Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-12) at Minnesota Vikings (7-8)

The Bears are 3-12, but have played a lot better than their record, as they have 4 more first downs than their opponents on 42 fewer plays and rank 11th in first down rate differential. How is that possible? Well, 6 of their 12 losses have come by a touchdown or less, including 3 losses by a field goal or less, and they have a -16 turnover margin, tied for 2nd worst in the league. Fortunately for them, turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, which is why I prefer other statistics.

They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, but that hasn’t stopped them from going 4-1-1 ATS in their last 6 games. Last week was their one non-cover, a 41-21 home loss to the Washington Redskins, but that was primarily because they lost the turnover margin by 5. They actually gained 31 first downs on 67 plays, just the 9th team this season to have more than 30 first downs in a game. They were also just the 3rd team since 1989 to have more than 30 first downs in a game and lose by 20 or more points. The week before they had 29 first downs, but lost by a field goal because of a -4 turnover margin.

As I mentioned though, this kind of thing is inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Bears were -7 in turnover margin through the first 13 games of the regular season before going -9 in the past 2 weeks. Since 1989, 33 teams have had a turnover margin of -9 across a two game stretch. The following week, those 33 teams had an average turnover margin of -0.2. If we assume turnover neutral football for them in this game, which we should always assume, they have a great chance of covering this 6 point spread against a Minnesota team that ranks just 24th in first down rate differential.

Minnesota Vikings 19 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: High

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Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (8-6)

The Vikings got blown out at home last week as 4.5 point home favorites, losing 34-6 to the Indianapolis Colts. It was a stunning result, but a major outlier for a Vikings team who previously hadn’t lost a game by more than 10 all season. The good news for them is teams tend to bounce back from losses like that, as teams are 95-54 ATS since 2002 off of an against the spread loss of 28 or more. It’s counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed off of a loss like that.

I can’t guarantee that the Vikings will be embarrassed or overlooked this week, off of that huge home loss, but they’re definitely undervalued with this line moving from 5 on the early line last week to 7 this week. That’s the same amount of points the Packers were favored by three weeks ago against the Texans and the Vikings are definitely a better team than the Texans. Since that mere 8-point victory over the Texans, the Packers have blown out the Seahawks and won in Chicago, but much of that is because of their +10 turnover margin over the past 2 weeks.

Turnover margins tend to be incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though. In fact, the Packers are just the 11th team since 1989 to have a turnover margin of +10 or better over a 2 weeks span. The previous 10 went 2-8 ATS the following week and had an average turnover margin of -0.3. The Packers probably would have still beaten the Seahawks even if they didn’t win the turnover margin by 6, but the Packers lost the first down battle 29-20 and the first down rate battle by 11.14% last week in Chicago and only won the game on a last second field goal because they won the turnover battle by 4. The Packers’ offense is playing well, but I’m concerned about their defense’s ability to get off the field if they can’t force a turnover.

The Packers are the better team, but the difference in first down rate differential between these two teams is less than a percent and a half, so we’re getting good line value with the Vikings as full touchdown underdogs in Green Bay, especially since there’s a chance safety Harrison Smith could return. It was originally reported that he’d miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury, but he returned to practice this week and is at least a gametime decision for this game. He’s arguably the best safety in the NFL and as important to Minnesota’s defense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s defense, so he’d be a welcome return. Even if he doesn’t play, I like Minnesota’s chances of covering here.

In addition to Minnesota getting blown out last week, another reason the Packers could overlook the Vikings a little bit this week is they have a tougher game on deck in Detroit, while the Vikings will host the Bears. Divisional home favorites are just 23-61 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road favorites. On top of that, favorites are 61-97 ATS since 2012 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites, which the Vikings almost definitely will be next week at home against the Bears. The Packers are only 1 point underdogs in Detroit on the early line, but the logic still makes sense. The Packers have a tough upcoming game that could be a distraction for them, while the Vikings don’t. This is my Pick of the Week.

Green Bay Packers 23 Minnesota Vikings 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +7

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6)

Minnesota was dealt a huge blow when they lost safety Harrison Smith for likely the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury. They were impressive in their first game without him last week in Jacksonville, but he’s arguably the best safety in football and the Vikings’ best defensive player, so he’s not an easy player to replace. He’s as important to this defense as Earl Thomas is to the Seahawks, but his injury doesn’t get nearly the attention that Thomas’ did. The good news for the Vikings is they get top offensive lineman Joe Berger back from a 2-game absence with a concussion and Adrian Peterson is expected to return for the first time since week 2 with a torn meniscus, though how effective he’ll be in his first game back is a major question mark.

The Colts, meanwhile, have plenty of injury problems, as has been the case all year. They’re missing 3 starters on the offensive line, including left guard Jack Mewhort, who is probably their best offensive lineman, 2 starters in the secondary (safety Clayton Geathers and cornerback Patrick Robinson), and #2 wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The Vikings have been a little bit better than the Colts all year, entering this game 16th in first down rate differential, while the Colts enter in 23rd, and they are significantly better than them right now given both teams’ injury situations. However, this line is at 5 in favor of the hometown Minnesota Vikings, so there’s not enough for me to be at all confident in Minnesota. This line is right where it should be.

Minnesota Vikings 23 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -5

Confidence: None

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Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)

The Vikings have a strong defense, allowing the 6th lowest first down rate in the NFL, but they were dealt a huge blow when they lost Harrison Smith with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the rest of the year. As valuable to Minnesota’s defense as Earl Thomas is to Seattle’s, Smith is one of the top defensive players in the entire NFL. This defense won’t be the same without him. In fact, I think the Jaguars’ actually are the ones with the better defense in this matchup, as they rank 7th in first down rate allowed and are relatively healthy right now.

