Some will say it’s tough to trust Kirk Cousins. The truth is it’s impossible to trust the Minnesota Vikings’ quirky quarterback. But this is gambling, and we take chances.
The Vikings’ fate against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday is not riding entirely on Cousins. Minnesota boasts one of the NFL’s top five defenses, Dalvin Cook is the league’s second-leading rusher with 542 yards and coach Mike Zimmer has an excellent track record in these type of games. Zimmer, to be exact, is 18-3 against the spread as a non-division home favorite.
Even if the Eagles’ defensive front stuffs the run, which will be their focus, Cousins does have big-play wideouts capable of stretching the field in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. With a lot of pressure on him to produce last week against the New York Giants, Cousins was much improved while completing 22 of 27 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
When fully healthy, the Philadelphia offense will be explosive, but wideout DeSean Jackson is still missing in action and quarterback Carson Wentz misses him. Eventually, I believe the Eagles will prove to be the top team in the NFC, but they are not there yet.
With this line pinballing from 3 to 3½, lay the field goal with the Vikings and bet on Wentz feeling the purple haze from Minnesota’s attacking defense.
Four more picks for Week 6 (home team in CAPS):
* Bengals (plus-11) over RAVENS:
Good luck trying to make a convincing case for Cincinnati, which is 0-5 and has not impressed since the first half at Seattle in Week 1. But the Bengals tend to show up in this AFC North rivalry, covering three in a row with two outright wins. Baltimore is 1-6-1 ATS in its past eight home games. Lamar Jackson might be shaky enough to let this double-digit ‘dog hang around and stay within the number. (That’s not a convincing case, but this is contest pick and not a bet.)
* Panthers (-2) over Buccaneers:
This play is mostly about division revenge and a different quarterback. Cam Newton went 25-for-51 in Week 2, when Carolina was a 6½-point home favorite in a 20-14 loss to Tampa Bay. Newton is no longer Superman for the Panthers, who now roll with running back Christian McCaffrey. In the first meeting, he was limited to 53 total yards. McCaffrey averages 173.2 yards per game (117.4 rushing, 55.8 receiving) and the Bucs will not shut him down again. Carolina is 3-0 straight up and ATS when starting Kyle Allen, whose 107.4 passer rating ranks No. 4 in the NFL. The Bucs have traveled from Los Angeles to New Orleans to London in the past three weeks. Betting this game is the only good reason to wake up at 6:30 a.m. to watch it.
* JAGUARS (-2½) over Saints:
A sub-.500 AFC South team with a rookie quarterback is laying points to the team most books currently favor to win the NFC? The pros and Average Joes seem to be going head to head, with Jacksonville being the sharp side. The line opened New Orleans -1 at some spots and has moved as high as Jaguars -3, so this play is far less attractive at this point. Leonard Fournette is the AFC’s top rusher with 512 yards, and DJ Chark is the AFC’s top receiver with 485 yards and five touchdowns. The Jaguars are 3-1 ATS in starts made by rookie Gardner Minshew, who has nine touchdown passes with one interception. The Saints are off a tough stretch against four NFC opponents (Rams, Seahawks, Cowboys and Buccaneers) with a trip to Chicago on deck.
Even with Drew Brees out, the Saints continue to roll. The New Orleans defense has been tough against the run, and Teddy Bridgewater just had his breakout game by passing for 314 yards and four touchdowns against Tampa Bay. After back-to-back home wins, expect some regression on the road from Bridgewater. On top of that, running back Alvin Kamara is hobbled by a bad ankle.
* Falcons (-2½) over CARDINALS:
Forget the stats and trends, which are negative for both teams. Atlanta is the more desperate team with a coach in big trouble, so it’s time for Matt Ryan to step up. Ryan ranks third in the league in completion percentage (70.3), but he has also completed seven passes to opposing defenders. While Ryan has pick problems, Arizona rookie Kyler Murray has been sacked 21 times. It should be profitable to fade the Cardinals, who are led by a college coach out of his league and a little QB unprepared for this level. (Again, this is a contest pick, not a real bet, because I would only wager counterfeit cash on this game.)
Last week: 3-2 against the spread