Two teams fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive will meet in Week 15 as the Miami Dolphins visit the Minnesota Vikings. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 16, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The game can be seen in certain markets on CBS.
According to this week’s NFL betting odds, the Vikings are 7-point favorites at home. That line has dropped slightly after Minnesota began the week as 8-point favorites. The over/under for the game is set at 44.5 points.
After enduring some problems in the middle of the season, the Dolphins have won back-to-back games against the Bills and Patriots. Obviously, they were fortunate to win both games. They survived a late drive against Buffalo and then benefited from a miracle play to beat New England last week. But no matter how it happened, Miami won both of those games to get to 7-6 on the season. That record puts them into a four-way tie for the last wild-card spot in the AFC along with the Colts, Titans, and Ravens.
Obviously, the Dolphins don’t have much margin for error heading down the stretch in such a tight playoff race. They may need to win all three of their remaining games and get a little help in order to make the playoffs. Miami has tricky games against the Jaguars and Bills the last two weeks of the season, so it’s crucial for them to find a way to beat the Vikings this week. A loss this week would give the Dolphins a huge wall to climb the last two weeks of the season.
Of course, the Vikings are in a similar position. Minnesota has lost four of their last six games, dropping them to 6-6-1 overall. The good news is that they are still holders of the last wild-card spot in the NFC. However, there are four teams within a game of them for that last spot. The Vikings are also all but eliminated in the NFC North race, so they’ll have to find a way to hang onto that wild-card spot or miss the playoffs altogether one year after reaching the NFC Championship Game.
Minnesota’s schedule is by no means easy the last three weeks, but it’s manageable. After hosting the Dolphins this week, they visit the Lions, a team Minnesota beat handily earlier this year. The Vikings then host the Bears the final week of the season. Two wins in those final three games could be enough to get the Vikings into the playoffs. However, Minnesota needs to approach all three games as a must-win in order to secure their place in the postseason.
To be honest, I don’t see either of these teams making the playoffs. But one of them has to win this game. Minnesota has been good at home this year, but given the problems with their offense, seven points is a lot to cover. I think the Dolphins can do enough to keep this game close and at least beat the spread, even if the Vikings find a way to win.
It’s no coincidence that Miami’s fortunes have turned with Ryan Tannehill coming back from injury. There’s been a noticeable uptick in the Dolphins offensively the last three games. More importantly, they’ve found ways to win two of those games. Tannehill is far from perfect, but he’s completed passes with a high degree of accuracy while throwing eight touchdown passes to just one interception in his last three games. He may not be able to win games on his own, but he probably won’t lose them.
Even with Tannehill back, it’s vital for the Dolphins to run the ball effectively. The ageless Frank Gore has had a few quality outings this year, including last week against the Patriots. Kenyan Drake is also chipping in, especially on check downs where he has to become a receiver. Meanwhile, the Minnesota defense has played well against the run for most of the season. However, they’ve had some trouble over the last month, especially the last two games. If they allow the Dolphins to establish a ground game, it’ll definitely sway things in Miami’s favor.
Of course, the performance of the Minnesota offense is what has become troubling for the Vikings late in the year. Things have gotten so bad that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was fired after Monday’s loss to the Seahawks. Kirk Cousins is putting up good numbers, but it’s just not translating into enough points. A lackluster running game has also been partly to blame for Minnesota’s problems on that side of the ball. However, firing an offensive coordinator with three games left in the season feels like the move of a desperate team.
The silver lining for the Vikings is that Miami’s defense is nothing special. The Dolphins have allowed at least 27 points in each of their last five road games, all losses. There are definitely holes in Miami’s defense that the Vikings will need to expose if they hope to win comfortably and cover the spread.
All things considered, I’m not ready to believe that the Vikings will cover a 7-point spread. Even if the Vikings are better at home, they’ve still lost four of their last six games. I don’t feel comfortable picking a team like that to cover a touchdown. Even if Minnesota wins, I think the Dolphins will at least beat the spread.