Minnesota Vikings (8-4 SU, 9-3 ATS) vs. Arizona Cardinals (10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS)
NFL Week 14
Date/Time: Thursday Night Football, December 10, 2015 at 8:25PM EST
Where: U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV: NFL Network
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MIN +7.5/ARI -7.5
Over/Under Total: 45.5
The Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals meet on Thursday Night Football at U of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Minnesota is at 8-4, but seems to have stumbled on hard times a bit, losing 2 out of 3, including a deflating 38-7 loss at home to the Seahawks on Sunday. At 8-4 and tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay, they can still salvage something, but need to right the ship. Arizona had a better time of it on Sunday with a 27-3 road win against the Rams. The win moved them to 10-2 and it was their 6th consecutive victory.
At some point soon, were going to need to wrap our heads around the fact that Arizona is a real contender. They win week after week, have one of the better-coached teams, and offer tremendous balance across all areas of the team. Heading into week 14, they have the leagues top-scoring offense, while their defense is ranked in the top five. There really are no glaring weaknesses. On offense, they pass and run the ball with aplomb and on defense; they are good against the pass and the run, ranked in the top 8 in both categories. That kind of balance can be dangerous, as they dont rely on any one thing. Opponents have a whole lot to worry about when facing the Cardinals.
The Arizona offense is fairly well-stocked. Sure, it hurt to lose RB Chris Johnson, who was having a resurgent campaign and giving this offense a big boost. But they are deep enough to absorb the loss and rookie David Johnson ran for nearly 100 yards on Sunday filling in. The rookie has nine touchdowns this season and has become a real weapon. In addition, they have a group of ball-catchers that are among the best unit in the game. Larry Fitzgerald seems reborn this season and is over 1000 yards. On Sunday, John Brown and Michael Floyd were both over 100 yards with a TD. And there are other guys who can step up with a big performance at any given time.
Making it all come together is a healthy Carson Palmer, who has forged his way into the MVP discussion based on his standout play. After all, Palmer is 22-4 as a Cardinals starter in his last 26 games. He has thrown 29 touchdowns this season and is a real difference-maker for this team, as he still has a cannon-arm and is able to make full use of his abundant weaponry. The aerial weapons are all mostly healthy now and were seeing what this offense is capable of.
In their last two games, the Arizona defense has allowed 16 points, as they enter this game in fine form. They are facing an offense this week that isnt terribly dynamic. The Cardinals defense allows an average of fewer than 20 points a game and thats been good enough in most of their games. They are also a group that can make playspicking off passers, registering sacks, and positively contributing to the overall team cause.
If someone told Minnesota they were going to be 8-4 through 12 games, theyd have likely taken that deal. But heading down the stretch, there are some issues, namely with an offense that has struggled to gain foothold and a defense that has played well, but not so well against the better offenses theyve faced. In their losses to Seattle and Green Bay, they didnt seem nearly as sharp as they had in registering a slew of wins against teams that had fallen on hard times. Each and every team the Vikes beat were teams that were having problems. Against the last two good teams they faced, they didnt merely lose, they were dominated and beaten lopsidedly.
This week presents an opportunity to right the ship, while lending credence to the notion that the Vikings are in fact deserving to be near the top of the list of NFC playoff contenders. But there are some real issues facing this team. Nothing against quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, as he is a steely and calming influence behind center. But he is devoid of aerial weapons, often times depending too heavily on Adrian Peterson. And while AP is a workhorse, some offensive diversification would be called for from time to time. Theyre fairly one-dimensional and its starting to cost them. Against the better teams they face, theyre going to need to hit the scoreboard more often, as the defense cant do all the heavy lifting.
This seems like a potentially tough spot for a Vikings team that has gotten a bit sideways in recent weeks. The loss at home to Seattle was the kind of loss that can take some wind out of team and the best medicine for that doesnt seem like a long road trip on the short week to face a peaked Arizona bunch. Their performance in the past several weeks has led some to forecast that the Vikings are still a year away from putting it all together. And this game will go a ways toward determining that. Record-wise, its not a must-win game necessarily, but Minnesota needs to produce this week or it might be hard to stem the bad flow in the last three games of the season.
The Minnesota defense is still a handful, despite Sundays performance. Again, this is a game where they need to produce against an offense that can move. Before losing to the Packers, they hadnt allowed more than 23 points in any of their games. But in giving up 30 to Green Bay and 38 to Seattle, they didnt look all that great. Anything similar this week will likely result in a big loss and a non-cover for their backers.
People may be too hasty in burying the Vikings, remembering only the bad from the past few weeks, while forgetting the positive developments that have been seen this season. This is still a team that won 7 out of 8 games and covered 8 straight spreads not too long ago. Arizona is certainly a dangerous contender, though they are not immune to having an off-game. I expect a more-urgent Minnesota team this week, as they cover a number that might be a smidge too big.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Minnesota Vikings plus 7.5 points.
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