Will Vikings Continue To Be a Hot Bet?
by Trevor Whenham - 12/05/2007
Not long ago the Vikings were a team that had been written off by almost everyone, but that has all changed in the last month. Now they are media darlings and popular picks to make the playoffs. All it took to change their perceived fate was four wins in five games. In all of those wins they have scored at least 29 points, and they have won by 18 or more points three times. The only blip over that stretch was a 34-0 massacre at the hands of the upstart Packers. At 6-6 overall, and 6-4-2 ATS, they are a reasonably solid team in a year that hasn't had a lot of consistently inspiring play.
Minnesota is the kind of team that people love to believe in. They are young and exciting. Their star players put together highlight reel wins every week. They seem to win with heart and effort, and they haven't been successful enough yet to develop the ridiculous egos that make the NFL so unattractive at times. Since they are such a likable squad, and because I'd rather be positive and optimistic today than critical and crusty, let's make a case for why the recent betting success of this team (4-1 ATS in the last five) could continue for the rest of the season:
A.P. - By now you are obviously very aware that running back Adrian Peterson is an all-world super freak. He was very highly touted coming out of college, and yet he has exceeded pretty much every expectation so far. He's leading the entire league in rushing by more than 100 yards despite missing two and a half games due to a knee injury. You'd think that he might come back from that setback more tentative and less effective, but it took about on play from scrimmage to erase those fears. His 116 yards on the ground in his first game were impressive enough, but especially so when you consider that he only had 15 touches. It's not just about this one special player, though. The Minnesota offensive line, anchored by left guard Steve Hutchinson, is the best in the league by a fairly wide margin, and it makes the running game so incredibly potent. When Peterson went down to injury for two games, Chester Taylor stepped in to average more than 120 yards per game and score four touchdowns. A winning team can run to kill the clock and control the game. No one runs better than Minnesota.
QB - At the beginning of the year there were a pile of doubts about the Minnesota quarterbacking situation. Second-year player Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State was handed the keys, but he didn't inspire a lot of confidence. His first nine games didn't do a lot improve the opinion of observers. He missed four games due to injury, and there were at least two more in which the team would have been better off if he had stayed on the bench. His last three have given a lot of reason to be more optimistic. He hasn't turned into Joe Montana overnight, but he has completed more than 75 percent of his passes in each game, his mistakes have been reasonably limited and not particularly costly, and he looks much more comfortable and less hurried. The offensive line that makes the running game so potent obviously helps a young pivot by giving him all the time he needs. Combine that with the running weapon and he's in a good position to continue to develop and help the team win. As long as he doesn't specifically cause the team to lose they should be just fine.
Schedule - Given the woes of the NFC, there is a pretty good chance that 8-8 will be good enough to earn a wild card berth for the Vikings, and 9-7 would almost certainly get them an extra game. None of their competition for one of those two prized wild card spots can boast an easier record than the Vikings. They travel to San Francisco and Denver and are home to Washington and Chicago. None of those games are necessarily a gimme, but each of them is clearly there for the taking. That reality should motivate this team to achieve what seemed absolutely impossible only a month ago. Besides that, look at who they are competing against - Arizona, Detroit, Carolina, New Orleans, Washington, Philadelphia. It's hard to find a team in that list that deserves the postseason more than Minnesota.
Defense - Not only can the Vikings run at will, but they don't let anyone run against them. They are the top run defense in the league, allowing just 70.2 yards per game. A team is in a pretty good spot when they can run and their opponent can't. The flip side, and the Achilles heel of the team in some minds, is that the team is brutal against the pass. It seems almost impossible, but the Vikings are the best in the league against the run and the worst against the pass. Though the numbers are dismal overall (279.1 yards against per game), there is a reason for optimism. With the exception of the Green Bay game when the secondary was absolutely shredded by Brett Favre, the pass defense has been better the last five games. Not great, but better. They have allowed just three passing touchdowns and have had seven interceptions in their last four wins, and they have held opposing quarterbacks below a 50 percent completion rate twice. They haven't always faced the best quarterbacks in the league over that stretch, but then they don't in their remaining games, either. It certainly seems that some of the early growing pains have been ironed out.