Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)

Vikings came into the season with high expectations, but now are fighting for their playoff lives against a team that had the kind of year they were expected to have, the 11-4 Bears, who have clinched the NFC North. The Vikings have been better recently though and have started resembling the team they were supposed to be. Their offensive line remains a problem, but they’ve taken a more balanced approach on offense since changing offensive coordinators, leaning on Latavius Murray and a finally healthy Dalvin Cook, which has benefitted both the offensive line and inconsistent quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Their defense has also played a lot better since getting defensive end Everson Griffen back in the middle of the season and they rank 2nd in first down rate allowed since week 9 at 30.96%, only behind their week 17 opponent. The Vikings are playing their best football at the right time and, with the Bears missing stud safety Eddie Jackson due to injury right now, these two teams are about even right now, with the Vikings actually ranking slightly higher in my roster rankings.

Unfortunately, this is one of several games I’m staying away from this week because of motivational uncertainty. This line favors the Vikings by 5 points at home, suggesting the books think the Bears are not going to bring their best effort, needing an improbable Rams loss at home to the 49ers to change their seeding, against a Vikings team they might be facing again in the first round. That may be the case, but I’m not totally convinced.

The Bears may sit injured #1 receiver Allen Robinson for cautionary reasons, but I don’t expect them to completely mail it in with a first round bye on the line (especially with key injured players who could use a week off) and I think they may also want to eliminate a division rival and face a banged up Eagles squad in the first round if they have to play next weekend. This is a no confidence pick and I may update this at some point, but the Bears should be able to keep it within the points if they treat this like a real game.

Minnesota Vikings 20 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +5

Confidence: None

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The Lions have been pretty predictable in the Matt Stafford era, playing well against weaker opponents, but struggling in tougher games. Since Stafford’s first full season as a starter in 2011, the Lions are 20-40-2 ATS and 20-42 straight up against teams with a winning record like the Vikings. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017, as opposed to 17-4 against non-playoff teams.

The Lions have also incurred a lot of losses over the course of the season, losing right guard TJ Lang, running back Kerryon Johnson, wide receiver Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, among others. Quarterback Matt Stafford is also dealing with a back injury that seems to have limited him in recent weeks. They rank 26th in first down rate differential at -3.29% and they’re arguably even worse than that, given all of their missing personnel.

All that being said, this line is pretty high, favoring the Vikings by 6 points on the road. If the Vikings’ offense plays like it did last week in their first game under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, they should cover with ease, but that’s far from a guarantee, as inconsistent as their offense has been this season. I’m still going with the Vikings, but I would need this line to drop below 6 to consider betting money on Minnesota.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -6

Confidence: Low

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