Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (2-7) at Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

I have picked the Vikings for three straight Pick of the Weeks since their week 7 bye and they have covered in all three games. The metrics that made me think the Vikings were underrated like the field goal percentage against (100%), net 4th down conversion rate (+31.8%), fumble recovery rate (35.71%), and Kirk Cousins interception rate being double his career average (5.3% vs. 2.4%) still have some room for regression, at 95.83%, +16.7%, 38.10%, and 4.5% respectively, so I think they’re still underrated. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which minimizes the effect of the metrics mentioned above, the Vikings rank 10th at +1.62%, which lines up with my roster rankings, which have them 9th. They were a 4th down conversion from winning in Seattle and they lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans hit three field goals from 50+ yards, so they could easily be 6-3 right now, despite a tough schedule.

However, the Vikings aren’t as underrated as they used to be, as this line, favoring them by a touchdown at home, is right about where it should be, given that the Vikings will hardly have any fans at this game. That line being accurate is partially because the Cowboys are underrated themselves though. The Cowboys obviously haven’t had a good start to their season, especially since losing quarterback Dak Prescott for the season, but aside from Prescott, the Cowboys are getting a lot healthier on the rest of this roster, after being decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. 

Their two stud offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’El Collins remain out for the season along with Prescott, but backup quarterback Andy Dalton returns from a 2-game absence to at least give them an NFL caliber quarterback under center and they will also benefit from the presence of stud right guard Zack Martin (1 game missed), starting linebackers Leighton Vander Esch (4 games) and Sean Lee (7 games), top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (7 games), and other minor players who have all returned from injury as well. In fact, my numbers suggest the Cowboys are slightly better than 50/50 to cover this spread against a solid Vikings team. This is a no confidence pick, but if I had to pick a side, I would go with Dallas.

Minnesota Vikings 30 Dallas Cowboys 24

Pick against the spread: Dallas +7

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4)

A couple weeks ago, coming out of their week 7 bye, I compared the Vikings to the 2019 Atlanta Falcons, who went 1-7 before their bye week before going 6-2 in their final 8 games. The Falcons had a first down rate differential of +1.33% in their first 8 games, but had a turnover margin of -11 that was the 2nd worst in the league at the time, which made winning any games very difficult, leading to the 1-7 record. Likewise, the Vikings had a schedule adjusted +2.73% first down rate differential, but struggled to win games for other reasons and went just 1-5 in their first 6 games.

Fortunately for the Vikings (and last year’s Falcons), per play success stats like first down rate tend to be much more consistent and predictive in the long run than stats like turnover margin that only tell what happened on a small percentage of a team’s snaps. The Falcons weren’t drastically better in first down rate differential over their 6-2 stretch at +2.02%, but their turnover margin improved to +6, making it much easier for the Falcons to win games. 

The Vikings weren’t killed by the turnover margin quite as much as last year’s Falcons, but they still ranked 3rd worst in the league at -7 through week 7, as they recovered just 35.71% of fumbles, while quarterback Kirk Cousins threw interceptions at a rate 2.5 times higher than his career average and over 3 times higher than his previous 3 seasons. Both of those things were unlikely to continue. Also unlikely to continue was the Vikings allowing 19 of 19 field goals against and having -31.8% 4th down conversion rate disparity. 

It wasn’t hard to see how that had led to the Vikings losing otherwise winnable games, as they were a failed 4th down conversation away from clinching the game in Seattle and lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans made 6 of 6 field goals, including a trio from 50+ and a 55-yard game winner. The Vikings could have easily been 3-3 over their first 6 games, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses in Green Bay and Atlanta, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook in that Atlanta loss.

Seeing the Vikings as very underrated, I bet them my Pick of the Week in back-to-back weeks and they rewarded me both times, pulling an upset by 6 points as 7-point underdogs in Green Bay and then beating the Lions by 14 points as 3.5-point favorites. Unfortunately, the public and the oddsmakers are starting to catch up, as evidenced by this line shifting from Chicago -1.5 on the early line last week to Minnesota -3 this week, but we’re still getting good line value with the Vikings, who remain at least somewhat underrated.

