Vegas oddsmakers tend to be right, usually with startling precision. So, when it comes to Sunday’s divisional matchup between the Vikings and Lions, what do they know that the rest of us don’t?
If you’re surprised to see the Vikings, who trail only Philadelphia for the NFL’s best record at 10-2, getting 2.5 points against a 5-7 Lions team they beat earlier this year (albeit in last-second fashion), you’re not alone. Observers on Twitter are similarly skeptical, understandably wary (both teams appear relatively healthy) of one of the most puzzling spreads we’ve seen … or is it?
Twelve games would, under normal circumstances, be a large enough sample size to determine whether the Vikings deserve to be classified as one of football’s best teams or summarily dismissed as pretenders, a mere figment of our imagination. However, the Vikings haven’t been nearly as impressive as their record would indicate, with a point differential (+10) only marginally better than the Raiders (-4), Lions (-9), Browns (-10) and Jaguars (-14), all of whom have losing records. In fact, of the Vikings’ 10 wins this season, only their opening-week victory over the Packers was by more than a touchdown (23-7), suggesting Minnesota’s record is as much a product of luck as talent and execution.
That’s not to say the Vikings are imposters—would a bad team beat Buffalo on the road, weeks after doing the same to Miami (albeit with Teddy Bridgewater filling in for injured starter Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback)? Of course, this isn’t just about the Vikings. The Lions, following a sluggish 1-6 start, are suddenly playing their best football of the season, winning four of their last five including last week’s rout of Jacksonville. And, as alluded to earlier, Detroit’s previous game against the Vikings came down to the wire with Minnesota, powered by Dalvin Cook’s 96 yards on 17 carries, able to erase a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
As a general rule of thumb, homefield advantage is worth about three points in the betting world, which means if Sunday’s contest were at a neutral site, the Vikings would actually be slight favorites (-0.5). Regardless, Sunday’s matchup in Detroit should be a fun watch between two entertaining but flawed teams jockeying for position in a tight NFC playoff race. It will also be a "revenge" game for tight end T.J. Hockenson, who the Vikings acquired from the Lions in a rare intra-division trade earlier this year.