Every week, I’ll dissect various narratives affecting NFL betting lines. This is vital considering most bettors digest these same narratives weekly. The betting public is larger than ever. While that’s exciting, it also means sportsbooks can lure and fool action junkies into taking a lousy wager based on repeated narratives purported by the media. My job is to ensure these narratives do not trick you.
Vikings Should be 2.5-point Underdogs
This is the talk of the town in betting circles, so it had to be addressed. Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, this is a true statement.
If every one-score game had the opposite result, the Vikings would be 1-11. I’m not saying Minnesota doesn’t deserve credit for the way they finish, but let’s take a look at how these one-score games panned out for them this season before they play the Lions on Sunday:
Week 3: The Vikings were trailing 24-21 to the Lions with 1:10 left in regulation. Detroit missed a field goal, Kirk Cousins connected with KJ Osborn on two deep passing play and the Vikings scored a touchdown with 45 seconds left. On the proceeding possession, Jared Goff threw an interception. Game over. Vikings win.
Week 4: The Saints and Vikings battled in London in a back-and-forth game. New Orleans was penalized 10 times for a total of 102 penalty yards, compared to five penalties for only 35 penalty yards for Minnesota. Regardless, New Orleans had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime at the end of the fourth quarter. Will Lutz’s field goal was a double-doink, and one of those kicks that seemed like a wind gust of 1 m.p.h. would have pushed it through the goalposts. Game over. Vikings win.
Week 5: Minnesota’s defense crumbled in the second half after leading Chicago 21-10 at the break. The score was now 29-22 with only two minutes, 26 seconds left in regulation. The Bears had possession, and Justin Fields moved the ball right down the field. Then, a well-timed throw by Fields to Ihmir Smith-Marsette with only one minute, 12 seconds remaining that would’ve put the Bears at the Vikings’ 39-yard-line turned into a fumble recovery for Minnesota. Game over. Vikings win.
Week 6: Teddy Bridgewater led the Miami Dolphins offense up and down the field in the second half of their Week 6 contest against Minnesota. The Dolphins stacked up 23 first downs and 458 yards. Minnesota had just 11 first downs and 234 yards. Nothing crazy happened at the end of this game, but the 24-16 win was another one-score finish.
Week 8: This is one of my favorites. I remember it well since I bet on the Cardinals (+5) in this big NFC battle. The Cardinals did everything they possibly could to hand the Vikings a win, but their most egregious mistakes occurred in the game’s final quarter. Arizona had a chance to pull ahead on three different occasions. Instead, they muffed a punt, giving the Vikings a short field that resulted in another easy touchdown. Then, Kyler Murray threw a bad interception right before his offense reached scoring territory. Then a final eight-play, 40-yard drive resulted in a turnover of downs. Game over. Vikings win.
Week 9: The Washington Commanders led 17-7 entering the fourth quarter. A well-engineered drive by Cousins made the game 17-10 with 10 minutes remaining. Then, you guessed it, Taylor Heinicke threw an interception in his own territory and gave Minnesota an easy scoring opportunity. Only 12 yards later, the score was tied at 17. Washington’s offense fell flat for the rest of the game, Cousins led a six-minute scoring drive and the Vikings nailed a field goal with only 12 seconds remaining. Game over. Vikings win.
Week 10: This was the Bills-Vikings game. I’m going to trust you don’t live under a rock and you know what happened in Week 10. It was… a lot. This might’ve been the wildest, luckiest win in NFL history.
Week 12: One week after getting blown out by the Cowboys (40-3), Mac Jones had his best passing game of the year in Minnesota. It was a back-and-forth battle on Thanksgiving. Of course, it didn’t come without controversy. Patriots tight end Hunter Henry caught a touchdown pass late in the third quarter but referees called it incomplete. New England settled for a field goal, further facilitating their loss. Although this contest was free of messy late-game anomalies, again it felt like Minnesota escaped with a win.
Week 13: The Vikings dominated the Jets early last Sunday, going up 20-6 at the end of the first half. As usual, Minnesota’s defense fell flat in the second half, and New York made it a one-score game with less than two minutes remaining. The score was 27-22. The Jets had first and goal at the Minnesota four-yard line, but they couldn’t convert. After forcing a three-and-out, the Jets got the ball back on a short field with 1:18 left in the contest. Mike White threw a late interception, sealing the Jets’ loss. Game over. Vikings win.