Despite their tough schedule, they could easily be 5-3 right now and they still have several significant stats that should improve going forward, including their league leading 95.45% opponent’s field goal percentage, Kirk Cousins’ 4.78% interception rate, which is still double his career average, and a 30th ranked 37.50% fumble recovery rate. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Vikings rank 7th and, while they might not be quite that good, they also rank 12th in my roster rankings, so they should continue playing at a high level going forward.

This line value is also in part due to the Bears being overrated. Everyone knows the Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final play and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks, but what’s not mentioned enough is that in three of their four losses, they were down by 16 points, 21 points, and 21 points in the 4th quarter before some meaningless late scores, against the Colts, Titans, and Rams, comparable caliber teams to the Vikings.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears rank 22nd at -0.67% and there is reason to believe they’ll be worse than that going forward. They’ve been very reliant on a defense that ranks 7th in first down rate allowed over expected to cover for an offense that ranks 31st in first down rate over expected, which is a problem because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. 

Their offense also may even be worse than their rank suggests, as they will be without a trio of starting offensive linemen, left guard Mike Daniels, center Cody Whitehair, and right tackle Bobby Massie, as well as feature back David Montgomery. If their defense doesn’t play well every week, this team doesn’t have much of a shot to win games and even talented defenses can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

Even with this line moving to -3, I still think this line is off significantly, as I have the Vikings calculated at -6. The Bears have next to no homefield advantage in Chicago without fans and the disparity between those two teams’ is massive (Minnesota ranking 5th and Chicago 31st) on offense, which is by far the more predictive side of the ball. The Vikings should be able to win by at least a field goal pretty easily, so I’m rolling with Minnesota as my Pick of the Week for the third straight week. They’re not as underrated as they’ve been, but the Bears are overrated and there isn’t another great Pick of the Week option this week.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-5)

This line was finally reposted at Minnesota -3.5, after confirmation that Lions quarterback Matt Stafford would be able to play despite being placed in the COVID contact tracing protocol earlier in the week. Earlier in the week I liked the Vikings at that number and I like them even more now that Stafford will be playing despite not practicing all week. The Lions are also now without starting safety Tracy Walker and starting left guard Joe Dahl due to injury and likely will be without top linebacker Jarrad Davis as well, in addition to top defensive end Trey Flowers and top wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who were ruled out earlier in the week.

The Vikings have just two wins, but they beat the Packers last week and, while that was in part due to the Packers looking ahead to a big rematch against the 49ers on a short week, the Vikings being competitive with high level teams is no fluke. They were a 4th down conversion away from beating the Seahawks and the Titans needed to go 6 for 6 on field goals, including 3 for 3 on 50+ yard field goals, to beat the Vikings by a single point. In total, the Vikings have allowed 19 of 19 field goals against, which is highly unlikely to continue going forward.

The Vikings could easily be 4-3 right now, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses to the Falcons and to the Packers in their week 1 matchup, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook in that Atlanta loss. In terms of first down rate differential, when adjusted for schedule, the Vikings rank 3rd in the NFL at +3.19%. While I don’t think they’re quite that good, I have them 14th in my roster rankings, and there’s definitely a strong case for them being significantly better than their record.

The Lions, meanwhile, are 3-4, but one of their win came in an improbable comeback against the Falcons, another came by 3 in Arizona in a game in which they won the turnover battle by 3, but lost the first down rate battle by 8.96%, and the third came against a banged up Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. Their four losses, meanwhile, have come by a combined 51 points, giving them a -29 point differential, 22nd in the NFL.

In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they are even worse, ranking 30th at -4.12%, as they haven’t played that well against a relatively easy schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account all of the Lions’ absences or the disruptions to their week this week. The Vikings should be favored by at least a touchdown, so we’re getting great value with them at 3.5. There isn’t a great choice this week, but the Vikings are my Pick of the Week.

Minnesota Vikings 35 Detroit Lions 27

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

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

The Vikings have just one win, but there is reason to believe they’ll be a lot better than that going forward, coming out of last week’s bye. In many ways, they remind me of last year’s Atlanta Falcons, who started 1-7, but won 6 of their final 8 after their bye week. The Falcons had a first down rate differential of +1.33% in their first 8 games, but had a turnover margin of -11 that was the 2nd worst in the league at the time, which made winning any games very difficult. 

