Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings Pick
Detroit Lions (3-4 SU, 5-2 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1 SU, 4-3-1 ATS)
NFL Football Week 9
Date and Time: Sunday, November 4 at 1pm ET
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
By: Ted Walker, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: DET +4.5/MIN -4.5 (Bovada)
Over/Under Total: 50.5
I’m old enough to remember when the NFL’s trading deadline came and passed without a care in most years. That has all changed with these new-fangled GM’s moving meaningful skill players that could alter the landscape of a team’s season. It is actually refreshing to see the buying teams going all-in to win but that also leaves the sellers in the difficult spot of trying to convince the remaining roster that the organization isn’t looking forward to next year already. Detroit just shipped off WR Golden Tate to the Eagles and while the Lions have plenty of offensive firepower left, the move had to come as a bit of a shock to a team that is just one game out of the division lead. Detroit heads to Minnesota this week for a pivotal NFC North matchup. The winner here faces a much clearer path to a potential playoff berth while the loser will need to start reeling off wins down the stretch.
Average at Best
Detroit owns two very impressive wins over the Patriots and Packers but they have also been on the wrong side of the scoreboard against the Jets and Niners. The jury is appropriately still out on Matt Patricia but it looks very much like this roster and his system are adding up to an 8-8 kind of team. The Lions are 16th in total offense, 16th in rush yards and 17th in points at 24.4 per game. The defense is pedestrian as well, ranking 19th in total yards allowed but their weakness is against the run where they are second to last in the league, allowing 144 yards per game. The defense also surrenders 26.6 points per contest, good for 25th. Detroit clearly has good pieces but they seem to lack consistency on offense and playmakers on defense. DE Ziggy Ansah may be available for Sunday and that would be a boost as the talented pass rusher has been limited to just one game in 2018. Running back Theo Riddick may also be back after missing the last two games. His presence in the passing game would help cover the loss of Golden Tate.
The Vikings have not lived up to their high preseason billing as of yet and remain on of the more confounding teams in the league. Their wins have come against the likes of the Cards, Niners and Jets while Minnesota seemed to be a step behind in losses to the Rams and most recently to the Saints. Losing to LA and New Orleans should not be too big of a negative for any team but the concern remains that the Vikes perhaps peaked last year and they will not be able to turn this season around. The Kirk Cousins addition has paid off so far with Minnesota 6th in passing offense and 9th in total yards. Adam Thielen (74/925/6) has inserted himself in the best WR conversation and Stefon Diggs is a dangerous complement on the other side. The passing game is clicking but the running game is not with Minnesota mired at 29th in rushing at 87 yards per game. Dalvin Cook has dealt with injuries and he is doubtful for Sunday with a bad hamstring. Latavius Murray is a capable veteran backup but he lacks a homerun ability, forcing the Vikings to throw to score. That has worked at times - Cousins does have 16 passing TDs - but there have been times of inconsistency as well and Minnesota is just 16th in points per game despite those high end weapons. The Minnesota defense is still above average but they are not the league-leading unit they were in 2017. Injuries to Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Andrew Sendejo have exposed the secondary to some big plays. Those three are all questionable with Barr the least likely to see the field after not practicing at all on Wednesday. Minnesota is still a top-5 run stopping unit but have slipped to 15th against the pass and allow 24.4 points per game.
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With two seemingly average teams about to square off, I usually want to lean on that home field advantage but be careful of that here as these teams have split the last six games with each winning in each other’s building. The road team has won four of the last five against the spread in this series and the Lions have won four ATS wins in their last five on the road overall. The NFC North has always been a division that is happy to beat up on one another and this one should be a close game.
I think the most overlooked player heading into the week is Detroit RB Kerryon Johnson. The second round draft pick has carved out a starting role in this offense and averages 6.1 yards per carry. Running against this Minnesota front seven is not easy but Johnson can also catch the ball as he did last week (6/69) when Seattle shut down the Lions run game. Matt Stafford has already hit his running backs on 48 throws through seven games and that total is not going to shrink with Golden Tate’s targets now available. Kenny Golladay (15.9 ypc) should see his usage rise and veteran Marvin Jones, fresh off a two-score game against the Seahawks, will also be called on more. Even without Tate, Detroit has the offensive weapons to move the ball. Detroit has even been consistent behind a 43% conversion rate on third down but they have not performed well in the redzone, falling to 24th in redzone scoring after ranking 10th last season.
Minnesota isn’t much better in redzone performance, ranking 19th in scoring while being just a bit better than that at home. They should be able to attack a Detroit front seven that is allowing over five yards per carry but it is hard to stick with a guy like Latavius Murray when you just paid Cousins $84 million and have Thielen and Diggs. Detroit will deploy top-rated CB Darius Slay against Thielen and while no one has been able to hold down the Vikes #1 receiver, Slay has the proven ball skills to turn around any bad balls by Cousins.
The Vikings are going to get their points on Sunday but they haven’t showed the ability to run away from anyone, even at home. A still capable Lions offense is going to test a banged up Vikings secondary and move the ball as well. Minnesota is heading into their bye week after this game and the prospect of holding some of their key guys out, including OLs Tom Compton and Riley Reiff, to get two full weeks of rest may keep some backups on the field. This has all the makings of a close one and I’m taking Detroit +4.5 and calling for a Minnesota 26-23 win.
Your Name’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Detroit
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