NFL Predictions, Picks, Odds: How Experts Are Betting Vikings-Packers, Colts-Bills, Sunday’s Early Games
Getty Images. Pictured: Kirk Cousins.
NFL Predictions, Picks, Odds
Lions at Browns
Sean Koerner: The Lions have been an under machine of late, as the under has gone 6-1 in their past seven games. It makes sense considering they run the ball at the third-highest rate in neutral situations, and Jared Goff’s aDot (6.2) is the lowest of all qualified QBs. Therefore you have a team that keeps the clock running AND struggles to score points (haven’t scored 20+ points since Week 1).
Tim Boyle likely making his first career start makes the under an even more attractive play this week. It’s a bit of a mystery as to how he’s become a starting QB in the NFL. He had a 1:13 TD:INT ratio in three years of Division I college football, then posted an 11:13 ratio as a senior in Division II. He’s failed to impress in limited preseason action as well.
I’m projecting this closer to 40.5, and even that may be a bit too high considering I’m not sure how the Lions will score 14+ points. The Browns are more than willing to stick to a run-heavy game plan and win a low-scoring 21-10 type of game. I would bet this down to 41.
Packers at Vikings
Stuckey: I will start out by saying Aaron Rodgers has owned the Vikings. Including the postseason, he has 51 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 25 games against them. That includes a robust 108.3 passer rating — the highest of any opposing quarterback against the Vikings with a minimum of 200 attempts.
Davante Adams has also feasted on the Vikings in the past. Look no further than the five touchdowns he scored against them last season.
However, last year’s Vikings defense was the exception to the rule under Mike Zimmer. That unit suffered an unimaginable amount of personnel losses due to COVID and injuries. This year’s version is the norm under Zimmer. Minnesota’s defense ranks inside the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ DVOA, as well as Expected Points Added (EPA) per play. This unit should also have a much cleaner bill of health this week with the expected return of star safety Harrison Smith in addition to the potential returns of Anthony Barr and Patrick Peterson.
This also isn’t the same potent Packers offense we’ve become accustomed to seeing in recent years. After already losing tight end Robert Tonyan to injury, they won’t have Aaron Jones this week. That will hurt in the passing attack. Green Bay also has injuries along the offensive line. On the other side, the Packers defense has played at an elite level over the past month. The growth of this unit under new defensive coordinator Joe Barry has to excite Packers fans about this team’s ceiling.
That said, this shorthanded defense has played over its head, especially considering the injury situation. Already without star cornerback Jaire Alexander and stud edge rusher Z’Darius Smith, Green Bay just lost Whitney Mercilus for the season and could also be without Rashan Gary.
The latter is a massive loss. Gary, who leads the team in sacks, ranks in the top five in QB pressures and hits among edge rushers. While he may try to play with a hyperextended elbow, he likely won’t be at full strength.
It’s also important to note the Packers are one of the most conservative teams in the league when it comes to injuries. Plus, there’s really no reason to rush anyone back with an 8-2 record and a bye on the horizon the week after next.
I expect to see regression for this defense. Can we really expect Kevin King, Rasul Douglas, Eric Stokes and Chandon Sullivan to keep this up at corner? And is De’Vondre Campbell suddenly an All-Pro linebacker? I’m not buying it.
Kirk Cousins, who is playing at a top-five level, should have ample opportunities to attack this secondary with his dynamic duo of receivers. And Dalvin Cook should run wild against a vulnerable Packers run defense.
Backing Zimmer as an underdog has historically turned a nice profit for bettors. He’s 31-20 (60.8%) ATS as an underdog, making him the seventh-most profitable coach out of 137 since 2003 — that includes a 13-6 (68.4%) mark against teams that have won at least two-thirds of their games.
I also believe the market is overvaluing the Packers due to their record. These two teams profile very similarly when you look at season long metrics. And it’s the Vikings — not the Packers — that rank inside the top 10 in DVOA.
Yes, the Packers are 8-2 while the Vikings are just 4-5, but both teams have 6.4 Estimated Wins. Green Bay has simply won the coin-flip games while Minnesota hasn’t (0-2 overtime).
Just look at two common opponents each team has played on the road:
- Against the Cardinals: Arizona turned it over at the goal line in the final seconds against Green Bay, while Minnesota missed a chip shot game-winning field goal in Phoenix.
- Against the Bengals: Minnesota lost to Cincinnati in overtime on a questionable fumble call. Meanwhile, Green Bay won in overtime in a game filled with missed field goals.
Lastly, the Vikings should have an advantage on special teams as the Packers special teams have been an absolute mess (30th in DVOA), especially in the kicking game. I bet this at Minnesota +2, but I’d play it to +1.5.
