We all remember it perfectly. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum gets the ball with ten seconds left in the game at right around their own 40 yard line, down 23-24. Keenum steps up in the pocket and then floats it up for Stefon Diggs. Diggs somehow catches it and makes Marcus WIlliams miss the tackle at the same time while high-wiring it down the sideline all the way to the endzone to complete an improbable playoff comeback now known as the “Minneapolis Miracle.” Is this upcoming Vikings-Saints playoff matchup going to be another epic heavyweight playoff battle? Let’s dig in.
Matchup: MIN at NO, 1:05 EST, FOX
Spread: NO (-9)
(Spreads and totals as of Friday at 6:30pm EST. Spreads and totals subject to change.)
On paper, this game should be a slam dunk. New Orleans has one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, the fans will be very emotional because of that infamous heartbreaking loss, and New Orleans just has the better roster from top to bottom. If any of you have seen the last few Vikings-Saints games, however, you know that they tend to be a bit wacky. It seems like this specific matchup always leads to an epic, back and forth game with each team going blow for blow until the final whistle.
Right away, the spread on this game is what sticks out to me. (-9) seems too high for a competitive playoff game, where each team will put absolutely everything on the line to advance. The reason for this market-inflated spread is once again recency bias, specifically concerning Minnesota. Minnesota looked like a junior varsity team against Green Bay on Monday night in Week 16, failing to instill any hope of winning the division while Kirk Cousins once again showed that he can’t perform under the bright lights yet.
Because that terrible performance was on national TV and is engrained in everyone’s memory, that has lead to everyone piling on the Saints in what they expect will be an easy win. This has created value on the Mike Zimmer-led Vikings.
My 1st bet: MIN (+9)
While there have been a few exceptions to this rule, you can generally expect playoff games to be closer than regular season games, since playoff teams are more evenly matched and have more similar talent levels on each roster. I would bet this all the way down to Minnesota +7.
My reasoning here hinges on the return of the Vikings best offensive player, Dalvin Cook. We saw how lost Minnesota looked without Cook on the field, and the only way Minnesota covers and possibly wins this game is by getting Cook involved early and often. The only way to beat a Sean Payton-Drew Brees offense is to simply keep them off the field. Look for Minnesota to establish the ground game early and try to produce lengthy, clock-chewing drives to slow this game down.
A little caveat to that: Minnesota would be wise to not overwork Dalvin Cook. He’s currently coming back from an injury and while he has been ruled good to go for Sunday, he has been a bit injury prone throughout his career. The Vikings have a rookie phenom at runningback in Alexander Mattison, a kid out of Boise State that can spell Cook when he needs it. Utilizing this 1-2 punch of Cook and Mattison is the only way Minnesota can hope to win this game.
My 2nd bet: Over 49.5
While following this strategy blindly won’t get you very far, betting on the over at the Superdome has generally been quite profitable. The Saints are perpetually a top 10 offense, and the controlled environment coupled with the blazing fast turf has lead to some epic shootouts over the years (see the 48-46 Week 14 loss against SF if you don’t believe me).
One more point reinforcing my bet here: the referees. As I hear a collective groan from Saints fans everywhere while I type that, let’s dig in a little deeper past anything related to pass interference. While the Saints have been one of the best teams in the NFL so far this year, one thing they are not good at is limiting penalties. In fact, they’ve had the sixth-most penalties called against them in the entire 2019 season.
This could actually be a reason for both bets I’ve laid out. Penalties lead to sustained drives, which leads to more points for the opposition. The Saints offense can hang with any team in the league, but they almost force themselves to score at least 30-40 points every game to win, since all their penalties usually lead to increased point totals for their opponents. That’s exactly what I’m banking on here. I’m banking on Minnesota to cover and I’m banking on the Saints having to score a lot of points to win this game because of their self-inflicted mistakes. This is especially true when you consider that Minnesota is the seventh-least penalized team in the entire league.
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