NFL Predictions: Spread & Total Picks For Vikings vs. Saints On Christmas
Elizabeth Flores /Star Tribune via Getty Images. Pictured: Dalvin Cook
Drew Brees and Co. still have a chance to secure the NFC’s top seed and only postseason bye while the Vikings are simply fighting to remain in contention for the conference’s final wild card spot. With that (and many other factors) in mind, our staff details how they’re betting this spread and total.
NFL Picks & Predictions
One key factor is the absence of Eric Kendricks, who owns the second-best grade (82.6) among linebackers according to Pro Football Focus and whose absence will only enhance the outlooks Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara.
Week 16 means that we also have to factor in motivation: The Saints are looking to lock up the NFC South while the Vikings need to win to avoid elimination from contention for the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
With Kendricks out and PointsBet offering the Saints at -6.5, I’m locking them in immediately.
Brandon Anderson: The Vikings and Saints are plenty familiar with one another thanks to a pair of memorable playoff meetings with New Orleans melting down to end two of the last three seasons, so suffice to say that these teams have had Christmas Day circled on their calendar all year.
Neither of their seasons have gone according to plan.
The Vikings started 1-5 and looked hapless before battling back with a late playoff push, though it looks like it could be too little too late for them now. They improved their defense after a rough first month and have gotten another strong season from Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and rookie Justin Jefferson, but they’re 1-5 against current playoff-bound teams and can’t get the job done against the big boys.
It’s amazing how much has gone wrong for the Saints considering how much has still gone right. Michael Thomas went from the NFL’s best receiver to missing a majority of the season, and Brees has looked old when on the field while missing a month off it. Still the Saints rank first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, thanks mostly to a devastating defense and a super efficient running game.
That Saints defense will be enough in this rematch with the Vikings. New Orleans played Kansas City as well as any human defense can, and the Vikings are no Chiefs. The Saints will contain the run and get after Cousins all game, and we all know how he melts under pressure with the spotlight on him.
You don’t want to be spending Christmas with your cousins, and you won’t want to bank on Cousins this Christmas, either. Count on the Saints defense to make the lives of Vikings’ fans miserable with a Saints cover, but hey, it’s alright — we’ll always have those Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph game-winners.
Grab the Saints at -6.5 while you can, though I would play to -7.5 if needed. Merry Christmas!
Raheem Palmer: The Saints scored 29 points against the Chiefs last week, but I’m not sure there’s been a more misleading box score.
Drew Brees is a shell of his former self. He started the game 0-for-6 with a sack and an interception, then finished the game completing 15-of-34 passes for 234 yards. While he did pass for three touchdowns, one of them came off a turnover that gave the Saints a short field and the other was in garbage time after the game was all but decided.
With the decline in Brees’ arm strength, he ranks just 35th among NFL quarterbacks in air yards (5.7), so this offense isn’t particularly explosive — it’s built on timing and accuracy, both of which Brees lacks after missing a month with 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung. And while the cupboard of receiving threats isn’t completely bare with All Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas out for the rest of the season — there’s still Alvin Kamara out of the back field, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith as well as tight end Jared Cook — Brees will be without his best weapon to stretch the field.
On the other side of the ball, the Saints have one of the best defenses in the league. They’re holding opponents to only 3.8 yards per carry with a 43% rushing success rate, third in the NFL. And what does a Mike Zimmer-led offense want to do? Run the ball — the Vikings are fourth in run vs. pass ratio (47% run vs. 53% pass).
Last week’s game against the Bears was particularly frustrating as a football fan with the Vikings electing to go with a run-heavy approach despite how effective the pass was. They ran 25 times for 4.7 yards per carry and an expected points added (EPA) per play of -0.12, while passing 42 times for 6.6 yards per play and an EPA/play of 0.16. The Vikings have quite possibly the greatest rookie wide receiver since Randy Moss in Justin Jefferson as well as the always reliable Adam Thielen, and yet they insist on running an offense straight out of the 1970s.
The Vikings are 26th in adjusted sack rate (per Football Outsiders) and now face a Saints defense that’s sixth in sacks (40) and eighth in pressure rate (23.5%). Kirk Cousins was sacked six times in the Vikings’ loss against the Buccaneers in Week 14 — we could see a similar result on Friday.
The Vikings are 11th in offensive efficiency, but we’ve seen their scoring suffer against higher tier defenses like the Buccaneers, Colts and the healthy version of the Bears in Week 10.
The pace of this game could also lend itself to a lower offensive output. The Saints are actually 31st in offensive pace at 29.23 seconds snap-to-snap while the Vikings are 24th at 28.23 seconds snap-to-snap.
When the Vikings beat the Saints 26-20 in overtime of their 2019 playoff meeting, Brees struggled, completing 26-of-33 passes for 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And while the Vikings certainly don’t have the same defense as last season, Zimmer is still among the NFL’s top defensive minds, and Brees in his current form without Thomas isn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard.