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Christmas day brings the start of Week 16 action, as the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints face off in the Big Easy. The 6-8 Vikings are coming off of a crushing home loss to the Bears, all but ending their playoff chances, while the 10-4 Saints need a win to stay alive for the one-seed after back-to-back losses.
Here is a closer look at both teams, complete with a free pick. Right now, New Orleans is opening up as a seven-point favorite.
Just when it looked like things were turning around for the Vikings after a 1-5 start, reality set in. Minnesota has dropped their last two games to the Buccaneers and Bears, two teams directly ahead of them in the Wild Card race, to fall further out of contention. A win against New Orleans on Friday would preserve some hope, but not a lot.
The Vikings have weapons on offense. Running back Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and quarterback Kirk Cousins lead an offense that averages 402.6 yards per game, fourth in football. However, an uneven passing game has them ranked 14th in points per game with 25.7
Defensively, Minnesota is giving up close to 28 points per game, ranking 25th, while sitting 22nd with just under 387 yards allowed. They also have just 22 sacks as a team, the seventh-fewest in the NFL, to go along with 12 interceptions. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue had five sacks in five games with Minnesota before being traded to Baltimore before Week 6. Ngakoue still leads the Vikings defense in sacks; the next closest player is Ifeadi Odenigbo with 3.5.
At 10-2, the Saints were in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but that changed in a hurry. After back-to-back losses, they are tied with the Seahawks for the No. 2 seed, holding the tiebreaker of win percentage in conference games. New Orleans will need to respond and win this game if they hope to clinch home-field advantage and a first-round bye.
With quarterback Drew Brees back in action and star running back Alvin Kamara at his side, New Orleans is averaging 28.4 points per game this season, ninth in the NFL. They're also averaging just over 376 yards, 17th in the NFL, thanks to a passing game that has fallen outside the Top 20 in Brees' absence.
However, the Saints have excelled defensively, giving up just 21.2 points per game and the second-fewest yards per game with 324. They're also among a select few teams with 40 or more sacks and boast a solid 13 interceptions as a team.
Starting with the visitors, the Vikings are 6-8 both overall and ATS, but a decent 4-2 ATS on the road. However, Minnesota has failed to cover in each of their last five games. But they've played well against New Orleans, going 6-1 ATS in their previous seven games at the Superdome and 8-4 ATS in their last 12 against the Saints overall.
New Orleans boasts a 7-6-1 mark ATS despite a 10-4 overall record and is just 3-3-1 ATS at home. But unlike Minnesota, New Orleans is 5-1-1 ATS in their lasts seven games and 4-1-1 in their last six games in December.
In previous seasons, we have seen the Vikings play up to the Saints' level, including last season the NFC Wild Card round. But a shaky offensive line will allow New Orleans to impose their will throughout the game. Look for the Saints to win this game big after back-to-back weeks with a loss, capping off their Christmas with a win, while the Vikings return home with nothing but coal in their stockings.
Betting Pick: New Orleans Saints (-7).