Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Are the Seahawks Too Big of a Favorite Versus the Vikings?
In a Sunday night matchup that should feature plenty of offensive fireworks, the 1-3 Minnesota Vikings face the 4-0 Seattle Seahawks. Our projections see a closer matchup than the public does, setting up some interesting betting angles.
The Seahawks are favored by 7.0 points on FanDuel Sportsbook, and that number doesn't appear to be budging as it is a consistent number across nearly all books. Despite the full touchdown cushion, 70% of both the bets and money are coming in on Seattle, per oddsFire, making them the consensus favorite in this matchup. Even the moneyline is getting heavy action on Seattle. At -331, they are drawing 63% of the bets and 65% of the money. You would think there would be a little more interest in Minnesota at +265 in what is a crucial game for their season. After opening at 57.5, the total currently sits at 56.5, with 61% of the bets and 56% of the money siding with the over.
Most bettors think the 'Hawks will run away with this one and win big, but like I mentioned, our projections see this as a closer battle. Let's see where we can gain some edges over the crowd.
Passing Game Preview
Despite the dirt that we piled on Kirk Cousins after his disastrous Week 2 performance against what turned out to be a good Indianapolis Colts defense, the Vikings' passing game has been very efficient -- albeit low in volume.
Minnesota's passing game ranks 10th in the league with 0.23 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, and this week they will likely be forced to rely on their aerial attack. It's been more about big-play ability than consistency, however, as Cousins ranks 29th in Passing Success Rate among all quarterbacks with 40 or more drop backs. Fortunately, he's been developing a big-play threat over the past few weeks.
Justin Jefferson's 1.46 Reception NEP per target ranks second in the NFL among all pass-catchers with double-digit targets, trailing only the now-injured Allen Lazard. Jefferson's snap rate has increased into the 75% range in each of the past two games, and Jefferson has taken advantage of his opportunity, turning 14 combined targets into 11 receptions for 278 yards and a touchdown.
Cousins needed someone to step up, too, as outside of Adam Thielen and his 0.82 Reception NEP per target on 31 chances in the passing game, there is virtually nobody else to count on. Dalvin Cook has actually been the third-most targeted pass-catcher in Minnesota, but that usage is down a bit from last year, and he has produced only 0.04 Reception NEP per target on those chances.
The rest of the offense has seen eight targets or fewer on the season and remains afterthoughts in a run-first offense. Against defenses that can lock down the Vikings' top two options, this unit will struggle.
The Seahawks' pass-defense has been much maligned, and for good reason, as they rank 30th in the league with 0.29 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. They will be without safety Jamal Adams for another week, and cornerback Quinton Dunbar is questionable after missing the last two weeks with a knee injury. This Seattle defense has been gashed through the air in 2020, so it will be interesting to see if the Vikings favor the pass from the start. Minnesota is one of just six teams with more runs than passes on the year, and they are the only team of that group with a losing record.
Russell Wilson is great, and the numbers back that up, as the Seahawks possess the fourth-best passing offense in the league, producing 0.30 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back. The fact that he's added in 0.36 Rushing NEP per carry on 13 attempts is just an added bonus, and he has total command of the league's fourth-best overall offense. Wilson's Passing Success Rate of 58.8% ranks first in the league among signal callers with more than 20 drop backs.
This Seahawks passing game relies heavily on two star receivers in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf, and our numbers show Metcalf in particular as a force to be reckoned with. With 1.24 Reception NEP per target on 28 opportunities, Metcalf is already among the league's best in just his second year. And unlike Minnesota, who has had virtually zero production outside of their top-two wide receivers, this Seattle offense has found success in other places.
David Moore has caught 10 of 11 targets and produced a team-leading 1.38 Reception NEP per target. He may see just three or four targets in most games, but he makes them count. Tight end Greg Olsen has certainly seen his ups and downs, but with 0.74 Reception NEP per target on 18 targets, he has produced when called upon, catching at least four passes in three of four games. Even Chris Carson has recorded a healthy 0.65 Reception NEP per target, a stark contrast to the 0.04 number of the aforementioned Cook.
Wilson is finding success in virtually every spot of the offense, a great sign for the sustainability of this passing game moving forward.
Despite the perception the public has of this Vikings pass defense, our numbers are actually complimentary of their performance thus far. Allowing 0.12 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, the Vikings have looked better since giving up 364 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. Even Ryan Tannehill's 310 yards passing in Week 3 took him 37 attempts to accomplish.
While I don't expect this defense to be able to contain Wilson, who is playing at an otherworldly level right now, this may not be the gimme matchup the public likely perceives it as. Seattle may actually find a huge opportunity awaiting them on the ground this week.
Rushing Game Preview
We know that Minnesota wants to pound the ball with Cook, and while we would prefer to see teams pass more often in general, at least the Vikings are good at running the ball. Minnesota ranks as the seventh-best rushing offense in the league even without a dual-threat quarterback inflating the numbers, grinding out 0.14 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry in 2020.
Cook leads the attack, registering an impressive 0.26 Rushing NEP per carry, the best mark of any running back with more than 30 carries. Only Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, and Joe Mixon have more carries on the year than Cook, and none can even come close to matching Cook's efficiency, as Henry's 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry leads that group. Cook has looked explosive and powerful, and there's little doubt that the Vikings will try to get him rolling early in this one.
Seattle actually has the fifth-best rushing defense so far, allowing -0.05 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry through four games. While their passing defense has been a sieve and Wilson has piled up points on offense, opponents have just not needed to run the ball, so this week will be an interesting test. This defense did hold Ezekiel Elliott to just 34 yards on 14 attempts, however, and limited the New England Patriots as a whole to just 67 rushing yards, so maybe this run D is legit. The Vikings will look to find out the truth early on in Week 5.
The Seahawks rank as the 18th-best rushing offense this year with 0.08 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, as the passing game has shouldered the load. But this week's matchup should draw our attention, and Chris Carson will likely be the primary beneficiary.
Carson recovered from what appeared to be a scary knee injury in Week 3 to play last week, and he appeared healthy with 16 carries for 80 yards and 3 receptions for 20 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Carson has recorded 0.12 Rushing NEP per carry, and he has been the clear leader among Seattle's running backs, as Carlos Hyde, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer have all produced negative numbers as backups. Hyde missed last week and has still been limited to non-contact work, so Carson sets up well for a big Week 5 performance.
While we may have thought Minnesota's pass defense was the culprit behind their struggles, it turns out that their rush defense is the primary concern. The Vikings enter Week 5 with the 28th-ranked run defense, allowing 0.17 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. Last week against the Houston Texans' 27th-ranked rushing offense was the first time that the Vikings held their opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards, giving up 96 yards rushing. If Seattle gets the ground game rolling in addition to the passing game, this could be another long week for a Vikings defense that ranks in the middle of the pack overall.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the underdog has covered in 6 of 10 instances while the favorite has won outright 6 of 10 times. With the under hitting in 6 of the 10 historical comparisons, we probably don't have a strong enough trend to take action on. These trends, however, may be enough to show that Seattle isn't a runaway favorite to cover a big spread like the public believes, and that Minnesota on the moneyline looks a little more appealing when we know that the underdog has won in 4 of 10 matchups.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Seahawks a 61.1% chance of winning this game outright, putting the Vikings side of things clearly on our betting radar. We project a 17% return on investment (ROI) in taking the Vikings +7, but it gets better from there. Minnesota +265 projects as a 42% ROI, while the under on 56.5 total points projects to return 48% on your investment. With the public clearly seeing the Vikings differently than our numbers do, this is an opportunity to take advantage of some betting value.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, there are some interesting single-game parlays to look at on Sunday night. Let's start by attacking the misconception that the Vikings' pass defense is the weak spot. Russell Wilson under 310.5 passing yards, coupled with Chris Carson to score a touchdown (-145) pays off a healthy +223. Our numbers like both of these bets as a standalone bet, too, as we project Wilson at 281 passing yards and give Carson a 66% chance at a touchdown, but parlaying them together matches with a game script where Seattle exploits this Vikings run defense.
On the Vikings side, you could try beefing up that Vikings moneyline even more but parlaying them to win straight up (+265) with the over on Dalvin Cook's rushing yards (74.5), giving you a healthy +341 payout. It would be surprising if Cook didn't have a big day in a Minnesota win, so putting those two together makes a lot of sense.