The Minnesota Vikings will try to get one step closer to securing a playoff spot when they visit the Detroit Lions in Week 16. The two NFC North rivals will kick off at 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 23, at Ford Field in Detroit. Fans in local markets can watch the game on Fox.
According to the Week 16 NFL betting odds, the Vikings are favored by 5.5 points on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 43.5 points.
The Vikings have been consistently inconsistent all season, but they still control their own destiny in the playoff picture. Last week’s blowout win over the Dolphins snapped a two-game skid and kept Minnesota in sole possession of the final wild-card spot in the NFC. It also brought them with half a game of Seattle for the top wild-card spot. However, both the Eagles and Redskins are just half a game behind them in the crowded wild-card race.
As it stands, if the Vikings win and the Seahawks, Eagles, and Redskins lose, Minnesota would clinch a playoff birth this week. A win this week would also ensure that Minnesota remains in control of their destiny in Week 17. The caveat is they have to play the Bears next week while the Eagles and Redskins play one another, guaranteeing that one of those teams wins in Week 17. In short, things will get complicated for the Vikings if they lose to Detroit on Sunday.
As for the Lions, they are officially eliminated from playoff contention after last week’s loss to the Bills. Detroit has now lost three of their last four games and six of their last eight. At 5-9, a losing season is guaranteed for Matt Patricia in his first season as a head coach. The Lions are also at risk for losing double-digit games and finishing last in the NFC North for the first time since 2012.
The Lions managed just three field goals and lost 24-9 when they visited the Vikings in early November. The Lions are now at risk of losing three straight to the Vikings for the first time since they lost six in a row against Minnesota between 2007 and 2010.
To be honest, I was a little hesitant at first to lean toward Minnesota to cover given how up and down they’ve been this season. However, the Lions have been consistently bad over the past two months. With so much on the line and their confidence up after last week’s win, I think the Vikings can win by at least a touchdown and cover on the road against a bad team.
Just how bad are the Lions? In their last eight games, their only wins are against the Cardinals and the spiraling Panthers. Also, of their six losses during that span, last week’s game against the lowly Bills is the only one that came by less than seven points. In fact, they’re losing by an average of 10.5 points in those six games.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota offense was suddenly good last week with Kevin Stefanski taking over as offensive coordinator. Of course, Miami’s lackluster defense deserves some of the credit. However, Stefanski switched things up and made a commitment to running the ball. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for 34 carries. Cook, in particular, was outstanding, rushing for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Cook has proven himself capable of those kinds of numbers, which could help Minnesota’s offense turn things around late in the season if they stay committed to the ground attack.
It should help that the Detroit defense hasn’t been particularly effective against the run this year. The Lions are conceding 115 yards per game on the ground. The Vikings also ran for 128 yards on just 23 carries when these teams met earlier in the season. That’s a good indication that the Vikings will be able to run the ball with success on Sunday. With Kirk Cousins still struggling with ball security, the more the Vikings can take the ball out of his hands, the better.
On the other side of the ball, the Detroit offense continues to be a train wreck. Matthew Stafford actually played well last week in Buffalo, as Kenny Golladay continues to be a threat as Detroit’s no.1 receiver. However, Kerryon Johnson is still not ready to return from injury, depriving the Lions of their best running back. Plus, Stafford doesn’t have many options in the passing game outside of Golladay. With limited options offensively, the Lions have scored over 20 points just once in their last eight games.
We also can’t forget that Stafford was sacked 10 times when these teams met last month. In fairness, the Detroit offensive line is playing better, giving up just one sack over the last two weeks. However, those games were against the Cardinals and Bills. Meanwhile, the Vikings totaled nine sacks against Miami last week, giving them 47 through 14 games. If there’s any weakness in Detroit’s offensive line, the Vikings will find it.
In the end, I actually feel good about this pick. The Lions have been atrocious offensively in recent weeks, and I don’t see Stafford getting much help against the Minnesota defense this week. To be fair, I still have some concerns about Cousins. But as long as the Vikings keep running the ball, they should be fine offensively and score enough points to cover the spread.