There is only two weeks of the NFL regular season left but fans have been gifted four straight days, with games starting on Christmas Day. The Week 15 slate begins with an important NFC matchup with the Minnesota Vikings traveling south to take on the New Orleans Saints (4.30pm ET Friday; TV: Live on Fox).
Both are coming off losses in Week 14, but Minnesota’s was much more detrimental to their playoff hopes. They were unable to contain David Montgomery and the Bears’ rushing attack and lost 33-27 as 3-point home favorites.
The Saints have already clinched a playoff spot and are currently sitting as the two seed. The Vikings are now on the outside looking and are dangerously close to being eliminated. They are 6-8, which is behind the 7-7 Bears and the 8-6 Cardinals who have the 7th and final seed in the NFC. This is a massive game for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings.
Unfortunately for Cousins this game is being played on Christmas Day (Friday). If you have been following the NFL for the last several years you know how terrible Cousins is in any games that are played outside of Sunday afternoons. Cousins seems to implode in big spots and nationally televised games, which is exactly what Friday’s game is. He is 6-14 against the spread in games played on any day other than Sunday. I expect him to wilt in a pivotal game once again. Saint’s quarterback, Drew Brees, on the other hand has been a strong bet in regular season. The veteran signal caller is 146-117-6 ATS in regular season games.
The Vikings also haven’t been able to protect Cousins, which is a recipe for disaster against the strong pass rush of the Saints. The Vikings rank 21st in the NFL and allow 2.4 sacks per game.
The Saints defense ranks 7th and averages 2.9 sacks per game. Last week they were able to sack Patrick Mahomes four times. That was the most sacks that the Chiefs have allowed all season. According to Football Outsiders the Vikings are 26th in adjusted sack rate and the Saints are eighth in pressure rate. The Saints are tied for fourth with Washington and Seattle with 40 sacks on the season. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson is tied for second with Aaron Donald with 12.5 sacks.
I expect the Saints to pressure Kirk Cousins with ease for much of the game, which should lead to a turnover or two. Cousins is tied for second in the NFL with 13 interceptions thus far on the season. He has also lost five fumbles as well. The Saints should be able to use their pressure to dominate this game and the offense will capitalize on the short fields provided by the turnover happy Vikings.
This is a classic strength on strength matchup. The Saints are one of the stronger defensive units against the run and the Vikings run the ball more than most other teams. The Vikings run the ball 47% of the time, which is the 5th highest percentage in the NFL. Head Coach Mike Zimmer chooses to lean on the run game despite having one of the more explosive weapons in Justin Jefferson and the always-reliable veteran Adam Thielen. New Orleans is strong against the run and I expect them to limit Cook and make Kirk Cousins beat them through the air. The Saints rank 4th and only give up 95.6 yards on average per game. They rank 2nd and only give up 3.8 yards per carry.
The Saints will be without star wide receiver, Mike Thomas, again this week after being placed on the IR with a lingering ankle injury. I think they will still be able to exploit a Vikings defense that is one of the worst in the league in terms of points allowed. They rank 25th and allow 27.7 points per game. They gave up 33 points last week to Mitch Trubisky and an average Bears offense.
Vikings vs Saints Concluding Predictions & Picks
At USA Betting, we are going to be backing the Saints as a touchdown favorite at home. They are currently -7pts with the sportsbooks. I wouldn’t want to play this higher than the current number. I think their pass rush will disrupt Cousins and cause several turnovers, which will allow the offense to score at ease. The Saints should also be able to slow down Cook and the rushing attack and put even more pressure on Cousins who we have seen wilt in high stress situations. Look for Cousins to continue his ineptitude in games that aren’t played on Sunday afternoons.
I see this being a relatively comfortable win and cover for the Saints. Let’s say a 30-17 victory to keep them in contention with the Packers for the number one seed in the NFC. So our pick for this preview and the culmination of our Minnesota vs New Orleans predictions is: