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New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings Point Spread - Pick ATS

New Orleans Saints (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS)
Divisional Playoff Round
Date/Time: Sunday, January 14 at 4:40PM EST
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
TV: FOX
byEvergreen,Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: NO +4/MIN -4
Over/Under Total: 45

Every game is big during the NFLís regular season but, come playoff time, every play is big. It is win or go home time and the final game on the Divisional Round slate pits the New Orleans Saints against the Minnesota Vikings. With the Eagles forced to go with Nick Foles, many believe the winner between the Saints and the Vikings will be the NFC representative in the SuperBowl. That goal is still out on the horizon for all teams left in the playoff draw but it all goes away for the losers this weekend. Both teams started a bit slow with multiple losses in the early part of the season but both also caught fire and moved into the playoffs as hot as you could be.

The Vikings have enjoyed one of strongest homefield advantages, especially at U.S. Bank Stadium, and have run up a 42-17 ATS record in their last 59 home games. The online betting sites have Minnesota as a four point favorite for Sunday and the Vikings enter as ATS winners in five of their last six home playoff contests. New Orleans has favored well in the playoffs as well with a 4-1 ATS mark in their last five January games and they have been effective road warriors with a 13-5 record against the spread in their last eighteen as the visitor. The over/under total for the game is pretty universal at 45 points. Four of the last five playoff games in Minnesota have paid the under and the under is riding a 7-2 streak in the last nine Vikings playoff games regardless of location. The Sagarin computers have Minnesota as the 2nd rated team in their rankings with New Orleans right behind at 3rd. Those metrics are modelling a 22-19 Vikings win.

This will be the second time these teams will play but it hardly seems that way as Week 1 feels so far behind us now. The Vikings were able to tip the Saints by a 29-19 score in the Monday Night opener but both teams are quite a bit different than the ones that took the field in September. The Saints started the year with Adrian Peterson as part of the their backfield but that experiment failed. What emerged was one of the most prolific running back tandems in history as Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara enter the week with over 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 20 combined touchdowns. The Saints were only able to manage 60 rushing yards in that first meeting but it seems like the Ingram/Kamara duo will have much more to say this week. Sam Bradford was the Minnesota QB to start the season and he threw for 346 yards and three scores against the Saints but a Bradford knee injury paved the way for Case Keenum. Minnesota caught fire with Keenum completing nearly 68% of his passes on the season and amassing a 98.3 overall rating. Dalvin Cook put in a wonderful debut with 127 rushing yards way back in Week 1 but he was lost to a knee injury as well. Much has changed since the first meeting but these teams have established firm identities since.

You canít talk about any Vikings game without giving a hard look at what amounted to the best regular season defense in the league. The Vikings allowed the fewest total yards and the fewest points at 15.8 per game. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are an accomplished duo at cornerback and but the Vikings secondary also features Harrison Smith who nabbed five interceptions to lead the team and finished the season as the #1 rated safety by Pro Football Focus. Minnesota led the league by holding opponents to a 25.2% conversion rate on third down and ranked 3rd with just a 71 QBR average allowed. The defense isnít particularly dynamic in the sack or turnover department but they are awfully hard to move the ball against and a tough team to score on. New Orleans had a relatively good game in Week 1 in that they only had to punt on three occasions but they entered the redzone only once and were forced to settle for field goal attempts on most of their successful drives. The Saints are the 2nd best offense in terms of yards and 4th in scoring at 28 points per game but the Minnesota D is the best unit on the field come Sunday.

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Minnesota has the best unit but the best individual player is still Drew Brees. The veteran signal-caller is fresh off of setting an NFL record with 72% completions in the regular season and he compiled a 103.9 rating while throwing for 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions. The Saints asked less of Brees this season as they ran the ball more and leaned on an improving defense. With a little more conservative approach on offense, the defense that was often gassed in the second half has been able to finish off games this season. The Dallas Cowboys used the same methodology to cover up for a mostly middle-of-the-pack defense and preserve their legs to make that key play or two down the stretch. Marshon Lattimore has been a breakout rookie at corner for New Orleans and he leads the team with five interceptions. How Lattimore plays against the combo of Adam Thielen (91/1296/4) and Stefon Diggs (64/849/8) will determine how many key throws Brees will have to make in the second half. Brees was able to lift five different receivers over 45 yards in the first game against Minnesota. That kind of diversity in the pass offense will make it tough on the Vikings to cover all of the Saint pass catchers and help keep the offense moving if Minnesota is able to shutdown the run.

The play of the New Orleans defense is the darkhorse element of this game. The yardage allowed by the Saints is league average but they do sneak in as a top-10 defense in points allowed at 20.4 per game. They allow a 6th best, 76 QB rating to opponents and sacked the QB more than Minnesota did this season. They were able to get to Cam Newton plenty last week in the WildCard game and while Keenum is a shifty athlete as far as quarterbacks go, he isnít in Newtonís category. If the Saints can disrupt the pocket, Keenum will have trouble matching the 43.5% conversions on third down that Minnesota has used to keep their offense on the field and win the time of possession battle. That Vikings defense has not been pushed to fatigue by many teams this season and the New Orleans defense getting some three-and-outs will be the factor if the Saints find a way to wear down that Minny D.

Minnesota is not a team anyone wants to play right now but I think New Orleans is the low-key best team left on the NFC side. They have the experience in key positions and have the playmakers to stress out that Vikings D. Michael Thomas is emerging as one of the best overall wide receivers in the league and Ted Ginn, Jr. still has the ability to take the top off the defense. With those two occupying Waynes and Rhodes, Brees should be able to use Kamara or a guy like Brandon Coleman underneath. That short passing game is tough for any defense to take away from a guy like Brees and the Saints level of completion success on those plays will keep the clock moving. Minnesota is dogged in their approach on offense but they neither of their running backs average more than four yards per carry and in a game where it comes down to Keenum v. Brees, I am going to take Brees and the four points. You can be your own judge on whether to take the money line bet on the Saints for the upset but I can see so many scenarios where New Orleans gets to 23 or 24 points. Minnesota scored 29 in the opener and crossed 30 just once at home this season. I think the Vikings top out at 24-26 points and I donít think that will be enough for the cover.

Evergreen's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New Orleans - Bet this game for FREE by taking advantage of a 50% bonus up to $250 at one of the web's oldest and most trusted betting sites: BOVADA

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