Saints vs. Vikings Wild Card: A complete betting guide
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Vikings at Saints Picks & Betting Odds: Wild Card Weekend
- Odds: Saints -7.5
- Over/Under: 49.5
- Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. ET
- TV Channel: FOX
NFL Wild Card Weekend marches on with a pair of NFC matchups on Sunday.
The 3-seeded Saints kick the day off as massive favorites against the 6-seeded Vikings, but has the market inflated New Orleans? Our experts preview all the important matchups, reveal their own projected odds and make their spread picks.
Vikings-Saints Injury Report
Which team is healthier? Saints
The Saints are in excellent shape heading into Sunday’s game. Cornerback Eli Apple (ankle) is the only notable player who has been ruled out. Every other player on their injury report was removed on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Vikings welcome Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and Alexander Mattison (knee) back after they practiced in full all week and were removed from the injury report. However, they’ll be thin in the secondary after they ruled out cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and placed cornerback Mike Hughes (neck) on injured reserve. — Justin Bailey
Sean Koerner’s Projected Odds
- Projected Spread: Saints -5.5
- Projected Total: 46.5
Biggest Mismatch When Saints Have the Ball
Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Vikings CBs
It seems needless to talk about how great the All-Pro receiver is. Thomas is the league leader with 185 targets, 149 receptions and 1,725 yards. He is in peak form.
And the Vikings cornerbacks are very much not.
Thomas tends to line up most out wide to the left, and the Vikings have played cornerback Xavier Rhodes almost exclusively at right corner this season, so they should be matched up for much of the game.
Although Rhodes was an All-Pro defender in 2017 and strong shadow man last year, he has massively regressed this year, allowing an opulent 84.3% catch rate in his coverage. Thomas should be able to dominate him.
Thomas has also run 31.3% of his routes from the slot this year, and that’s likely to be a problem for the Vikings. Alexander is out, and just this week, backup Hughes was shut down for the year.
Without Alexander and Hughes, the Vikings are likely to start in the slot either undrafted second-year special-teamer/backup corner Holton Hill or fourth-year seventh-rounder special-teamer/backup safety Jayron Kearse. Either way, Thomas should dominate.
Per usual, Thomas has 10-reception, 150-yard upside. — Matthew Freedman
Biggest Mismatch When Vikings Have the Ball
Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Saints CBs
I expect Stefon Diggs to be shadowed by shutdown cornerback Marshon Lattimore, which means that Thielen will have the far easier matchup.
On the perimeter, Thielen is likely to face some combination of former Giants teammates Janoris Jenkins and Apple. Although Apple has started opposite Lattimore for most of the year, he’s underwhelmed with his 59.1 Pro Football Focus coverage grade and has seemingly been replaced in the starting lineup by Jenkins.
But Jenkins was claimed off waivers by the team in only Week 16 and is an inconsistent defender. Not since his outlier 2016 Pro-Bowl campaign has Jenkins had a PFF coverage grade of even 70.
Since returning from injury in Week 15, Thielen has run 36.4% of his routes from the slot, so he’s also likely to match up with cornerback P.J. Williams for a fair share of the game, and Williams is a liability.
This year, Williams has a 47.8 PFF coverage grade with a 71.4% catch rate allowed. Last year, he had a 48.0 PFF coverage grade with a 72.0% catch rate allowed. Since last season, he’s yielded 14 touchdowns.
The Saints are No. 24 in pass defense in the middle of the field (per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric), and they are dead last in pass defense in the deep middle. If Thielen is repeatedly able to get by Williams in coverage, he could rip off several large gains.
The Vikings struggled in the passing game for the first month of the season, and Thielen has been dealing with injuries since Week 7, but he finally seems to be healthy after playing a 93% snap rate in Week 16 and resting in Week 17.
For the 2016-18 seasons, he averaged over 1,200 receiving yards per year, and through Weeks 1-6, he was still on pace for almost 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Against corners like Jenkins, Apple and Williams, Thielen has a real shot at 100 yards and multiple scores. — Freedman
Biggest Special Teams Mismatch
The Saints have one of the NFL’s top special teams units — they do pretty much everything well. I grade the Vikings’ unit about middle of the pack.
First, it’s worth noting that Dan Bailey has been much better, drilling 27-of-29 field goals this season, including a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond 50. (Although his four missed extra points aren’t ideal.) He’s really benefited from the acquisition of punter Britton Colquitt, who has helped shore up a weakness for the Vikings in recent years with field goal holding.
So, while I’d rather have the Saints punter and kicker, there isn’t a huge difference in either area. However, there is a major discrepancy when it comes to punt and kick return production.
The Saints have one of the best returners in Deonte Harris, who ranks third in kick return yardage (26.8 yards) and fourth in punt return yardage (9.4). The Vikings, meanwhile, have not been spectacular in either returning statistics.
The Saints should hold a field-position edge as a result. And don’t be surprised if Harris breaks one to set the Superdome off into a frenzy — you may recall the rookie took one to the house earlier this season in Seattle. — Stuckey
PRO System Match
It’s been historically profitable to bet underdogs in the playoffs. Since 2003, pooches have gone 95-76-4 (56%) against the spread in the postseason.
Part of the reason is because casual bettors like to wager on the favorite, so oddsmakers will inflate the line to make it easier for the underdog to cover. So the optimal situation is to bet sizable underdogs when they’re getting little public support.
Bettors following our PRO System of backing postseason underdogs (between 5.5 and 14 points) that are receiving fewer than 50% of tickets (in a matchup with a closing total of 50 or lower) would have gone 28-12-1 (70%) since 2003.
As of writing, 65% of spread tickets are backing the Saints as 8-point favorites (see live public betting data here), but history suggests that recreational bettors will be disappointed by Sunday’s outcome. — John Ewing
Sean Koerner: Vikings +8
I projected the Saints as 5.5-point favorites, but was not surprised to see them favored by more than a touchdown when the market opened. The Saints are clearly the better team and at home, but I feel the public is over inflating the advantage due to recency bias here.
Drew Brees broke two NFL records in a 34-7 victory over the Colts in Week 15. The Saints then followed that up with two impressive road wins, including a 42-10 victory over the Panthers, who gave up when they fired Ron Rivera weeks before.
However, the Saints have been far from perfect over the second half of the season. They were stunned by the Falcons at home in a 26-9 loss then barely beat the Panthers 34-31 at home two weeks later.
As for the Vikings, they bombed on Monday Night Football in a 23-10 loss and were able to rest their starters in a meaningless Week 17 loss to the Bears.
That extra week of rest allowed them to get closer to full strength with Cook and Mattison set to return. Thielen may also be closer to 100% this week thanks to the added rest.
The Vikings also have a +3.0 edge in expected Pythagorean win differential over the Saints — the Saints have been a bit lucky with a 6-1 record in one-score games.
We have to remember that the spread itself is not a prediction by the sportsbooks, rather a number that they let the market ultimately set as their main goal is to divide the action evenly. If they were to float a -5.5 line here, they would get hammered by Saints tickets.
I’m proposing that the undercurrent of sharp action will be betting this number toward -5.5, so I wanted to lock in the Vikings when they were getting more than a key number of +7.5 as it’s more likely to move to +7 by kickoff than it is to +10. William Hill is still offering the Vikings +8 as of writing.
Sean Koerner is 179-133-3 (57.4%) overall betting on the NFL. You can follow him in our free app.