'MNF' matchup looks even (but it isn't)

Monday night’s likely thriller matching the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks (8:20 p.m., ESPN) appears at first glance to be a matchup of even teams. 

Both are in great shape to make the playoffs. Betting markets are likely to close near Seattle -3. That’s the standard value for home-field advantage, though some would argue it’s worth more at that site. Is there a way to separate the two when handicapping this game or futures odds?

Some important indicators are suggesting Seattle is the superior team.

— VSiN often encourages you to incorporate strength of schedule into your analysis. Seattle has a 9-2 record against a schedule that ranked No. 5 in difficulty entering Week 13, according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings (published by USA Today). Minnesota is 8-3 against the No. 29 schedule.

Minnesota may ultimately win the NFC North, while Seattle may be stuck as a wild card behind San Francisco in the NFC West. Final schedules could suggest that Seattle’s accomplishment was more impressive in context.

— Road play is often a great indicator for playoff performance. Pretenders can hide behind gaudy home records vs. lesser lights before getting exposed by quality. Teams that win on the road have proved they can deal with a variety of challenges.

Seattle is 6-0 straight up, 5-1 against the spread away from home this season. That’s fantastic! Minnesota is 3-3 straight up and ATS. Respectable but less impressive. 

— Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has a playmaking knack for pulling games out of the fire. Historically, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins had a mistake-making knack for setting games on fire. Late in a close game, whom would you want trying to win your bet? 

Cousins is probably the linchpin player in this comparison. He’s doing a better job of avoiding interceptions this season. While Wilson’s TD/INT ratio is a stellar 24/3, Cousins isn’t far behind at 21/3. Minnesota is a legitimate championship threat if Cousins keeps that up. Few bettors, sharp or otherwise, expect that to happen. 

Why haven’t betting markets responded to those indicators in this matchup? 

First, Minnesota is coming off a bye week. That gets a lot of respect in the second half of a season. Seattle earned a physical win Nov. 24 at Philadelphia. Minnesota rested comfortably while watching on TV. 

Second, Seattle’s home-field mojo may have fallen into Puget Sound. The fabled 12th man is hollering for a life preserver. Seattle is a shocking 1-4 against the spread at home this season, and the cover needed overtime to get there as a favorite vs. Tampa Bay. 

Even if you don’t believe in mojo or fables, NFL teams are doing a better job dealing with crowd noise thanks to silent counts and hand signals. Minnesota had extra time to prepare. 

The Vikings can improve their road record and will improve their strength of schedule Monday night. Can Cousins establish equality with Wilson? Your answer is your bet. 

 

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