Expert NFL Handicapping: Lessons from Minnesota Vikings Week 14 Loss
Week 14 of the NFL season was the one that everything we thought we knew came off the rails. It seemed like there were four teams above all the rest - New England and Pittsburgh in the AFC, and Minnesota and Philadelphia in the NFC. Last week all four teams took hits. The Pats lost a stunner to Miami. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore, but their injury-ravaged and suddenly-porous defense allowed 38 points. Carson Wentz was lost for the season to an ACL injury. And, in probably the least concerning result, Minnesota lost to the Panthers by a touchdown. It was their third straight road game, and their first loss in nine games, so it is far from disastrous, but it still means that we need to evaluate where the Vikings are at and what that means for us as bettors. Here are five factors to consider as we try to figure that out:
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Running away with division: The loss is just plain not relevant to this team in a real way. They still sit at 10-3, and the Lions and Packers are both tied at 7-6. Minnesota plays Green Bay, and the Lions and Packers play each other, so at this point it would take a remarkable set of circumstances for the Vikings not to win the division. The Vikings are one win or tie away from winning the division and would at least be in the wild card mix if they didn't win again. This is a team that absolutely controls their own destiny, and that's a luxurious position to be in. And then there is the consideration of a first-round playoff bye. Minnesota sits in the second spot in the conference right now. They have a one-game lead on the Saints, Panthers and Rams, and they hold the tiebreaker against New Orleans and L.A. And they have at least two very winnable games remaining. They are in the driver's seat for a bye as well.
QB play: A team that lost their franchise QB long ago, and then lost the guy they dramatically overpaid for to replace him, should be in a lot of trouble. But, remarkably, and almost impossibly, Case Keenum has ridden in to save the day. He's completing more than two-thirds of his passes. He throws about two and a half touchdowns per interception. And he has developed very impressive chemistry with receiver Adam Thielen. He'll never be the flashiest guy in the league, but he absolutely has saved the season for this team. Now Teddy Bridgewater is healthy again, so the team has the luxury of having a proven starting QB as a backup. Any team would kill for that - especially on the verge of a potentially strong playoff run.
Coaching: Mike Zimmer is a heck of a coach. He is about to win his second division title in three years, and he has built a very resilient team that has been able to effectively overcome a lot of things. This team is in very good hands, and that is an asset heading down the stretch.
Schedule: The three games remaining set up well for the Vikings the rest of the way. They host the totally lost Bengals this weekend, so they could have at least a division title wrapped up this week - and they could all but have the bye locked up as well. And their final game is at home against the Bears, so if they are in the fairly unlikely position of needing a win they should be able to get it there as well. The remaining game is the Week 16 contest at Green Bay. That one is much tougher to evaluate. Aaron Rodgers is back this week, but we have no way of knowing how ready he'll be, how the Packers will respond to his return, or whether they will have anything left to play for. It boils down to this when you look at the schedule - the Vikings will have a bye. So, the final question is whether they can catch the Eagles and have home-field advantage guaranteed right up to the Super Bowl - which is also on their home field this year. That probably isn't happening. Philadelphia has to deal with the loss of their best player, but they have three winnable games remaining and a game advantage on Minnesota, and it's not like Nick Foles is completely hopeless.
Betting performance: When a team has been as surprisingly strong as this team has, it is no real surprise that they have been kind to bettors. They are a strong 9-4 ATS, which has them behind only Philadelphia in profitability. They have only gone "over" the total in seven of 13 games, so they aren't nearly as nice to bet on when it comes to totals.
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