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Miracle Workers: Vikings Heavy Dogs at Saints in Wild-Card Clash

While some of the names have changed and the home team is flipped, the highly anticipated “Minneapolis Miracle” playoff rematch is set for this Sunday. You may remember, after 2018’s dramatic finish, the Vikings -5.5 elected to take a knee on the extra point to hand Saints backers the ATS win, 29-24.

The Vikings rested their starters in a Week 17 loss to the Bears to finish 10-6 SU and 9-7 ATS.

New Orleans crushed Carolina 42-10 to win, cover and improve to 13-3 SU and 11-5 ATS during the regular season but is just 4-4 ATS at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints

Opening Odds Analysis

The Saints opened as a 6.5-point home favorite, but the consensus line has moved to New Orleans -8. Minnesota’s moneyline opened at +252 and the point total at 46 before the consensus ticked up to 48. The total has gone OVER in five of the Saints’ last seven games and in six of their last seven wild-card games.

Minnesota News & Notes

Injury Update

Running back Dalvin Cook will play this Sunday. He’s missed time the last month due to a nagging shoulder injury. Cook accounts for 53 percent of the Minnesota rush offense but has only averaged 36 rush yards per game his last four times out.

Fellow tailback Alexander Mattison is questionable with an ankle injury. Linebacker Eric Kendricks is also questionable with a quad injury that he rested in Week 17.

Vikings Pass Offense vs Saints

Just by looking at Kirk Cousins’ game logs this season, it’s easy to see how Cook’s shoulder injury has impacted the balance and flow of the Vikings offense. In his final three games, Cousins averaged 190 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. In the four games before that, he averaged 258 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception.

While he has battled through injury this year, Adam Thielen has been a non-factor since returning from a hamstring injury. Stefon Diggs leads the team with 1,130 receiving yards, but Dalvin Cook is the team’s second-leading receiver ahead of Thielen, who has one game with more than 75 receiving yards and that came against the Giants secondary.

Vikings Rush Offense vs Saints

If Cook plays, he’ll face a rush defense that allowed only 91.3 rush yards per game this season and 78.7 per game over its past three.

Vikings Defense vs Saints

Two defensive metrics that handicappers like to look at are opponents’ third-down and red-zone conversion rates. 

Minnesota thrives in the red zone. Opposing offenses have converted just 43.7 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns, the second-lowest rate in the NFL this season. The Vikings have actually improved that metric the last three weeks of the season, down to 30 percent, as they force the opposition to settle for field goals. This is one reason why I believe the Vikings can hang within +8.

Minnesota allows opposing offenses to convert 39.7 percent of their third downs, which ranked 19th at season’s end.

New Orleans News & Notes

Injury Update

Aside from two big pieces of the defensive line – Marcus Davenport and Sheldon Rankins, whom they lost to injury a few weeks ago – New Orleans is relatively healthy heading into this wild-card matchup. A couple members of the secondary are questionable but expected to play.

Saints Pass Offense vs Vikings

Winners of six of their last seven games of the season, the Saints have also scored 34 or more points in six of their last seven. They’ve scored a touchdown on 80 percent of their red-zone trips the last three games and rank 10th in third-down conversion rate this season. Per the norm, Drew Brees has this offense clicking once again after missing six games with a thumb injury.

The Saints passing game averages 265.2 yards per game, but 282 over its past three contests. Minnesota’s pass defense allows 233 per game.

The matchup to watch will be tight end Jared Cook against the Vikings secondary. Minnesota ranked 12th in receiving yards allowed to opposing tight ends during the regular season. Cook averaged 71.6 receiving yards with six touchdowns in his final six games of the regular season.

Saints Rush Offense vs Vikings

Neither Alvin Kamara nor Latavius Murray finished the regular season with 800 rush yards and the Saints ranked in the middle of the league pack at 108 rush yards per game. It’s a different look from the ninth-ranked rushing offense of 2018, but with Mark Ingram gone, Sean Payton elected to let Brees air it out again with Michael Thomas the top beneficiary. The Saints rushing game is once again a complement and not a focus to moving the chains.

Saints Defense vs Vikings

The New Orleans defense may have allowed opposing offenses to convert 60 percent of their red-zone trips into touchdowns the final three games of the season, but on just 1.7 red-zone trips per game, which was a league low.

Opposing offenses converted 34.8 percent of their third downs against the Saints this season, which was the league’s sixth-lowest rate.

Betting Pick: Lean Minnesota +8

While I love the Saints’ chances of reaching Super Bowl 54, it’s been a challenge to trust them as huge home favorites over the last few years. They’ve failed to cover 7 or more points at home in four of their past six regular-season and playoff games. The key for Minnesota keeping things tight will be the play of Dalvin Cook because if there is no balance in the Vikings’ offensive attack, the Saints run ’em out of the dome.

Shark Bites
  • The Vikings are 1-6 SU and ATS in their last 7 games as road underdogs.
  • The Saints are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games as playoff favorites.
  • The Vikings are 1-7 ATS in their last 8 road games vs teams with winning records.