The Thursday night NFL schedule has left a lot to be desired this season, although last week's ending in Detroit between the Lions and Packers was sensational. But this week's matchup is one of the best of the year and could be a potential playoff preview between Minnesota and Arizona.
The Vikings (8-4) are tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay, but the Packers currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Thus, currently the Vikings are the No. 5 seed, one game ahead of No. 6 Seattle. There are no other NFC teams with more than six wins. Minnesota finishes the season home to Chicago and the New York Giants and at Green Bay. That looks like a 2-1 finish -- 10 wins will be enough for a wild-card spot. The Vikes are +175 at BetOnline to win the division and earn a home playoff game, but I don't see that happening.
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Arizona (10-2) is a -1500 favorite to win the NFC West and has a three-game lead over the Seahawks, so a win on Thursday clinches at worst a tie for the division; a victory does clinch a playoff spot. The Cards, who already own a win in Seattle, finish at Philadelphia, vs. Green Bay and vs. Seattle. Catching the unbeaten Panthers for the No. 1 seed is probably out of reach, so it's important the Cards keep the No. 2. That Packers game could prove very important in that regard. Arizona is a +250 second-favorite to win the NFC.
Vikings at Cardinals Betting Story Lines
Minnesota isn't playing very good football right now. Its lone win in the past three was against fading Atlanta. The Vikings were totally outclassed by the Packers in Minneapolis in Week 11 and were simply pushed around in a 38-7 loss at home against Seattle this past Sunday. Minnesota finished with only 125 total yards, fewest in the NFL this season, and nine first downs. NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson carried only eight times for 18 yards and afterward said his team was "outcoached." And Peterson, to his credit, hasn't backed off that. Peterson was obviously ticked off by only eight carries. The Vikings gave Peterson a season-low five carries in the first half as they fell behind 21-0. Frankly, when the Vikings can't run the ball they aren't very good because Teddy Bridgewater isn't the type of QB who will win you games. He's had just one game this season with multiple touchdown passes.
Meanwhile, that Minnesota defense is still No. 4 in the league in points allowed (19.3), but it's really banged up and has been a bit exposed vs. Green Bay and Seattle. For sure out this week for the Vikings will be without nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker and 2014 first-round pick Anthony Barr and safeties Harrison Smith and Antone Exum; Exum is out for the season.
A depleted defense could be a problem against Arizona's No. 1 scoring and total offense. The Cardinals are on a six-game winning streak and have been held under 26 just once in that stretch -- that was a trap game in San Francisco. Carson Palmer has thrown for at least 315 yards and two touchdowns in four of those six wins. He has maybe the best trio of receivers in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald (91 catches, 1,047 yards, seven TDs), John Brown (51 catches, 817 yards, four TDs) and Michael Floyd (35 catches, 550 yards, five TDs).
The Cards have been without running backs Chris Johnson (likely for season) and Andre Ellington due to injuries of late, but rookie David Johnson stepped up with 22 carries and 99 yards along with two catches for 21 yards and a score in last week's rout of St. Louis. Johnson has now scored a TD in three straight games, and his nine total scores lead all rookies. He has joined Gale Sayers as the only rookies in NFL history with at least four rushing touchdowns, four receiving touchdowns and a kick-return touchdown in a season. Coach Bruce Arians says he plans to get Johnson 25 touches again Thursday.
Not much to read off the last meeting, a 21-14 Minnesota win in 2012. Peterson ran 23 times for 153 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings' quarterback that day was Christian Ponder, and he threw for all of 58 yards. But at least you probably have heard of Ponder. Arizona's QB was the eminently forgettable John Skelton. The Vikings, who haven't played at Arizona since 2009, have won three straight in the series.
Vikings at Cardinals Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Arizona is a 9.5-point favorite (+105) with a total of 46.5. On the moneyline, the Cardinals are -380 and Vikings +315. On the alternate lines, Arizona is -9 (+100), -8.5 (-105), -8 (-110), -7.5 (-115), -7 (-135) and -6.5 (-155). Minnesota is 9-3 against the spread this season (5-1 on the road) and 2-9-1 "over/under" (1-4-1 on the road). Arizona is 7-5 ATS (2-3 at home) and 8-4 O/U (4-1 at home).
The Vikings are 8-2 in their past 10 following a loss. They are 5-2 ATS in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. The Cardinals are 9-2 ATS in their past 11 December games. They are 1-4 ATS in their past five vs. a winning record. The under is 7-1 in Minnesota's past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The over is 8-1 in Arizona's past nine following an ATS win. The under has hit in the Cardinals' past eight vs. teams with a winning record.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Vikings at Cardinals Betting Predictions
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator for three of Palmer's seven seasons with the Bengals. Doubt that gives Zimmer any advantage as Palmer is playing at an entirely different level these days. I keep thinking the Cards are somewhat overrated, but they keep proving me wrong. I'd say Minnesota could win this game at home in the cold but not in the desert, especially with all those injuries. But to be safe, I'll give the 6.5 points. Go over.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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