We are 9-2 (.818) so far to start the season. Each week Matt Midlikowski will break down a combination of three games from the weekend NFL and NCAA Football line spreads. There will be a featured game, with a more thorough breakdown, followed by two additional games with brief nuggets. Get the goods on which lines to play, whether it be the points or the over/under, or both.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-3) o/u 44
Sunday, September 15th, 1:00p ET – Lambeau Field [FOX]
The Packers and Vikings rivalry has been hotly contested for decades, but things really came to a boil when former Packer Brett Favre decided to finish his career in Minnesota. Things have cooled some since those days, but there is still plenty of seething anger among the respective fan bases when these teams square off. Vikings LB Anthony Barr sent Aaron Rodgers to the sideline with a broken collarbone in 2017 to renew some hostilities, and both teams are perennially in each others way when it comes to making the playoffs. Minnesota heads to Lambeau this Sunday to once again exchange pleasantries, with both teams off to a 1-0 start. The winner gets an early leg up in the NFC North race, while the loser will have to wait until Week 16 for a chance to even the score.
The Vikings were efficient in dispatching the Falcons last week, and they partied like it was 1979, racking up 38 rushing attempts against ten passes. Dalvin Cook led the way with 111 yards and a score, but rookie Alexander Mattison looked good as well, posting a 5.4 yards per carry on nine rushes. Even Kirk Cousins got in on the ground game with a one-yard scoring run, and the final didn’t really tell how dominant Minnesota was, as they entered the fourth quarter leading 28-0 before allowing two late scores. Cousins only attempted three passes after halftime, but there was still a little sizzle in the air-attack with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each seeing a 25-yard reception. Minnesota converted on 50% of third downs, and allowed just one sack last week.
With that offensive game-script, it should be no surprise that the Vikings D did much of the heavy lifting last Sunday. Minnesota held Atlanta to just 25% on third-downs and rattled Matt Ryan with four sacks and two interceptions. Safety Anthony Harris snagged both picks, but the entire secondary chipped in to defend eight passes, and the front seven held the Falcons running backs to 2.8 yards per carry.
The task gets tougher this week, away from home, against Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown just six interceptions in 21 career games against the Vikings. Rodgers is 12-8-1 in those contests, with Minnesota winning each of the last four. The Vikings are 5-2 against the spread in the last seven against the Packers.
Green Bay Capsule
We were all excited for the regular season opener, but that Green Bay versus Chicago game was nearly enough to put you to sleep last Thursday. Neither offense could get anything going, but the Packers were able to sneak out with a 10-3 win and can at least take positives away from the defensive side.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith were added in free agency to improve the Packers pass rush, and each paid immediate dividends with 2.5 combined sacks. Safety Adrian Amos was also a free agent signing, and his GB debut featured the game-sealing interception in the end-zone. Green Bay held Chicago to 2-of-12 on third down, while racking up five sacks to round out a rather complete defensive effort.
The offense was understandably out of rhythm, considering the number-ones saw zero snaps together during preseason. Chicago’s tough defense contributed to the modest production as well, but Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 47-yard pass, and found Jimmy Graham for his lone touchdown pass to provide just enough for the win. The tight end was a forgotten position under former coach Mike McCarthy, but Matt LaFleur’s is clearly different with Graham, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan all logging at least on catch on nine total tight end targets. That proved somewhat critical as Chicago was able to limit Davante Adams to 36 yards on four catches. Minnesota has the secondary to possibly hold Adams down again, so those secondary targets will need to be utilized. Aaron Jones fell a bit flat in his first game as a feature back, but he should see a bit more room than Chicago allowed. Valdes-Scantling is dealing with a lower body injury and could miss the game. Return specialist Trevor Davis caught his lone target for 28 yards after MVS exited, and would see more snaps if a fill-in is needed.
With each team putting in top-notch defensive efforts in Week One, the under has been getting hammered, but I think that is a little too much overreaction and I am getting my money in on the over now that is has been bet down to 44 points from an open of 46.
Minnesota chose not to pass last week, but it is not as if they can’t move the ball through the air. Cook provides an above average receiving threat out of the backfield, and I doubt TE Kyle Rudolph goes without a catch again.
Green Bay played Thursday Night and I expect them to be much sharper with the benefit of a few extra days on the practice field. Rodgers has a career 109.7 passer rating against the Vikings. The Packers have hit at least 23 points in 11 of the last 13 games against Minnesota at Lambeau.