Fortunately for those Falcons (and these Vikings), per play success stats like first down rate tend to be much more consistent and predictive in the long run than stats like turnover margin that only tell what happened on a small percentage of a team’s snaps. The Falcons weren’t drastically better in first down rate differential over their 6-2 stretch at +2.02%, but their turnover margin improved to +6, making it much easier for the Falcons to win games. 

If anything, the Vikings have been better this season than the Falcons were last year during their 1-7 stretch, as the Vikings rank 4th in the NFL this season with a +2.73% first down rate differential, adjusted for schedule. The Vikings haven’t been killed by the turnover margin quite as much as last year’s Falcons, but they still rank 3rd worst in the league at -7, as they’ve recovered just 35.71% of fumbles, while quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown interceptions at a rate 2.5 times higher than his career average and over 3 times higher than his previous 3 seasons. Both of those things are unlikely to continue. Also unlikely to continue is the Vikings allowing 19 of 19 field goals against and their -31.8% 4th down conversion rate disparity. 

It’s not hard to see how that has led to the Vikings losing otherwise winnable games, as they were a failed 4th down conversation away from clinching the game in Seattle and lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans made 6 of 6 field goals, including a trio from 50+ and a 55-yard game winner. The Vikings could easily be 3-3 right now, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses in Green Bay and Atlanta, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook before the bye in that Atlanta loss and have been without guard Pat Elflein since week 1. Both players are expected to return this week.

The Vikings’ defense is a real concern, especially with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue being traded and several injuries to their cornerback depth, and I definitely don’t think they’re as good as their raw first down rate stats would suggest, but even with their defensive problems, I still have them as a middle of the pack team in my roster rankings and defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense. Like last year’s Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings are an offensive led team, which makes their chances of improving significantly going forward much better than if they were a defensive led team. 

The Falcons made a statement right away out of their bye last season, winning convincingly by score of 26-9 as 13.5-point underdogs in New Orleans in one of the biggest upsets of the season. The Vikings have a chance to do something similar this week in Green Bay (though it wouldn’t be quite as big of an upset) and even if they don’t I like their chances of keeping this one close. The Vikings lost by 9 to the Packers in Minnesota back in week 1, but that was a weird game where the Packers out snapped the Vikings 76-49 because they won the turnover battle by 1, they converted a 4th down, they forced a safety immediately after their failed 4th down conversion, and they stopped the Vikings on a 4th down try of their own. 

On a per snap basis, the Vikings won the first down rate battle by 10.23% and the yards per play battle by 0.9, which tends to be much more predictive than things like turnovers and 4th down performance. On the season, in addition to their edge in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.73% vs. -0.05%), the Vikings also are just behind the Packers in net yards per play (0.3 vs. 0.2) and DVOA (10th vs. 18th). This game is in Lambeau, but with no fans in attendance, that doesn’t make much of a difference, so my calculated line is just Green Bay -4 and that’s before taking into account any situational factors.

Not only are these two teams closer than their records would suggest, but the Packers are also in a tough spot, having to turn around and play again in 4 days in San Francisco against a 49ers team that beat them twice easily last year and ended their season in the NFC Championship game. Favorites cover at just a 44.0% rate all-time before a Thursday night game and for the Packers the look ahead effect could be even greater, given that they’ve already beaten the Vikings once this year and have likely been looking forward to their nationally televised revenge game with the 49ers since the schedule came out. 

The Vikings, meanwhile, should be totally focused, coming out of a bye, with a much easier game against the Lions on deck. Underdogs cover at a 62.7% rate before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and even that doesn’t hold true in this matchup, the logic still stands that the Vikings will be much more focused for this game than their opponents. On top of that, divisional home favorites of 3.5+ are 36-48 ATS over the past 30 seasons against a team they’ve already beaten and, for what it’s worth, underdogs are 9-5 ATS over the past 30 years off of a bye when their opponents will next play on a short week, although that’s obviously a small sample size. 

