New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (5, 43 o/u)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When Teddy Bridgewater, and then Adrian Peterson, were lost for the year, the Minnesota Vikings’ (3-0 SU and 3-0 ATS) playoff hopes were supposed to exit with them. But the defense has played lights out, and newly acquired QB Sam Bradford has been virtually mistake-free, allowing the Vikes to get off to a perfect 3-0 start. They’ll look to stay unblemished on Monday Night Football this week when they host Odell Beckham Jr. and the New York Giants (2-1 SU and 0-2-1 ATS) at U.S. Bank Stadium (8:30 PM Eastern).
There are still a handful of undefeated teams in the NFL, and some only remain that way thanks to light schedules (cough cough Baltimore). Minnesota hasn’t taken the easy road to 3-0, though. A Week 1 win over the lowly Titans in Tennessee (25-16) wasn’t a shocker, but they’ve downed the Packers (17-14 home) and defending NFC champs Carolina (22-10 road) in their last two, firmly establishing themselves as a conference heavyweight.
The offense isn’t really scaring anyone (214.3 passing yards per game, 28th in the league; 51 rushing yards per game dead-last in the league) but it’s making plays when needed and, most importantly, not putting the defense in bad spots. (Bradford has yet to throw a pick this season.)
The D was able to keep reigning MVP Cam Newton in check last week thanks to a ferocious pass rush, which generated eight sacks. Minnesota now leads the NFL with 15 on the year. Even when opposing QBs do get the ball off, the secondary has been on lock. Corner Terence Newman (47.1-percent catch rate) is holding QBs to a passer rating of 33.2 on his targets – that’s the best mark among CBs with at least 15 targets (per Pro Football Focus) – and has yet to allow a pass beyond 12 yards.
The secondary saw the return of Newman’s running mate, Xavier Rhodes, last week, and the unit was able to completely shut-down Carolina’s top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin (zero catches on one target). They’ll face an even tougher task this week when the G-Men come to town.
Not only do the Giants boast a top-three receiver in Beckham (19 receptions, 280 yards), but they have seen rookie Sterling Shepard (16 receptions, 233 yards, two touchdowns) quickly blossom into a threat in the slot and are getting surprise production from Victor Cruz (11 receptions, 195 yards, one touchdown) after a year-plus injury hiatus.
The receiving trio has lifted New York to 297.7 passing yards per game (5th in the league).
Not all is rosy in the Big Apple, though. The team may be down its top two running backs (Shane Vereen is out for the season; Rashad Jennings is questionable with a hand injury) and is coming off a bad 29-27 home loss to Washington, failing to cover as 3.5-point favorites.
The largely one-dimensional offense is having trouble finding the end zone at times. Quarterback Eli Manning has just four TDs through three games, to go along with three picks. He threw his most costly INT on the final drive against Washington, sealing his team’s fate.
Luckily for Eli, he actually has a competent defense to fall back on this season, unlike last. The Giants are tenth in total yards allowed and proving particularly stout against the run (77.3 YPG; 3.2 YPC).
Free-agent acquisition and former Jet Damon Harrison deserves a ton of credit. “Snacks” is second in the league in run-stop percentage for defensive tackles, a stat he’s led each of the past three seasons. The Vikings weren’t able to run the ball before Peterson went down. With a combination of Jerrick Mckinnon and Matt Asiata toting the rock, Harrison should see his numbers get even better this week.
If you asked me at the start of the season whether I’d take the Giants against a Minnesota team sans Peterson and Bridgewater, I’d have answered yes in a heartbeat. But I’m done doubting this Viking defense … for now. They are proving to be the most dominant unit in the league, and I’ll ride them until they show otherwise.
Besides, the Vikes have been a great bet of late, going 8-1 ATS in the last nine as a favorite, and 6-1 ATS in their last seven as a home favorite. Five is a lot of points to lay on a team that doesn’t score much (well, an offense that doesn’t score much; the D scores plenty), but it’s not too many for me.
Pick: Vikings -5.
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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