I feel like it’s time to reject my usual way of blogging NFL predictions on BetFirm. I typically begin with an anecdote, talk about the gambling activity or the major news narrative surrounding a contest, and then finally wind into a serious handicap of each team’s trajectory and chances to win or score points. But this is the playoffs. Seems like there should be a little more scientific method presented to the reader, even if my chances of picking the right bets are in the 55%-60% range as ever.
(How’s that for a nice contrast to those phony “15-0-1 LaSt wEeK!” handicapper’s ads on social media?)
Anyway, this is what we’ll do – as fond as I am of the old “Whites offense vs Blacks defense” match-up touting, if you can’t boil a match-up handicap down to the key elements in 50 words or less your wager is on shaky ground anyway, so why not check all the boxes to get all information in 1 spot before determining the proper angles.
Oh, and in addition to a glance at each offense, defense, and special-teams unit taking the field at Levi’s Stadium this Saturday, we’ll get a gander at line-movement too, to see if a good old bet vs the public is in order.
Who: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers
When: Saturday, January 11th, 4:35 PM EST
Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Lines: MINN (+7) at SF (-7) / O/U Total: (44)
BetFirm stood out from the pack in at least 1 way on Wild Card weekend – as the only handicapping blog on the web to have gotten the New Orleans vs Minnesota pick 100% right and 100% wrong at the same time. Regretfully my wager lost money – I figured the QBs would look much alike against everyone’s expectations but that New Orleans would outplay Minnesota and that Cousins would be too harassed to survive. Instead, the Norsemen out-foxed the finesse Saints, and the much-maligned Cousins was buoyed by a steady ground game (featuring a bit role from Alex Mattison, whose coaches said to imagine blue turf under the dome) and clutch receiver Adam Thielen en route to a surprise 26-20 OT victory.
In a losing cause, it underlined a principle I’ve stressed often late in the season – that it’s bad juju to compare NFL quarterbacks in terms of rhetoric like “good” and “GOAT” and “bad” and “pitiful.” The starting quarterbacks of the NFL are each among the top 50 QBs out of approximately a million people who try to play signal-caller on the playground, Pop Warner prairie, prep gridiron, NCAA field, or rec league at some point in their lives. They can all pick flies off fence posts on 15-yard slant routes, and lines between their success or failure are small. They’re not “good” and “bad” players, they’re all professionals who can win under the right circumstances.
There is no circumstance in which “weak defense” and a Vikings win will cling in conjunction in San Francisco. Minnesota’s defense brought a whole new postseason scheme to the table, and the defensive line executed the game plan almost to perfection. Mike Zimmer opted to use 4 defensive ends on passing downs with Shamar Stephen and Ifeadi Odenigbo lining up outside, which put powerful speed-rushing ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen inside. New Orleans’ interior offensive line was no match, and Hunter’s strip-sack of Drew Brees in the 4th quarter created a huge momentum swing.
Dan Bailey had another fine outing in a year in which the PK has missed 2 field goals in over 30 attempts. If it comes down to a field goal, Bailey is literally money as Las Vegas is concerned.
By all accounts the 49er defense is money too, and San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould is on a hot streak at the right time. The current narrative is that San Fran’s defense may be vulnerable at the wrong time – the 49ers are suddenly giving-up touchdowns (instead of FGs or goose-eggs) on opposing drives. San Francisco could get a big boost with the return of defensive end Dee Ford, as some of the other guys along the defensive line are waning in his absence.
That puts pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo and a San Fran offense which isn’t necessarily battle-tested against a souped-up scheme in the playoffs. Kyle Shanahan knows how to stay out of national headlines and keep the offense calm and focused, but the Vikings have to have everybody on edge as a strong underdog, already apparent given a tightening point spread.
If the L.A. Rams, a similar offense with a less-trendy QB, had another game to adjust to New England’s “Jet” defense in the Super Bowl, would they have won the re-match? Maybe, maybe not, but I wouldn’t give Sean McVay’s club (-7) against a dangerous visitor.
New England’s loss to an oft-nondescript Tennessee Titan franchise shows the importance of gauging a unit’s trajectory instead of its overall season performance. The Patriots were already running out of steam as of December.
San Francisco’s vaunted defense has some steam left, but I’m concerned about the offense too – the backfield-by-committee motif is starting to wear thin – and yet I also think the Over is a good idea in a game with 2 of the most grooved-in PKs in the game.
Take the Over (44) or Vikings (+7).