The Packers have a lot of injury uncertainty, with key players like left tackle David Bakhiari, safety Darnell Savage, and wide receiver Allen Lazard being legitimately questionable for this matchup, but even if they all play, I like the Vikings enough to make this my Pick of the Week and if all three of those players don’t play, there’s a good chance the Vikings could pull the straight up upset. I am glad I was able to lock this in at 7 earlier in the week because sharp action has pushed this line down to 6. I would still like the Vikings at 6, but not as much and at that number, the injury inactives will be more important.

Green Bay Packers 30 Minnesota Vikings 28

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (0-5) at Minnesota Vikings (1-4)

The Vikings are just 1-4, but they’ve played much better than their record has suggested. For one, their early schedule has been absolutely brutal, with their easiest game coming on the road in Houston against a Texans team that is also a lot better than it’s 1-4 record. The Vikings won that game and have been competitive in most of their other games, despite the tough competition and despite some fluky things going against them that should even out in the long run (opponents are 6 for 8 on fourth downs, Vikings are 3 for 6, opponents are 15 for 15 on field goals, the Vikings have recovered just 33.33% of available fumbles). In terms of first down rate differential, the Vikings rank 10th in the league at +2.79%, despite the toughest schedule in the league. 

The Vikings’ schedule gets a lot easier this week, as they are hosting the winless Falcons in Minnesota. They’ve been about as bad as there record would suggest, ranking 29th in first down rate differential -4.95%.Their offense is better than it’s played so far (23rd in first down rate differential at 37.57%) but their defense is undoubtedly one of the worst in the league and, with the Vikings being a formidable opponent, I have this line calculated at Minnesota -7.5, even taking into account that the Vikings won’t have star running back Dalvin Cook due to an injury and that they won’t have any traditional fans for this game. This line is at just 4 because the general public doesn’t realize the Vikings have played so much better than their record suggests and we’re getting great line value as a result. This is one of my top picks I am considering for Pick of the Week and, even if it’s not my top pick this week, this still is worth a big play.

Minnesota Vikings 31 Atlanta Falcons 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -4

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (1-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-0)

Russell Wilson has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league throughout his career, but he’s never started a season this well, completing 75.2% of his passes for an average of 9.38 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, with 95 rushing yards in 4 games. The Seahawks overall rank 2nd in the league with a 44.80% first down rate, only behind the Green Bay Packers. This is as talented of an offensive supporting cast as Wilson has ever had, but there’s no denying how valuable Wilson has been for this team thus far. Wilson has somewhat famously never gotten an MVP vote, but it’s safe to say he’ll be in the mix this year if he continues playing this well.

The concern for the Seahawks is that, as well as Wilson is playing, they still aren’t blowing out most of their competition. They won by 13 points week 1 against the Falcons, but the Falcons are one of the worst teams in the league and their other three wins have come by one score, including games against the Cowboys and Dolphins. This isn’t anything new, as the Seahawks won 10 of their 11 wins by one score last season.

The Seahawks’ defense, which ranks 19th in first down rate allowed at 40.68%, is a definite concern, as the Seahawks could see some of their close wins turn to losses if Wilson falls back to earth the rest of the way. Those defensive concerns are even bigger this week with the Seahawks missing safety Jamal Adams due to injury, as Adams is arguably their best defensive player and the top safety in the league.

The Seahawks face a 1-3 Vikings team at home in Seattle this week, but they won’t have their normal homefield advantage and the Vikings are better than their record suggests, as they’ve had some things go against them that are very inconsistent week-to-week, like their -4 turnover margin (5th worst in the NFL), their 22.22% fumble recovery rate (2 of 9, including 1 for 7 on fumbles forced), and the 15 of 15 field goals that opponents have hit against them.

In fact, the Vikings actually rank just slightly behind the Seahawks in first down rate differential (+4.12% vs. +3.84%), despite the fact that they’ve faced a much tougher schedule. DVOA doesn’t have them quite as close, but the Vikings rank 13th, 7 spots behind the Seahawks, which still suggests we’re getting significant line value with the visitor. They should be able to keep this game close like most teams do with the Seahawks and they should also have a better chance to come in and get the straight up win than most expect, especially if Wilson has an off game.

