Oddsmakers put a seven-point handicap on the home San Francisco 49ers as they prepare to play the visiting Minnesota Vikings on Saturday at noon. The Vikings beat the Saints 26-20 in the Superdome last Sunday after closing as a 7.5 point underdog.
It’s hard to tell if Vegas is following the consensus opinion this week in the press and media about the NFC Divisional Game in Santa Clara, California, or if those extremely wise bookmakers are just putting it all into the computer and spitting out a good waging number to draw bettors into the game.
Either way, the Vikings are dogs again to no one’s surprise.
Fooled By The Numbers?
Data-wise, it’s all kosher. The Niners finished the year 13-3 and landed the top seed in the NFC playoff tournament with a dramatic win at home against the Seattle Seahawks. The Vikings lost their last two and grabbed the last spot, so far under the radar that some television NFL playoff features left them off the lineup altogether.
Did that fuel some high-octane petrol for the Vikings upset win in the New Orleans Superdome on Sunday? Of course, it did. And even though Minnesota hardly played their best game, they pulled out a win with a brilliant defensive game designed by Mike Zimmer and his coaches and a stubborn running game augmented by big plays in the vertical passing department.
Yet those numbers remain. San Francisco features three running backs that have contributed to the league’s second-rated rush offense of 2019, the Vikings run defense is respectable, but a lagging 13th in yards allowed.
Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been a credible is not spectacular signal-caller, while his counterpart, Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins has been both explosive and inconsistent this season. Both players are role players on teams who do not expect them to win games by themselves.
Both defenses are elite, though each has shown that a good offense can run big numbers through them. However, it is the Vikings who have shown great improvement from that rack in the last six weeks.
The 49ers allowed an average of 32 points a game in their last four games of December, while the Vikings have allowed only 16 through their last five.
Of those five, one was a Week 17 contest against Chicago in which their defensive backups played and another was last Sunday’s playoff win in New Orleans in which Minnesota held the NFC West Champion Saints–a team that put up 46 points on the 49ers’ defense a month ago–to only 20 points.
The Theory Of ‘Peaking In The Playoffs‘
Six Wildcard teams have won the Super Bowl. Numerous others have upset top seeds through the history of the NFL playoffs. For every story, there seems to be a lull and a rise in a long season that climaxes in winning efforts and winning football.
The 49ers started their season 8-0 playing sub-par teams. When faced with the challenge of stiffer competition, they played well, but not at such a sterling clip, losing to good teams like Seattle and Baltimore–and then a very bad one, the Atlanta Falcons, at home in Week 15.
But it was their 37-8 drubbing of the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 that kept them in the eye of ‘experts’. If they could whip Aaron Rodgers and the Pack like that, they could whip anybody. As they snatched the #1 seed in these playoffs, that idea holds fast.
If ask me–and not the bookmakers in Las Vegas–a little too fast.
The Vikings struggled with injuries to their number one receiver for half the season and their primary running game in the last month of 2019. When it came time for their ‘crucible match’ against divisional leader Green Bay, they simply failed on offense without their core players being part of the competition.
However, after impressive performances by Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and a Minnesota Vikings defense whose demise may have been slightly exaggerated, this team looks a bit the part of those who might be bronzed in history–at least in the upset win category.
In short, take the Vikings and the points in this one. And if Minnesota wins on Saturday, do the same thing next week.