Week 12 NFL Thanksgiving Early Preview: Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| November 21, 2017 12:00 am PST
vikings-vs-lions

NFL football on Thanksgiving is a tradition stretching back nearly a century. And this first Thanksgiving game, in which the Lions host a game in Detroit, has been played all the way back since the 1930s. In the 2017/18 edition, the Lions host their division rival, the Minnesota Vikings.

Not only is this a classic tradition and a heated rivalry, it’s also hugely important for the playoff hunt.

The NFC North has been dominated over the last decade by the Green Bay Packers, who have either won the division or snagged a Wild Card spot for each of the last 10 seasons. But this season, when Vikings’ linebacker Anthony Barr broke Aaron Rodgers’s collarbone on his throwing arm, the division race was broken wide open.

With Rodgers out, the Detroit Lions have a chance to win the NFC North for the first time in 24 years. But it’s the Vikings who lead the race with a record of 8–2.

  • Who: Minnesota Vikings (8–2) vs. Detroit Lions (6–4)
  • Where: Ford Field. Detroit, Michigan
  • When: Thursday, November 23, 2017. 12:30 PM (EST) on FOX

After winning six straight games despite losing their star running back and starting quarterback, the Vikings are hot as a pistol right now. Meanwhile, the Lions have won three straight, and at two games back in the division, they are smack dab in the middle of the Wild Card hunt.

Such an old tradition, with such important implications on a short week? This is what it’s all about.

And below, I’ve got you covered with all the information you need to know in order to make informed gambling decisions about the following bets:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • The total score over/under bet
  • Any prop bets or futures that could hold value

It seems like yesterday that the 2017/18 NFL season kicked off. And yet here we are, three-quarters of the way in, with Thanksgiving football to watch. And I, for one, couldn’t be more thankful!

Vikings vs. Lions Betting

FootballMoneyLine
  • Vikings -150
  • Lions +130

In picking games straight-up for moneyline odds, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the two teams match up holistically in order to assign a mental advantage to one team or another.

In my experience, whichever team is able to limit mental mistakes generally ends up winning the game. But on the other hand, when a team gets behind in the down and distance and their defense gets gassed due to penalties, errant throws, dropped balls, blown coverages, and all the rest, the game spirals out of control and ends in a loss.

In this game, I don’t see home-field advantage contributing significantly to a mental advantage for the Lions.

These two teams know each other so well and have played each other so often that they don’t get rattled easily. Also, the primary mechanism of home-field advantage is crowd noise impacting QB-to-offensive-line communication, and the Vikings have one of the best and most disciplined O-line units in the league right now.

Also, remember that this game is an exact rematch of the early game on Thanksgiving Day last year: The Vikings went into Detroit and lost 16–13.

Both teams were 6–4 going into the game, November 24th of 2016. The Vikings were in freefall, with a ton of offensive line injuries. The Lions were surging based on an identity that included an NFL record eight comeback victories. There was only one turnover in the game, total, and there were no touchdowns scored after the first quarter.

On a short week, in a heated rivalry, I see this game as a similarly close, clean, run-heavy matchup.

Mike Zimmer has his Vikings so well-coached that I don’t see them making many mental mistakes. If you watch the film on Minnesota, they haven’t been making mental errors hardly at all.

Meanwhile, the Lions will be mentally motivated: They beat the Vikings a month-and-a-half ago and with the Panthers, Seahawks, and Falcons all gunning for a Wild Card spot in the NFC, they have to know that this game is very nearly a must-win.

If the Lions win this game, they can coast the rest of the way; They have the easiest remaining schedule of all the NFC playoff contenders, with no games against teams with winning records.

Ultimately though, I think the momentum of a 6-game win streak, excellent coaching, and a rock-solid identity wins over a 3-game win streak, weak coaching, and a hunger to make the playoffs. I’m taking Minnesota.

Pick: Vikings to win

FootballSpread
  • Vikings -3 (-110)
  • Lions +3 (-110)

Now that I’ve made my pick for the Vikings to win because of their coaching advantage on a short week, and the momentum of a 6-game win streak, it’s now time to ask the question of whether they’ll win by more than 3 points.

In picking games against the spread, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s offense matches up against the losing team’s defense.

In my experience, when a team is both able to stay mentally tough enough to win the game and also able to score points on offense, they’ll generally win both straight-up and against the spread. On the other hand, when the losing team is able to generate stops, they’ll often be able to cover against the spread.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the ATS bet is the Vikings’ offense vs. the Lions’ defense.

The biggest surprise for Minnesota’s offense is the fact that they have still been able to move the ball on offense – with great effectiveness – despite having lost their star running back Dalvin Cook and their starting quarterback Sam Bradford. Case Keenum has been solid and just beat his old team 24–7 last week when the Rams came to town.

Believe it or not, Case Keenum is 2nd in the league in total QBR and continues to earn the starting spot despite the fact that Teddy Bridgewater is finally healthy enough to play.

The biggest change for the Vikings’ offense has been the play of their offensive line. Last year, a slew of injuries made the Vikings’ O-line a joke and the constant pressure on Sam Bradford made the Vikings struggle on offense.

This year, the Vikings have a top-5 offensive line in the league. After allowing 38 sacks total last season, the Vikings have allowed only 10 sacks through 10 games.

In addition to health, the play of former Detroit Lion offensive tackle Riley Reiff has also made a significant difference; despite joining the team this season, Reiff was made one of the six team captains in preseason and in response, he may be headed to his first Pro Bowl.

In addition, Adam Thielen is likely the breakout wide receiver of the league. But will it be enough?

The Lions have a scrappy defense and in a divisional game on a short week, I don’t think there’s any chance of blowout. This game is not only on Thursday, but it’s on Thursday at 11:30 AM Detroit time. The players have even less time to prepare their bodies.

I foresee the Lions generating enough stops to keep it close and for Detroit to cover against the spread.

Pick: Vikings to win by less than 3

FootballTotal Score
  • Over 44.5 (-110)
  • Under 44.5 (-110)

Now that I’ve made my pick for the Vikings to grind out a close game but for the Lions to cover against the spread, it’s time to consider the question of whether I expect this game to be generally high- or low-scoring.

When picking games for the total score over/under bet, my philosophy involves taking a look at the way that the winning team’s defense matches up against the losing team’s offense.

In my experience, when the winning team is able to move the ball on offense and generate stops on defense, they’ll generally be able to control the flow and the timing of the game to such a degree that the total score goes under. On the other hand, when the losing team can score points, the game can easily turn into a shootout that pushes the total over.

In this game, the matchup to watch for the total score over/under bet is Minnesota’s D vs. Detroit’s O.

The first thing I need to point out about the Vikings’ defense right now is that they are dealing with some injuries. Cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes were both injured in last week’s home game against the Rams (with an ankle and a calf, respectively), and defensive end Brian Robison and safety Andrew Sendejo both missed last week.

Now, it should be noted that even with these injuries, the Vikings held the league’s highest-scoring offense (averaging 32.9 points per game going into last week) to 7 points.

Nonetheless, these are significant injuries. Everson Griffen – the team’s sack leader, tied for 4th in the league with 10 – is also listed as questionable to appear in this game with a foot injury, but I think that he plays, and not only plays but gets sacks in this game.

The Detroit Lions have struggled to move the ball this season, and their fourth-quarter comebacks from last year seem to have vanished into thin air.

Last season, when the Lions ripped off eight different fourth-quarter comeback victories (an NFL record), I asked a simple question: Why are the Lions behind in the fourth quarter to begin with?

This season, when the well dried up for fourth-quarter comebacks, this question begins to matter. Losing three games already this season by one possession or less, the Lions just don’t seem to have the same type of 4th-quarter firepower they had last year.

Whether due to injuries in the receiving corps or an offensive line unit that has yet to congeal together and play well, the fact of the matter is that Detroit has the 16th-most yards in the league and the 21st-most first downs: they’re just not moving the ball well.

I don’t see the Lions being able to push the over with their offense, and I envision a low-scoring game.

Pick: Lions 16, Vikings 17

FootballProp Bets

Now that I’ve established my overall prediction for the game – that the Vikings win because they have the coaching advantage on a short week and that the defenses make more plays than the offenses – it’s now time to look at some prop bets that will hold value based on this prediction for the game.

Specifically, I advise wagering on the following props:

  • Latavius Murray to go over in rushing yards. The Lions have a banged-up front seven and the Vikings have a top five offensive line in the league. I foresee the Vikings pounding the rock with success and with Murray getting the lion’s share of the carries (no pun intended). Bet on him.
  • Total number of turnovers in the game to go under. Both of these teams take care of the football and given the previous matchups between these two hard-nosed NFC North rivals, I don’t foresee either of these teams giving up turnovers in this one. Take the total to go under.
  • Everson Griffen to go over his posted total for sacks. Griffen is tied for 4th in the league in sacks with 10.0 so far this season and the Lions have a banged-up offensive line. I foresee Griffen getting home early and often on the road and quieting the crowd in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
  • In addition to the live, in-game props listed above, I also recommend wagering on these future bets:

    • The Minnesota Vikings to win the NFC North. With Aaron Rodgers not due to come back until Week 15 at the earliest, the Packers are essentially out of the playoff hunt. And if the Vikings win this game on Thanksgiving, they have a 3-game lead with only 5 games left. Take Minnesota.
    • The Detroit Lions to make the playoffs. Even if the Lions lose this game, they’re only 6–5, and their last five games are against the Ravens, Buccaneers, Bears, Bengals, and Packers, which could easily put them at 10–6 or even 11–5. I like Detroit to get one of the NFC Wild Card spots.
    • Mike Zimmer for Coach of the Year. Not only have the Vikings been able to win despite losing their star running back and their starting quarterback, but their defense is one of the best in the league and has been for a while. This defensive savant has changed the culture of the league.

    Veteran gamblers know that it’s not enough to simply wager on individual games. In addition, you also have to keep an eye out while you’re watching game film for clues that will tip you off for future bets you may want to make down the line. Keep the bets above in mind, and thank me later.

Summary: Best Bets

The NFL on Thanksgiving is an American tradition and the Detroit Lions have hosted the early game since the 1930s. In this game, we get an exact rematch of the game we saw last year, with the Detroit Lions coming to town in a heated NFC North showdown and looking to dethrone the 8–2 Vikings in a hunt for the division title.

I envision this game being very similar to the game we saw last year, in which the Vikings came into Ford Field and won 16–13 and I foresee a very similar result. I think that Mike Zimmer’s team is much more well-coached and that they will make fewer mental mistakes (even on the road) on the super-short week that is an 11:30 AM Thursday (Detroit time) start after playing the previous Sunday.

I think that the defenses in this game will make more plays than the offenses, with both teams struggling to move the ball in the passing game. I like Detroit’s defensive line to continue to surge and stop Minnesota’s run game and I like Everson Griffen and the Vikings’ defense (which just held the high-octane Rams to 7 points) to get to Matthew Stafford and move him off his spot.

In order to profit off of this view of the game, here are my best bets:

  • Vikings -150 moneyline
  • Lions +3 against the spread (-110)
  • The total score to go under 44.5 (-110)
  • Latavius Murray to go over in rushing yards
  • Total number of turnovers in the game to go under
  • Everson Griffen to go over his posted total for sacks

With Aaron Rodgers out with a broken collarbone, and with the NFC Wild Card race starting to heat up between the Panthers, the Seahawks, and the Falcons, this game carries an immense weight for the playoff picture in the NFC. It’s a storied tradition to have NFL action on Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t be more thankful to get to watch this one!

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