.8 points, despite playing playoff contenders in all 5 games, including Houston and Kansas City.

The Patriots are also in a great spot with only a trip to Miami on deck, a game in which they are 10.5 point favorites on the early line. Teams tend to take care of business before easy games like that, without any distractions, going 91-69 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites of 7 or more points. The Patriots are one of my favorite picks this week, as they should be able to win this game by at least a touchdown, if not multiple scores.

New England Patriots 27 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: New England -5

Confidence: High

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)

The Packers haven’t lost at home this season, but they also haven’t won on the road. Now at 4-5-1, the Packers have their season on the line this week in Minnesota. If they lose this game, they’ll fall two games behind the Vikings for the final wild card spot and the Vikings will own the tiebreaker, so they’ll essentially be 3 games out of the playoffs with 5 to play. If they win this game however, they’ll own the tiebreaker with Minnesota and would be just a half game behind Washington (who is starting a backup quarterback) for the final wild card spot.

The good news for Packers fans is that home/road disparity tends to be more random than anything. This is the 19th instance of a team being winless on the road and undefeated at home in week 8 or later. The previous 18 are 9-9 in their next road game and 10-6-2 ATS. That alone isn’t a reason to take the Packers, but it shows you shouldn’t just blindly bet against the Packers just because they are away from home. Last week, I bet the Packers as 3-point underdogs in Seattle in a game they led throughout (including 14-3 in the first half), before the Seahawks eventually came back with a late drive and caused the line to push with a 3-point win.

Unfortunately, we’re not getting nearly as good as a line this week with the Packers, as they are once again 3-point underdogs, but against a much better team. While the Seahawks are a middling team, the Vikings are quietly a tough opponent. They had injury problems early in the season, but they are much healthier now, with players like defensive end Everson Griffen, running back Dalvin Cook, and linebacker Anthony Barr back from extended absences. The general public hasn’t caught on yet because they lost last week in Chicago, but the Bears are legitimately a top level team, so there isn’t much shame in that.

The Packers, meanwhile, are going the other way injury wise, losing stud defensive lineman Mike Daniels in the second half of their loss in Seattle, a big part of the reason why the Seahawks were able to mount a comeback late. Daniels doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’s one of the better defensive linemen in the league, so his absence will certainly be felt. With that in mind, I like the Vikings a little bit this week. This line suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Vikings slightly better in my roster rankings right now with Daniels out.

The Packers are in a better spot than the Vikings, as they have an easy game home against the Cardinals on deck, while the Vikings have another tough game in New England. Underdogs are 90-54 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. However, because this game is so big for both teams, I don’t expect the Vikings to be looking forward to that New England game much at all this week, so I’m not sure how relevant that trend is to this game. There isn’t enough here to bet them and this could easily end up another push, given how frequently games are decided by exactly a field goal (about 1 in 6), but the Vikings should be the right side.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Green Bay Packers 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Low

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) at Chicago Bears (6-3)

The Bears have quietly been one of the best teams in the league this season. Their 6-3 record is impressive, but they’ve been even better than that suggests. Their 3 losses have come by a combined 11 points and they rank 4th in point differential at +94. In first down rate differential, they are even better, entering this week first at +7.68%. Much like Jacksonville a year ago, they have the best defense in football and their offense gives them enough to win most weeks. They aren’t frequently mentioned as contenders, but they have enough talent and are playing well enough that they should be.

The Vikings are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all season coming out of their bye, after an injury plagued first half of the season, but the Bears are still the better of these two teams. This line, only favoring the Bears by 2.5 points, suggests the opposite. I actually have the Bears a few points better than the Vikings and I have this line calculated at Chicago -5.5. That’s a significant difference, because it crosses the key number of 3. As long as the Bears basically just have to win here at home to cover I like their chances a lot.

The one concern I have with the Bears is that they play again in 4 days on Thanksgiving and the track record of favorites before Thursday Night Football (51-71 ATS since 2012) isn’t great. However, this is a chance for the Bears to make a statement and prove they belong as the contender (and to put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the NFC North), so I don’t think the Bears are really going to be looking past this game to next week’s matchup with the last place Lions all that much. They’re one of my top plays of the week.

Chicago Bears 23 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago -2.5

Confidence: High

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)

This game has a lot of injury uncertainty. The Lions could get Ezekiel Ansah back for the first time since week 1, but that’s far from a guarantee, as he continues to be limited in practice. Meanwhile, both right guard TJ Lang and cornerback Darius Slay, two of the Lions’ better players, could miss this game with injuries of their own. Their roster also took a hit when they sent contract year wide receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles for a 3rd round pick this past week. They may struggle to adjust in their first week without their talented slot receiver.

On the other side, the Vikings have had as many injuries as anyone this year, but they seem to finally be getting healthier. Defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph have returned in recent weeks, safety Andrew Sendejo looks like to follow them this week, and left tackle Riley Reiff, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and running back Dalvin Cook could also return this week. The only players ruled out so far are linebacker Anthony Barr and right guard Tom Compton, but they also have several highly questionable players, including the aforementioned players possibly making their return and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who didn’t practice all week with a rib injury. With so many key players on both sides having uncertain status, it’s hard to be confident in either side this week.

That being said, I would recommend the Vikings for pick ‘em purposes for a few reasons and not just because they seem to be trending in the right direction injury wise. The Lions have had little success against playoff caliber opponents in recent years, going 19-36-2 ATS and 19-38 straight up in games against opponents with a winning record since Matt Stafford’s first full season in 2011. On top of that, the Vikings are going into their bye and big home favorites tend to take care of business going into a bye, going 41-19-1 ATS since 2008 as home favorites of 6+ before a bye. The Vikings barely qualify for that threshold here, but the logic makes sense, as the Vikings should be able to take care of business against a Detroit team that has struggled in tougher games in recent years. This is a no confidence pick because of the injury uncertainty on both sides, but I like the Vikings’ chances a little more.

Minnesota Vikings 27 Detroit Lions 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

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