Considering the point spread, it is noteworthy that Minnesota is getting 54% of the bets. Green Bay is one of the squarest bets on the board in any given week, so even the public money is trending heavily toward the Vikings. I mentioned that Minnesota is 5-2 ATS in the last seven against Green Bay, but the Vikings are 3-7 ATS in the last ten at Lambeau. The home team is 5-1 ATS in the last six between the teams, and the token three doesn’t feel like too much for a Green Bay team that will be hearing it from a fired up crowd. Pick: Give me #12 to pull out a 27-23 Green Bay win and play the over.
Two More, To Be Sure
Condensed, boiled down, and compact. In a nutshell, The Betting Brief takes a look at a handful of games and breaks them down using the most relevant macro stats and storylines.
Northern Illinois Huskies at Nebraska Cornhuskers (-14) o/u 54.5)
Saturday, September 14th, 8:00pm ET – Memorial Stadium [FS1]
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Nebraska as they entered Scott Frost’s second year, but the results have not been there on the field as of yet. The Huskers needed defensive scores to pull out a win against South Alabama in the opener, and lost to Colorado in overtime after leading 17-0 in the first half. The offense has been suspect with Nebraska gaining just 276 total yards and 15 first downs against USA. That improved to 469 yards last week, but they are averaging just over three yards per rush, and have committed seven fumbles so far. Adrian Martinez had preseason Heisman hype, but has just two passing touchdowns, and an under-performing offensive line has gotten him sacked eight times through two weeks. That sputtering offense has them on the wrong side of the time of possession battle (27:36), and has led to a gassed defense allowing 303 passing yards per game. The Huskers are 0-2 against the spread after two games.
Northern Illinois is a pesky, upperclassman-led team, that is no stranger to Big Ten opposition, and they have ran up a 16-5 ATS mark in the last 21 games against that conference. The Huskies beat Nebraska in Lincoln in 2017, winning 21-17 as a 10.5-point underdog. Senior QB Ross Bowers is a Cal transfer that has thrown for 528 yards through two weeks, and NIU enters as the 46th ranked pass offense in the land. Junior WR Tyrice Richie averaged 16 yards per catch at the JUCO level last year and he leads the Huskies with 144 receiving yards and two scores. Spencer Tears has caught 40 balls in each of the last two seasons to give Bowers another option on the outside, and NIU tight ends have combined for 191 receiving yards. The Huskies defense has allowed just 24% conversions on third down, and everyone will be available with no injuries listed ahead of Saturday. Northern Illinois is 2-0 against the spread after an 18-point loss at Utah as a 23-point dog.
I’m going to make Nebraska prove they are capable of more than just talk before I go their way. NIU is strong on offense where Nebraska has been weak, so they get enough points on the board to get another ATS win. Nebraska 31 – Northern Illinois 20.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans (-3) o/u 44
Sunday, September 15th, 1:00pm ET – Nissan Stadium [CBS]
No team was happier to see Andrew Luck retire than the Titans. Luck went 11-0 against Tennessee in his career, and the Colts won eight of those eleven against the spread, including both games in 2018. With Luck out in 2017, Tennessee won both games straight up and got the ATS win as well, and that feels relevant as Jacoby Brissett was the QB for both of those games. The favorite is 5-0 against the spread in the last five between the teams.
Tennessee was quietly impressive as they downed the buzzy Browns by a 43-13 margin. Cameron Wake led the defense with 2.5 sacks as part of a five total sack effort, and the Titans picked Baker Mayfield off on three occasions. Marcus Mariota had three TD passes, one to Derrick Henry who hit 150 total yards with two scores, and Delanie Walker also scored twice. The offense was efficient as they needed just 56 snaps to score 34 points, and they should see similar success against an Indy D that allowed 435 yards to the Chargers.
Indianapolis nearly pulled off the upset against San Diego behind Marlon Mack‘s 174 rushing yards, but came up short in overtime. Brissett threw two touchdowns, but threw for just 190 yards on 21 completions to give the Colts pass game a dink-and-dunk look. Devin Funchess was second on the team in targets, but he will miss the remainder of the season with a broken clavicle, further limiting the pass game. Justin Houston recorded a sack after notching 18 sacks in his last two years with the Chiefs, but the Colts defense gave up 25 first downs, allowing conversions on 7-of-11 third downs.
I feel like Indy played up with an “us against the world” mentality last week, but that is hard to carry over long periods of time, and Tennessee only has to cover the customary three points as the home team. The Titans have only lost six of the last twenty against the spread at Nissan Stadium, and are 7-3 ATS in the last ten against division opponents.
I’m taking Tennessee to cover the three with a 24-16 win.