The NFL game Thanksgiving night features the New England Patriots visiting the Minnesota Vikings. Rumor has it that Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins was begging the NFL to flex the Vikings to the early window instead. And if that rumor isn't true (it isn't, I made it up), it should be because Cousins absolutely sucks in prime time, and everyone knows it. Even sportsbooks are letting it affect the Patriots-Vikings odds.
That's right, Cousins is a regular Andy Dalton when it comes to performing like trash under the bright lights, and no, that is not a compliment. Between his time in Washington and Minnesota Cousins is a horrendous 10-18 in primetime games. In his only primetime performance so far this year, Cousins did nothing to silence the skeptics after his three interceptions in a loss to the Eagles dropped his record on Monday Night Football to a laughable 2-10 both straight-up and against the spread.
Good thing the NFL never plays the biggest games in prime time. ... Oh wait.
So Kirk, the entire country will be watching you Thursday night, and begging you to give them a performance that doesn't put them to bed too early. And the bar is high because we'll have overflowing levels of tryptophan in our system, and we'll have consumed enough carbs to make every pair of pants require an elastic waistband. Give us a reason to stay awake Kirk!!
The 8-2 Vikings are currently 2.5 point favorites over the 6-4 Patriots in a game with an over/under total of 42.5 points. Let's dig our way through this matchup and see if we can figure out if there is a good angle to bet on this game.
Notable Matchup Advantages in this Game
There are several areas you could describe as mismatches in this contest. In last Sunday's horrific 40-3 loss to the Cowboys we saw the Minnesota Vikings offense dominated at the line of scrimmage by the Dallas defensive line. Kirk Cousins was sacked seven times by a Cowboys defense that leads the league in sacks and allows the fewest points per game. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they now face a Patriots defense that is second in the league in sacks and allows the second fewest points. Minnesota is going to have to find an answer for some of the issues that plagued them last game because the Patriots' pressure can exploit the exact same vulnerabilities the Cowboys found.
The Patriots pass defense has been elite so far this year. They are tied for the third most interceptions in the league, and are allowing the fourth fewest passing yards in the NFL. The Vikings have faced two other top four passing defenses, the Eagles and the Cowboys, and lost those two games by a combined 54 points.
The Patriots have fared much better against traditional drop-back passers than mobile quarterbacks this year, giving up more than 80 yards rushing twice to quarterbacks in 2022. This isn't something that Cousins brings to the table and means the Patriots can use some of their heavier defensive lineman to attempt to stop Dalvin Cook without concern that Cousins will break the pocket.
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota has the second worst statistical passing defense in the NFL, and is in the middle of the pack in scoring defense. However, the Vikings are tied for third in turnover differential at +7. This defense thrives on forcing other teams to make mistakes and will likely need to cause some big plays this Sunday.
Despite being the worst red zone defense in the NFL, an issue that was exposed significantly by the Cowboys last week, the Vikings might have a chance at holding in the red area because the Patriots are the NFL's second worst red zone offense.
One additional matchup to note is that Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell was drafted by Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the third round in 2008, something I'm sure will be brought up in the telecast on Sunday. He was selected in the same draft class as perennial special teams ace and current Patriot Matthew Slater. While O'Connell spent only one year in New England, and it is hard to know if there is anything from that time that either side could use to gain an edge, it does show Belichick's interest in drafting smart players who display a wealth of knowledge about the game.
Are the Vikings the Same Team who Beat the Bills or the One Demolished by the Cowboys?
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This is the million-dollar question. Many haters have been waiting for the other shoe to drop all year for the Vikings. Minnesota is the first 8-2 team ever to have a negative point differential, but that stat is also weighed down heavily by their recent blowout loss to the Cowboys. That being said, seven of the eight Vikings wins have been by less than one score. We can look at that in one of two ways: either Minnesota is a mentally tough team that knows how to make critical plays down the stretch in a football game to lock up a win ... or they have been incredibly fortunate in high-variance situations. It's only a matter of time until some of those critical turnovers, penalties and scoring plays go the other way.
Is the Patriots Offense Really this Bad?
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This is the second million-dollar question. Offensive play-caller Matt Patricia has been criticized externally for his schemes. Some have suggested he is heavily to blame for a possible regression in second-year quarterback Mac Jones. The Patriots are scoring just over 21 points a game, more than 5 points below their scoring average last season, and Mac Jones has only four touchdown passes in six games.
