Clearly the game of the week in the NFL is Green Bay at Carolina, with potentially the top seed in the NFC playoffs hanging in the balance. But I previewed both those teams last week -- was right on taking Denver +3.5 against the Packers as well as Indianapolis +7.5 at Carolina -- so let's look elsewhere for Sunday.
I truly thought that St. Louis and Minnesota were going to be wild-card contenders this season, and they are. Thus, the winner here could hold a key head-to-head tiebreaker. If the playoffs started today, the Vikings (5-2) would hold the NFC's final spot. But they also could find themselves tied with the Packers atop the NFC North by Sunday evening with a win here and Green Bay loss in Charlotte. I still say the Pack win that division, however. Minnesota is +450 for the North title at BetOnline.
The Rams (4-3) are one spot behind Minnesota in the NFC playoff standings, but St. Louis is only a game in the loss column behind NFC West leader Arizona. Clearly the West is much tougher than the North so I don't give St. Louis any shot of winning that. I still say it's Seattle (4-4). The Rams are also +450 to win their division.
Rams at Vikings Betting Story Lines
There may not be two more similar teams in the NFC than these. Each has a young quarterback whom the coach simply asks to manage the game and not turn the ball over: Nick Foles for St. Louis and Teddy Bridgewater for Minnesota. Each has a once-in-a-decade talent at running back: Todd Gurley for the Rams and Adrian Peterson for the Vikings. And each team has a very good defense.
Gurley has quickly become one of my favorite players in the NFL and he really does look like the next Peterson. In four starts, Gurley hasn't rushed for less than 128 yards. He now looks like a steal as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2015 draft even off ACL surgery. He is the first rookie in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards in four games in a row and Gurley's 566 yards in his first four starts are the most by any player in his first four career starts since at least the merger. The previous mark was 539 by former Heisman winner Billy Sims with the 1980 Detroit Lions. In each of the past four games, Gurley has had a run of at least 45 yards. He is the first rookie in NFL history with a 45-plus yard run in four consecutive games and only the second player ever to accomplish it in a season. Peterson and Gurley are the only players in NFL history with at least 100 rushing yards in four of their first five career games.
Minnesota is No. 15 against the run, allowing 104.7 ypg. But during the Vikings' three-game winning streak, they haven't allowed a team to rush for 100 yards or an individual to rush for more than 46, and over the past six games the Vikings have surrendered just two rushing TDs.
So while Gurley is your heavy Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite (-300 at Bovada), Peterson is your Comeback Player of the Year favorite. He ranks third in the NFL with 633 yards and has three 100-yard games on the season, including last week's 103-yard effort in a last-second win over the Bears. St. Louis ranks No. 9 against the run, allowing 98.1 ypg. The Rams have allowed only three rushing TDs all season and just one team, Arizona, has topped 100 rushing yards rushing against the Rams since Week 2.
Minnesota has a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in linebacker Eric Kendricks. He didn't start the first couple of games but has really busted out since moving into the starting lineup. The former UCLA star and second-round pick is second on the team in tackles with 50, tackles for loss with 6.0 and sacks with 4.0.
These teams met in last year's season opener in St. Louis and the Vikings rolled 34-6. Remember, the Rams had lost starting QB Sam Bradford last preseason to another ACL tear so they started Shaun Hill against Minnesota. He lasted a half before getting injured and replaced by Austin Davis. No surprise that St. Louis struggled on offense. Matt Cassel was Minnesota's starting QB then and completed 17-for-25 for 170 yards with two scores. That was the only game Peterson played in 2014 due to suspension, and he had 21 carries for 75 yards. Receiver Cordarelle Patterson rushed three times for 102 yards, including a 67-yard TD.
Rams at Vikings Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Minnesota is -2.5 (-115) with a total of 39.5 that's the lowest on the board. The Vikes are -140 on the moneyline and Rams +120. On the alternate lines, the Vikings are -3 (+110) and -2 (-120). St. Louis is 4-3 against the spread this season (1-2 on road) and 2-5 "over/under" (1-2 on road). Minnesota is 6-1 ATS (3-0 at home) and 1-6 O/U (0-3 at home).
The Rams are 4-0 ATS in their past four in November. They are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 after a win. The Vikings are 5-1 ATS in their past six November games. They are 4-1 ATS in their past five against teams with a winning record. The under is 5-0 in the Rams' past five after a win. The under is 4-0 in Minnesota's past four vs. teams with a winning record. The favorite is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Rams at Vikings Betting Predictions
Let's say the running backs and defenses are a wash. That means either Foles or Bridgewater likely decides the winner here. Their overall statistics are very similar. The Rams are 1-2 on the road and Foles wasn't very good in those losses at Washington and Green Bay. The Vikings are 3-0 at home, but Bridgewater was only good in one of those, a victory over the sad Lions.
This is about as even of a matchup as we will see this season. I'd give Minnesota the slight edge on offense and the Rams on defense. So I'm taking Minnesota -2.5 because it's at home and has better special teams. Go under the total.
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