The Jaguars’ offense hasn’t been good this year, but they might actually have the better offense in this game too, with Minnesota entering 30th in first down rate. The Jaguars might have the better offense and defense and are at home, but are underdogs of 3.5 points because the Vikings are 6-6 and 2-10. The big difference between these two teams: the Vikings have a +13 turnover margin and a +6 return touchdown margin, while the Jaguars have a -18 turnover margin and a -4 return touchdown margin. Turnover margins are incredibly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis though (and, as a result, return touchdowns are as well). On average a team with a +3 turnover margin in a game will have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week, the same average as teams that had a -3 turnover margin.

For this reason, I love betting on teams with poor turnover margins and against teams with great turnover margins. It might sound counterintuitive, but these two teams are about as far apart as you can get in turnover margins and return touchdown margins and we’re still only talking about a difference of about 30 snaps, when both teams have played about 1500 snaps this year each. Football is a short season and it’s easy to get caught up in records, but records can be skewed by outlier snaps. For the majority of the snaps this year, the Jaguars have outplayed the Vikings. Close to 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer, so I love getting the Jaguars as 3.5 point home underdogs.

Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Minnesota Vikings 13 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +3.5

Confidence: High

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Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (10-1) at Minnesota Vikings (6-5)

This line has shifted from 2 in favor of the visiting Cowboys on the early line last week to 4 now this week. Ordinarily, big week-to-week shifts like that are the result of overreactions to a single week of play and create line value, but I think this line is right about where it should be. The Cowboys enter this game 3rd in first down rate differential, while the Vikings enter in 20th and likely missing their head coach with emergency eye surgery and talented center Joe Berger with a concussion.

The Cowboys also travel as well as any team in the league. Since 2010, they are 31-21 ATS on the road, as opposed to 19-35 ATS at home. Over that time period, they’ve been outscored opponents by 0.02 points per game on the road and outscored opponents by an average of 1.20 points per game at home, meaning home field advantage hasn’t even been worth a point for them in recent years. That makes sense, as the Cowboys have fans throughout the country and get great support on the road.

That being said, I’m taking the Vikings here for a no confidence play because they’re in a good spot. While the Cowboys have arguably their toughest and biggest game of the season next week, a road game in New York against the Giants team that gave them their only loss of the season way back in week 1, the Vikings instead go to Jacksonville, a much easier game. This could be a bit of a trap game for the Cowboys as a result. Home underdogs like the Vikings are 47-27 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites, as the Vikings are expected to be next week. This pick is only for pick ‘em purposes though, as I wouldn’t recommend betting on either side.

Dallas Cowboys 20 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +4

Confidence: None

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Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-4) at Detroit Lions (6-4)

The Vikings lost at home to the Lions in upset fashion a few weeks ago, but the good news is comparable teams tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 60-33 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. These two teams are about as comparable as it gets, as they enter this game with identical records and one spot apart in first down rate differential.

Neither team is as good as their record, as the Vikings rank 22nd and the Lions rank 23rd in first down rate differential. The Vikings have relied on a +13 turnover margin and a +5 return touchdown margin to mask an offense that has been one of the least effective at moving the ball in the league this season, two things that tend to be very tough to rely on and very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Lions, meanwhile, have trailed in all 10 games in the 4th quarter and don’t have a single victory by more than a touchdown. Ordinarily, these are both teams I’d bet against, but I obviously can’t bet against both here.

The Vikings have a powerful trend on their side, but they’re also only 2.5 point underdogs, which suggests they’re a little bit better than the Lions. I disagree with that, especially with the Vikings likely being without top receiver Stefon Diggs with injury. It’s only a half point, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal so I wish we were getting the full field goal with Minnesota. At 2.5, I’m actually going to take the Lions and hope for a field goal game, but this is a no confidence pick to start the week either way.

Detroit Lions 20 Minnesota Vikings 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit -2.5

Confidence: None

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Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings: 2016 Week 11 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

When the Vikings were 5-0 on the strength of a +11 turnover margin and a +4 return touchdown margin, two things that tend to be unsustainable, I thought they were the most overrated team in the league. Since then, they’ve lost 4 straight games. Over those 4 games, they were +1 in turnover margin and -1 in return touchdown margin, which made a huge difference and exposed one of the most stagnant offenses in the league. Now at 5-4, they’re not really overrated anymore, but we’re still getting good value with the visiting Arizona Cardinals in this game because the Cardinals have been significantly better than their record this season.

Despite a 4-4-1 record, the Cardinals rank 5th in the NFL with a +42 point differential. They also rank 1st in first down rate differential, which they also led the league in last season when they went 13-3. This year, they could easily be 7-2 if not for special teams mistakes against New England, Seattle, and Los Angeles and they have won the first down rate battle in 8 of 9 games. Despite that, we’re still getting 2 points with them in Minnesota against the Vikings, who rank 19th in first down rate differential. The Vikings are also in a tough spot as they have to turn around and play on Thursday Night Football next week on Thanksgiving. Favorites are just 50-82 ATS since 2008 before Thursday Night Football. The Cardinals are worth betting on this week, though I’d be more confident in them if I knew gametime decision Tyrann Mathieu was going to play, after missing last week with a shoulder injury.

Arizona Cardinals 20 Minnesota Vikings 16 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Arizona +2

Confidence: Medium

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