Packers at Vikings
Chris Raybon: Like many NFL teams with veteran head coaches, you want to bet them when everyone else is counting them out. That scenario is usually presented either when the team is (a) coming off a loss or (b) when the team is an underdog. Last week the Vikings covered coming off of a loss. And this week, I’m betting that they do the same as underdogs.
Since taking over in 2015, Mike Zimmer has led his team to a 62% ATS win rate as an underdog, including a 4-1 record this season.
The Vikings are also at home, and the underlying metrics suggest they are the better team, as they rank ninth in overall DVOA while the Packers clock in at 12th.
This will be a tough test for Aaron Rodgers, as Minnesota generates pressure at the fifth-highest rate (27.4%), while Rodgers’ 39.0 passer rating under pressure ranks third-worst of 37 qualified quarterbacks.
This contest also takes place in the early window, which is when Kirk Cousins tends to surprise people. I’d bet this to a pick’em.
Packers at Vikings
Raheem Palmer: During last week’s broadcast, commentators noted that the Vikings are the only NFL team to have a lead of at least seven points in every one of their games this season. Despite this, they’re just 4-5 against the ninth-toughest schedule with losses to the Bengals, Cardinals, Browns, Cowboys and Ravens.
There’s clearly enough talent on the roster for the Vikings to compete for a playoff spot, provided they finish games. This week, they’ll matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the 8-2 Packers, who have a Pythagorean Expectation of only 6.1 wins.
On offense, Green Bay is dealing with the absences of running back Aaron Jones (knee) and tight end Robert Tonyan (ACL) while the depth of the already-thin receiving corps could be even thinner with Allen Lazard (shoulder) listed as doubtful and Malik Taylor (abdomen) ruled out. Jones’ absence alone is enough to downgrade this offense.
On the other side of the ball, Mike Zimmer’s conservative play could benefit the Vikings against a Packers defense that ranks 28th in Rushing Expected Points Added (EPA) and 30th in Rushing Success Rate (45.5%).
We should expect a big game from Dalvin Cook, who had 30 carries for 163 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground as well as two catches for 63 yards and a fourth touchdown through the air in last season’s 28-22 win at Lambeau Field.
With Cook in the backfield, it should open up the play-action game for Kirk Cousins to get the ball to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. With the Packers missing linebackers Whitney Mercilus and potentially Rashan Gary, this is a thin unit defensively as they’re still dealing with the absence of Za’Darius Smith, who is on injured reserve. And Green Bay defense has already played above its head without cornerback Jaire Alexander and this feels like the week all their injuries come back to haunt the Packers.
My model makes this game closer to a pick’em, so I’ll back the Vikings to a PK.
Colts at Bills
Brandon Anderson: When I made the Colts my Hot Read pick on The Action Network Podcast this week, I mentioned how it reminds me of one of those early Saturday afternoon Wild Card Weekend matchups that kickoff the playoffs — the ones that always feature a couple smaller marker AFC teams, lots of smash-mouth football and some no-no-yes quarterback moments in a tight, low-scoring game.
That’s exactly what this game feels like — and maybe that’s because we did see this exact matchup in the wild-card round last postseason.
The Bills won that one, but it was close.
The 2021 Colts feel a lot like the 2020 Colts. They’re not really great at anything, but pretty good at everything. They have a very stout defense, an excellent offensive line and a terrific rushing attack led by Jonathan Taylor. Plus Carson Wentz has been mostly good.
The Colts have been competitive in every game since the opener, even if they haven’t always finished the job.
The 2021 Bills, on the other hand, are a much different version than the 2020 Bills. The offense is much worse and far less reliable. It’s actually the defense that’s carrying the Bills now — they lead the league in defensive DVOA, ranking top-three against the pass and run. Otherwise, this Bills team has been high variance: Their six wins have each come by 15 or more points while they’ve lost their other three.
The Bills also aren’t very battle-tested just yet. They’ve played only three games all season against teams currently among the top 21 in DVOA and only two games against top-15 defenses. They lost both of those, to the Titans and Steelers. By DVOA, the Colts are the best defense and best overall opponent the Bills have faced this season.
The one real weak spot for the Colts has been their pass D, which means this game could come down to which version of Josh Allen we get. Allen is the betting favorite for NFL MVP — and he plays like it — he could have another big game throwing to Stefon Diggs and the Bills could roll. But if Allen has a more pedestrian outing and this offense stalls like it often has this season, this game should be close all the way.
The Bills have no chance to run on this stout rush defense, so it’s all on Allen. The Colts have the more rounded team and a lot of paths to hang around. I make this line around Bills -4, so we’re getting at least a field goal of value here, and across a couple big key numbers.
I love the Colts in this spot, so I’ll bet them before I lose the hook. I’ll grab the moneyline too.