The big spread is a gift

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Along with the traditional NBA games on Christmas Day, we also receive the gift of an NFL game to kick off Week 16, when the New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings.

The game has lost a little bit of luster as the Vikings (6-8) are on the verge of elimination from the playoffs after losing two straight, including a 33-27 setback versus the Chicago Bears last Sunday. The Saints (10-4) also have a two-game losing streak after a 32-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but they’ve already clinched a wild-card spot and lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a game in the NFC South with a chance for the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye if the Green Bay Packers stumble.

The Saints opened as seven-point favorites at some books and -7.5 at others, including DraftKings. Early sharp bettors grabbed the +7.5 and the line was down to 7 at most books as of Thursday morning. BetMGM listed the Vikings +7 with a -115 vig, while other books had gone to 6.5. The public surely will be backing the Saints as the better team with more to play for, but we agree with the line movement that the Vikings are the right side as live underdogs.

Although their defense has performed much worse than in recent years, the Vikings are still dangerous. Their offense averages 387.1 yards per game (more than the Saints at 363.8) with Dalvin Cook running the ball and Kirk Cousins spreading it around to rookie sensation Justin Jefferson and the always reliable Adam Thielen. The Saints’ defense has carried the team at times, especially when Drew Brees was out with cracked ribs, but also has been vulnerable to top offenses (which is the case in the current NFL era, as no team really has a shut-down defense).

Dalvin Cook Vikings
Dalvin Cook
Getty Images

Brees threw three TD passes in the loss to the Chiefs, but he was still not his former self, going just 15-for-34 with an interception, so we’re confident the Vikings can keep this game close.

Besides, in addition to this line appearing overinflated due to the Saints’ playoff incentives, it also could be inflated due to the Saints’ perceived home-field advantage in the Superdome. The Saints, however, are a mediocre 3-3-1 against the spread at home this season, failing to cover in wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers. Additionally, home-field advantage is pretty much non-existent in the NFL this season as home teams are just one game over .500 at 111-110-1 straight up (the 49ers’ two neutral-site “home” games in Arizona versus the Buffalo Bills and Washington in Weeks 13 and 14 were not counted), while road teams actually lead 112-107-3 against the spread on the season with no fans or relatively few in the stands.

Obviously, it’s preferred to get the +7, so shop around for the best number (and lowest vig). As for the Over/Under of 51 points, that looks like a virtual coin-flip as we project this score to be around 27-24 either way.

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