Minnesota’s “luck rating” feels immeasurable this season, but I’m not saying we shouldn’t give them any credit. At the end of most games, the Vikings’ defense steps up, and Cousins almost always ensures his team earns enough points to snag another win. Coach Kevin O’Connell has his guys competing hard and playing cohesive football; there’s no doubt about that. But eventually, the ball has to bounce in a different direction, right?
Enter the Detroit Lions. Detroit has won four of their last five games, and their offense is looking as potent as it did earlier in the season. In their last four games, Detroit is averaging 32 ppg, more than 350 yards per game and their point differential is +12.3. Not shockingly, their full-season point differential isn’t too far from Minnesota’s (-0.8 to +0.8).
Would I bet Detroit at this number? No. If you like the Lions, I would wait. Your everyday public bettor will read other less informed, click-bait NFL websites that tell their audience to bet on the Vikings. We should see the line move because of that public money.
In any case, this line makes sense. The Lions are riding extraordinary momentum right now, and they have revenge on their minds after that regretful result in Week 3. The Vikings probably make a great teaser leg — unfortunately, we must acknowledge their tenacity late in games – but I wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted to wager on the Lions in Week 14. The Vikings could get exposed, just like we saw in their Week 11 blowout loss to Dallas.
Joe Burrow Won’t Get His First Win vs. Browns (+6)
The Bengals are playing exceptional football right now, and Joe Burrow is undeniably the biggest part of their success.
It’s not what the stat sheets tell you (although Burrow’s numbers — 69% completion percentage, 25 TDs and only four INTs since Week 2 — are elite), it’s the way Burrow executes. Watch the Bengals’ game film, and you’ll find Burrow is completing passes that maybe only five quarterbacks in the world could make right now.
He throws with amazing anticipation and precision. They’re the kind of passes that make it almost impossible for defenders to snag. The chemistry he has with his wide receivers is off the charts. Ja’Marr Chase returned last week and was instantly dominant. Tee Higgins had two huge games without Chase in the lineup, and Tyler Boyd never seems to drop a pass except for that touchdown last week.
Cincinnati’s running attack has taken off recently too. They’re averaging more than 140 yards per game during their last four contests. Whether it’s Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine, they’ve been more and more effective as the season goes on.
Let’s face it, the magic that we’ve seen from Deshaun Watson in seasons past was nowhere to be found in Week 13. He looked terrible last Sunday. He was picked off once and went 12-of-22 for 131 yards. It was Cleveland’s defense and special teams that scored every touchdown against the Texans in a 27-14 victory. Without those fortunate turnovers, I’m not sure the Browns would have won.
This is a revenge game for Cincinnati. On Halloween, they played their worst game of the season against the Browns, losing 32-13. Cleveland dominated the Bengals in every aspect of that game, but I don’t like the Browns’ chances as much in Week 14. At home, the Bengals have outscored their opponents 131-77 since Week 4. I’d bet on Cincinnati or nothing in this spot.
Three NFC East Teams Will Make Playoffs
It’s been a historic season for the NFC East, and I think it may continue into the postseason. The only problem is the Commanders and Giants both have two of the hardest remaining schedules in the NFL. At 9-3, the Cowboys are shoo-ins to make the playoffs, but let’s see how the other two teams fare in the final five weeks below. The games annotated in red are games I expect to be losses:
- Commanders (7-5-1, remaining opponents have a .615 winning percentage):
- Giants, 49ers, Browns, Cowboys*
- Giants (7-4-1, remaining opponents have a .710 winning percentage):
- Eagles, Commanders, Vikings, Colts, Eagles
* It’s worth noting the Commanders’ Week 18 game against Dallas could be a throwaway for Mike McCarthy’s squad. If their record is up to par, Dallas might not have a reason to play its starters, which could create an easy victory for Washington.
Since three wild card teams make the postseason, it’s only the Lions and Seahawks that could usurp Washington and New York for the sixth and seventh seeds. Both the Lions and Seahawks have an easier remaining schedule, but it’s no cakewalk. Here are their next five weeks, with the same red-ink applied for games I expect them to lose:
- Lions (5-7, remaining opponents have a .468 winning percentage):
- Vikings, Jets, Panthers, Bears, Packers
- Seahawks (7-5, remaining opponents have a .517 winning percentage):
- Panthers, 49ers, Chiefs, Jets, Rams
Based on our predictions, the most plausible outcome is Dallas, Seattle and Washington make the postseason. If the Lions can eke out a win against the Jets or Packers, they have a real shot. Either way, I think my New York Giants will be booted out.
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