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Vikings 2018 win total: 10 (over -120, under EVEN)
Vikings 2017 record: 13-3
Key offseason acquisitions: OG Tom Compton, QB Kirk Cousins, S George Iloka, DT Sheldon Richardson, WR Kendall Wright
Key offseason losses: OG Joe Berger, QB Sam Bradford, QB Teddy Bridgewater, DT Sharrif Floyd, DT Tom Johnson, QB Case Keenum, RB Jerick McKinnon
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Vikings’ win total
1. How much better can Kirk Cousins be this year than Case Keenum was last year? According to the stats, a lot. Keenum was one of the brightest surprises in the league last season, completing 67.6% of his passes for 3,547 yards, 7.37 yards per attempt and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Cousins hit those yardage, YPA and touchdown thresholds in all three of his seasons as the starter in Washington, and twice equaled or bettered Keenum’s 2017 completion percentage. Cousins isn’t Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, and that makes it tempting to say he’s not a significant upgrade over the 2017 version of Keenum. Don’t fall into that trap. He is.
2. The Vikings may have the best defense in the league this side of Jacksonville. They led the NFL in points and yards allowed last year, and every key member of the unit is back. They were second in passing yards allowed, net yards per attempt allowed and rushing yards allowed, including fifth in yards per carry. They strengthened an already-elite secondary by drafting cornerback Mike Hughes in the first round, and signing safety George Iloka earlier this month. Everson Griffen racked up 13 sacks last year, and is one of the league’s premier pass rushers. Just as it was last season, this will be a nightmare matchup for offenses, even great ones.
3. The Vikings are loaded with skill-position talent. I don’t know if Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen comprise the best receiver duo in the league, but I know they’re in the conversation. Dalvin Cook was on his way to a monster rookie season before tearing his ACL in October, but he hasn’t been held back by the injury this summer, beyond the Vikings taking understandable measures to limit his exposure. The Vikings are one of few teams that could realistically produce two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher—and Diggs, Thielen and Cook could all blow past those numbers. Kyle Rudolph is a strong receiver and blocker, and Latavius Murray is one of the better backup running backs in the league.
4. In 2014, Mike Zimmer took over a Vikings team that went 5-10-1 the prior year, and had been to the playoffs once in the previous four seasons. He led that ’14 team to a 7-9 season, beginning the franchise turnaround. In the last three years, the Vikings are 32-16—only the Patriots, Steelers and Chiefs have won more regular season games in that span—with two NFC North titles. Zimmer is one of the league’s best coaches, a fact that cannot be discounted.
5. The NFC North may prove to be the best division in football, though the Vikings are a big reason why. Still, the Packers are an elite team so long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Lions are always steady and the Bears are no longer a pushover. Crossover games with the AFC East mean a trip to New England for the Vikings, but also matchups with the Bills, Jets and Dolphins, all of which feel like layups for a team like this. The Vikings also play the NFC West, visiting the Rams and Seahawks, and hosting the 49ers (Week 1) and Cardinals. The first-place schedule nets the Vikings a road game in Philadelphia and home date with the Saints. It’s a challenging slate, but this team is equipped to handle it. Even with all those tough matchups, the Vikings are early favorites in 11 games.
PICK: OVER 10 wins
Other NFL team betting previews: Bills, Raiders, Cowboys, Texans, Broncos, 49ers, Steelers, Cardinals, Browns, Buccaneers, Bengals, Giants, Saints, Packers, Falcons, Chiefs, Bears, Chargers, Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks