When the Vikings and Giants meet Sunday in the NFC wild-card round, it will be just the fourth playoff matchup in NFL history between two teams with a negative scoring differential.
Oddsmakers have mostly thrown their hands up in the air, pricing Minnesota as a de facto 3-point favorite with little movement in the market since this line opened a week ago. It’s fair to ask: Are we sure it’s right to just price these two teams as virtual equals?
Sure, Minnesota isn’t as good as its 13-4 record would suggest, but the Vikings showed elite moments during the regular season.
The Vikings are still the only team to win at Buffalo this year, which came five weeks before they mounted the biggest comeback in NFL history (33 points) to beat the Colts. Minnesota had five Pro Bowlers — just five teams had more — including unanimous first-team All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, whose 1,809 receiving yards this season were the sixth-most in NFL history.
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Yes, Minnesota has been lucky. Most good teams are. While the Vikings rank first in luck power rating (+4.3), right behind them are the Eagles (+2.4), Chiefs (+2.2) and Bengals (+1.8) — the Giants rank sixth in luck factor. At some point, it’s worth considering how the Vikings actually won 13 games as opposed to writing it off as purely happenstance.
Incredibly, Minnesota boasted an 11-0 record this year in one-score games, which set an NFL record. Some of that is luck, but some is by design. The Vikings’ defense rarely blitzes and is built to shut down late charges in the passing game — with star rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith on the edge, and coverage specialists Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith on the back end.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has also been prolific in fourth quarters, tossing 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions with the NFL’s fourth-best passer rating (104.9) among regular starters. It helps when he has the best receiver in football to haul in downfield heaves and a stout running game to support play-action looks, in which he owns a 12-4 touchdown-interception ratio.
And how did the Giants get to nine wins? Mostly on the back of Saquon Barkley — who finished fourth in the NFL in carries (295) and rushing yards (1,312), and ninth in rushing touchdowns (10). Yet, in the Giants’ 27-24 loss at Minnesota on Dec. 24, he was mostly held in check by the Vikings, rushing for just 84 yards while logging his fifth-fewest carries of the season (14).
That’ll be key for Minnesota: Get an early lead and force Daniel Jones to win through the air. It’s a big ask for the polarizing fourth-year passer, who will be making his first playoff start on Sunday. Since 2002, quarterbacks making their postseason debut are 17-36-1 against the spread, and Jones will face a particularly hostile environment in Minnesota, where the Vikings won eight of nine games this year.
The contest also marks the first playoff game at U.S. Bank Stadium since the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018. I just don’t see the Vikings letting this opportunity slip against a team it beat two weeks ago and that owns very few distinct advantages in this matchup.
Pick: Vikings, -3.
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Best prop bet: Justin Jefferson
Over 92.5 receiving yards
Oddsmakers have struggled all year to price Jefferson’s yardage total amid one of the best seasons in NFL history for a wide receiver. This line ain’t it.
The Vikings’ star wideout led the league in receptions (128), receiving yards (1,809) and yards per game (106.4) in the regular season, and he finished with at least 98 yards in 11 of 17 starts. That includes a monstrous 12-catch, 133-yard effort against the Giants in Week 16 — which was somehow just his seventh-best output of the season.
The Giants could get some secondary help with Adoree’ Jackson (knee) expected to play for the first time in eight weeks, but his presence alone isn’t enough to completely shut down the best receiver in football. The Vikings will almost certainly pepper their superstar talent in a do-or-die spot, and I’d expect Jefferson to show out in his postseason debut in an electric environment.
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