My only concern with this game is the Seahawks are going into their bye, which is usually a good spot for a big home favorite. Since 2002, home favorites of 7+ are 63-25 ATS before a bye. However, the Seahawks are barely 7-point favorites and these two teams are more evenly matched than this line suggests, so I’m not sure this trend applies. My calculated line is just Seattle -4.5, giving the Seahawks 1.5 points for homefield advantage. I don’t like the Vikings as much as my typical Pick of the Weeks, but I don’t see a better option this week. I would be surprised if Seattle was able to win this game by multiple scores, barring some fluky outlier plays.

Seattle Seahawks 31 Minnesota Vikings 27

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at Houston Texans (0-3)

Both of these teams qualified for the post-season last year, but they’ve both gotten off to 0-3 starts that will make it tough for them to make it back to the post-season, even with an extra wild card spot being added. With both teams desperately wanting to avoid going 0-4, this will be essentially a must win game for both teams. A lot of attention has been given to the brutal start to their season that the Texans have had schedule wise, as they’ve faced the Ravens, Chiefs, and Steelers, but the Vikings’ schedule hasn’t been much easier, as they’ve faced the Packers, Colts, and Titans. 

The Vikings have also outplayed the Texans. While the Texans have ranked 27th in first down rate differential at -4.45%, the Vikings have actually ranked 11th at +2.76%, with their struggles being primarily due to a -5 turnover margin that is the third worst in the NFL. Turnover margins are very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Vikings won’t necessarily continue struggling with turnovers just because they have in the first three games and they’ve had some other fluky things go against them as well, including teams making 12 of 12 field goals against them and converting 4 for 4 on 4th down (as opposed to 0 for 2 for the Vikings).

Despite the Vikings’ early edge and the fact that the Texans won’t have a normal homefield advantage, the Texans are favored by 3.5 points at home. Given that about 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, this line is way too high. My calculated line is Houston -1, so Minnesota is worth a small bet this week. The two most likely outcomes of this game are either team winning by a field goal, two results that would both be covers for the Texans.

Houston Texans 24 Minnesota Vikings 23

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)

It’s weird to see the Vikings be this bad on defense, after years of consistently strong defensive play under Mike Zimmer, but it’s not a fluke, as this is just not a talented unit. The Vikings lost a pair of mainstays on the defensive line in Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph and, while they were replaced with Yannick Ngakoue and Michael Pierce, the latter opted out of the season, while the former is basically by himself on a defensive line that is missing Danielle Hunter, who is normally one of the top edge rushers in the league. The Vikings also just lost Anthony Barr from their linebacking corps due to injury, while their cornerbacks are very thin in part due to injury, in part due to lack of talent. Adding to their injury list, nominal top cornerback Mike Hughes is expected to be out this week. 

On offense, it’s tough to know what to make of this team because their week 1 and week 2 performances could not have been more different. In week 1, the offense did the most they could with the limited amount of time their defense allowed them to be on the field, picking up 25 first downs and 4 touchdowns on 49 offensive snaps, to give them a ridiculous 59.18% first down rate, but in week 2, they couldn’t get anything going, finishing with a 27.66% first down rate. Guard Pat Elflein didn’t play in week 2 after playing week 1 and he’ll be out again this week, but it’s unlikely his absence alone caused the big drop off from week 1 to week 2.

Realistically, the Vikings should ultimately be somewhere right in the middle of their past two performances this season. They finished 11th in first down rate last season and, while they lost wide receiver Stefon Diggs this off-season, they do have a healthy Adam Theilen. It’s going to be tough for their offense to keep up with what their defense puts up though, at least until Hunter is back, and especially against tougher competition.

The Titans are 2-0 and, though they haven’t been tested yet, I liked their chances of being a top-10 team coming into the season and, while they’re still missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson and top wide receiver AJ Brown, they’re actually healthier now than they’ve been in their first two games. I have them about 6 points better in my roster rankings than the Vikings right now, suggesting the Titans should be favored by about 3.5-4 points in Minnesota. That doesn’t seem like a lot of line value, with this line sitting at -2.5, but about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the Titans to beat the Vikings by a field goal or more, with the Vikings banged up and not having a normal homefield advantage, so they’re worth a bet as favorites of less than a field goal.

