It's always helpful when the lead item in a story writes itself, and that was the case this week when the Minnesota Vikings released kicker Blair Walsh, something that was overdue.
It's 100 percent fitting Walsh was cut loose this week because the Vikings are hosting the Arizona Cardinals in an important NFC game Sunday. You see, if Walsh makes a chip-shot 27-yard field goal in the final seconds of last season's wild-card game against Seattle, the third-seeded Vikings advance to a divisional-round game at No. 2 Arizona. Except Walsh didn't and the Vikings lost 10-9. To be fair, it was brutally cold that day as the Vikings were playing outdoors at the University of Minnesota. But that's no excuse for missing that kick. As it was, the No. 5 Packers (after a win at Washington) would play the Cardinals in the divisional round and the No. 6 Seahawks went to No. 1 Carolina.
Kudos to the Vikings for standing by Walsh -- a Pro Bowler in 2012 as a rookie when he was 10-for-10 on kicks from at least 50 yards, and who got a four-year, $13 million extension in July 2015 -- after that devastating loss, and you have to respect loyalty. But two Sundays ago in a home game the Vikings never should have lost in overtime to the Lions, Walsh missed an extra point and had a 46-yard field goal blocked. In last week's loss to the Redskins, Walsh missed another PAT, his league-leading fourth such miss this year. So the Vikings released Walsh on Tuesday after holding tryouts for a handful of kickers last week. They signed Kai Forbath, among those kickers worked out last week, on Wednesday. Forbath kicked for the Redskins from 2012 to 2015 and also spent part of the 2015 season with the Saints.
Cardinals at Vikings Betting Story Lines
Both clubs were division winners last year, and it's still possible they could each repeat. Minnesota (5-4) is tied with Detroit atop the NFC North with the Packers a game back. The Vikings are definitely trending the wrong way as they entered a Week 6 bye as the NFL's only unbeaten team left and haven't added to that No. 5 in the W column since. Certainly it's not all Walsh's fault as he really only cost the team the Detroit game. This past Sunday, the Vikings lost 26-20 in Washington despite leading 20-14 at halftime.
Sam Bradford was fine vs. Washington, throwing for 307 yards, two TDs and a pick. Stefon Diggs caught 13 passes for 164 yards to become the first player in league history with back-to-back 13-catch games. But yet again the running game did nothing. Minnesota had 47 yards on 21 carries. The Vikings have been stopped on five of their 13 attempts to pick up a yard on third or fourth down in their four-game losing streak because of no push in the ground game. That's basically a turnover. To make matter worse, a struggling Vikings offensive line has lost Jake Long to injured reserve.
Arizona (4-4-1) is two games behind the Seahawks in the NFC West, and the teams are essentially deadlocked in the tiebreaker because they tied one another and each has one division loss. The Cardinals visit Seattle on Christmas Eve. Only two of the Cards' final seven are at home, so I doubt they win the division. They are currently ninth in the NFC standings but just a loss behind No. 6 Washington.
Frankly, I don't think this Arizona club is all that good. The wins are against Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and two against the 49ers -- none of those are teams have winning records. Last week, Arizona escaped the Niners in the desert, 23-20. Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired; he might also have been released had he missed because Catanzaro missed potential winners early this season vs. the Patriots and Seahawks. Carson Palmer threw for 376 yards vs. the Niners, his third straight 300-yard game, but he had just one TD and two picks. He's not playing close to last year's level. Arizona running back David Johnson had 101 scrimmage yards and two TDs vs. San Francisco. He became one of three players in NFL history (Gale Sayers and Abner Hayes) to have at least 15 rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown in a player's first two seasons.
From an injury perspective, Cards defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, one of the best overall defensive players in the NFL, is expected to play this week. The Honey Badger hasn't since suffering a shoulder subluxation against the Panthers on Oct. 30. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had an MRI after Sunday's game but also should go. The Vikings are Fitz's hometown team.
Cardinals at Vikings Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , this game is a pick'em with a total of 40.5. Thus no moneyline. On the alternate lines, the Vikings are -1 (-103) and Cardinals -1 (-103). Arizona is 4-4-1 against the spread (1-2 on road) and 3-6 "over/under" (3-0 on road). Minnesota is 5-4 ATS (3-1 at home) and 3-6 O/U (1-3 at home).
The Cards are 2-5 ATS in their past seven after an ATS loss. They are 1-5 ATS in their past six after a win and the same record in the previous six against teams with a winning record. The Vikings are 11-2 ATS in their past 13 after rushing for less than 90 yards in their previous game. They are 0-4 ATS in their past four vs. the NFC. The under is 10-4 in Arizona's past 14 vs. the NFC. The under is 9-1 in Minnesota's past 10 after an ATS loss. It's 8-2 in the Vikes' past 10 following a SU loss. The underdog is 6-1-1 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five.
Cardinals at Vikings Betting Prediction
These teams did play Week 14 in the desert last year and Arizona won 23-20 as a 10-point favorite. Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater made a huge mistake as the clock was winding down and with Minnesota already in field-goal range as he was strip-sacked with five seconds left and it was recovered by Arizona. The Vikes were trying to get a bit closer than the Arizona 31, but Bridgewater has to throw that ball away.
I certainly lean the Arizona offense over Minnesota's in this game, but the Vikings' defense is also the better unit even though cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Eric Kendricks are in question after both were hurt last week. Maybe it will come down to a Forbath field goal. Take the home side and under the small total.
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