If there is ever a time to see if the Patriots passing offense can put something together, it's against the Vikings porous secondary. But New England has been plagued by significant offense line issues. The Patriots have allowed the 10th most sacks this year, and a combination of poor play and injuries up front, led to the Jets sacking Mac Jones six times last week. It's hard to know if this unit will ever be able to turn it around in 2022.
Should I just Bet Against Primetime Kirk Cousins Because He Really is that Bad?
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The Patriots certainly aren't digging into the hype around the ample history of Kirk Cousins primetime stinkers. But I am sure the oddsmakers already factored in the time of game and short rest into this -2.5 point spread. Plus, Cousins is 2-0 against the spread on Thanksgiving (not sure that cancels out the much larger prime time sample size, he is, after all, ranked 187 of 193 of all QBs against the spread at night).
The reality is, across the board, Cousins is the spitting image of mediocre, even if his bad performances tend to come in the spotlight. He is 4-5-1 against the spread this year and 66-65-2 against the spread all time. Seems like a guy the Vegas algorithm has a pretty good read on.
There are actually other betting trends intriguing me more about the Patriots than just Cousins inability to get it up in the big moments. Trends like:
- The Patriots are 3-0 against the spread on Thanksgiving since 2002.
- New England is 29-15-1 against the spread on short rest since 2003.
- In games with a total under 45, the Patriots cover 63 percent of the time.
- Patriots road unders hit at 63% since 2016.
There are also a few that intrigue me about the Vikings:
- Minnesota is 3-1 against the spread on Thanksgiving.
- Cousins is 33-17 against the spread following a loss, the most profitable of any QB in the NFL.
But to me, this is the golden goose of trends in this game, more important than the fact that Kirk has stage fright. And it's about the ability of a Bill Belichick-coached team to exploit the weaknesses of an opponent that is outperforming expectations; As provided by Action Network: "The Vikings are 8-2, but have a negative point differential. In the last 15 years, Belichick has faced 11 teams in November or later who are above .500, but have a negative point differential. Those teams are 1-9 SU and 0-10 ATS against the Patriots."
Where's the "Sharp Money" in the Early Betting
What this question is asking us is: Is there a way to determine if "sharp money" or "smart money" is being bet on any of the lines? "Sharp money" is the term often used for professional gamblers who, by using their own formulas and years of experience, typically place more knowledgeable wagers than a casual fan.
The easiest way to identify "sharp money" is to see if there is a substantial difference in the percentage of the number of wagers placed on one side of a bet, versus the percentage of the amount of money on the same bet. Because professionals and "sharps" bet larger amounts than casual bettors, their wagers can most easily be seen in the discrepancy between these two numbers.
The answer for this matchup is yes. There are some early betting trends that can show us where the "sharp money" is. According to VegasInsider.com, at this time 68% of the bets being placed on the spread are on the Vikings to cover -2.5 points. However, just 47% of the money wagered on the game has been on the Vikings to cover. This gap of 21% tells us that several substantial (and thus likely "sharp") bets have been placed on the Patriots at +2.5 points. That means the gambling professionals are on the Patriots to cover while the public is on the Vikings.
Both the public and the "sharp money" are on the under, with 70% of the bets and 85% of the money placed on a final total below 42.5 points. It will be a bad day for Vegas bookmakers if this proves to be a low scoring affair, but they will be popping bottles if Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense can put their prime time woes behind them.
"Look, I've Consumed 5,000 Calories by Kickoff. Tell Me Who Should I Bet on, Given the Patriots-Vikings Odds."
I already told you: the golden goose is how Bill Belichick exploits teams with negative point differentials in November, resulting in a 10-0 record against the spread. I read that stat, and I see all the sharp money on New England and all the public money on the Vikings, and just know the Patriots are a slam dunk here at +2.5 points. The red zone defense, and the offensive line is really a problem for Minnesota. And I don't think they can fix it on a short week.
I like betting under 42.5 points in this game just as much as the spread. Nearly two-thirds of Patriots road games go under. And I don't think they can fix all their offensive issues on a short turn-around, either. Plus, the last seven Thanksgiving night games in a row have gone under the total.
New England puts all their resources into taking away Justin Jefferson while the NFL's sack leader Matthew Judon has Kirk Cousins on the run all day. The Patriots get ahead early and then use their rushing attack to try to shorten the game and keep the ball away from a potent Vikings offense.
I'm taking under 42.5 points, and the Patriots +2.5 because New England wins this one, 23-14.
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