Tennessee Titans 26 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (0-1) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

Both of these teams had disappointing opening weeks, with the Vikings losing at home to the division rival Packers and the Colts losing on the road to the Jaguars by a slim margin in a big upset. For the Vikings, all of their problems were on defense, as they allowed the Packers to pick up first downs at a 47.37% rate, the 5th highest mark of the week. The Vikings were actually one of the four teams ahead of them though, even though they ultimately lost the game.

In fact, the Vikings led the week with a ridiculous 59.18% first down rate, picking up 25 first downs and scoring 4 offensive touchdowns, on just 49 offensive plays. The Packers’ offensive display was more impressive on the scoreboard, but they went 6 of 11 on third downs, they won the turnover battle by 1, and, while the Vikings failed on their only 4th down attempt, the Packers went 1 for 2, with their one failure coming on the goal line and leading almost immediately to a safety and re-gained position.

The Vikings were still able to put up 34 points despite running 27 fewer plays because they were hyper-efficient on 1st and 2nd down, winning the yards per play battle significantly as well (7.8 to 6.9) and needing to run just 6 third down plays (3 for 6) all game, by far the fewest in the league last week (next closest was 9). Turnover margin and third/fourth down conversion rates tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so it bodes well for the Vikings’ offensive chances that they were able to be that efficient on early downs against a capable defense. The Vikings have obvious issues on defense and those should continue at least until edge defender Danielle Hunter returns from injury, but their offense looks more than capable of winning shootouts in the meantime.

On the other side, the Colts disappointed on both sides of the ball in Jacksonville, but they lost the turnover margin by -2, something that won’t happen every week, and that week 1 result is probably the one we’ll most look back on as a fluke at the end of the season. The Colts were just a middling team last year, but they get an upgrade under center (even if Rivers isn’t what he was, he should be better than Brissett), they get their top wide receiver back from injury in TY Hilton, and they add a much needed stud defensive lineman in DeForest Buckner, so they should end up being noticeably improved this season when all is said and done, even if they didn’t gel right away with a new quarterback after a short off-season.

In my roster rankings, I give the Colts a 4-point edge over the Vikings and their banged up defense, so we’re getting some line value with the Colts as just 3-point home favorites. The Vikings have the offensive firepower to keep things close and even pull off the upset, especially if the Colts are still feeling the effects of installing a new quarterback on a shortened off-season, but I think there’s enough here for the Colts to be worth a small bet in a game they should win and only need to win by 3 to at least push.

Indianapolis Colts 30 Minnesota Vikings 24

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -3

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)

When these two teams met last season, the Packers won both matchups, outscoring the Vikings by 18 points and winning the first down rate battle by 10.32% between the two games. The Packers also won more games overall, winning the NFC North at 13-3, with the Vikings settling for a wild card at 10-6. However, overall, the Vikings actually outplayed the Packers on the year, with edges in first down rate differential (+3.34% vs. +1.15%), point differential (+104 vs. +63), and DVOA (+15.4% vs. +7.7%). 

There is a lot of talk about how the Packers didn’t do anything notable to improve their weaknesses this season, but the Vikings had a much worse off-season and are missing key contributors from last season. On offense, they traded away Stefon Diggs, who was their top wide receiver last season, and replaced him with a rookie first round pick. On defense, defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Linval Joseph left in free agency. The Vikings brought in Yannick Ngakoue and Michael Pierce to replace them, but the latter opted out of the season, while the former will start the season as a replacement for other starting defensive end Danielle Hunter, one of the top edge defenders in the league, who will miss at least the first 3 weeks of the season with injury. Without him, the Vikings have a very underwhelming defensive line, with Ngakoue as their only real threat.

The Packers are missing an offensive lineman to do injury, but have arguably the deepest offensive line in the league, with 6 capable starters on the roster. Overall, I give the Packers a 3.5 point edge over the Vikings based on the current state of their rosters. This is technically a road game for the Packers, but the Vikings won’t have any fans in the stadium due to pandemic restrictions and the Packers don’t have to travel far. This line favors the Vikings by 2.5 points, but my calculated line is the opposite favoring the Packers by 2.5. I don’t love line value between -3/+3 because so few games are decided by 2 or fewer points, but the Packers are worth a small bet at +2.5 and there’s good value with the money line at +120 as well. If this line moves up to +3, I will increase this bet.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 20 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Green Bay +2.5

Confidence: Medium