Both the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings are “tweeners” entering the 2019 season. Neither is currently seen as the same class as NFC favorites New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams. But both are rated clear playoff threats, a cut above the rest of the parity-racked NFL.
With those two pairing off in prime time Sunday (FOX, 8 p.m. ET), handicappers would be well served to review what kept both out of the championship chase last season.
What will jump out first is a poor record vs. top competition. Minnesota failed to make the playoffs, and went 0-6 straight up against teams who did. Not a single litmus test victory. Seattle earned a wildcard, but lost in the postseason at Dallas. The Seahawks went 2-4 straight up in the regular season vs. playoff qualifiers. That’s a combined 2-11 overall vs. playoff teams.
Outside of those challenges, both played soft schedules. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings at USA Today show Seattle playing the #25 ranked schedule (out of 32 teams), Minnesota just behind at #26.
To this point, both teams look more like pretenders than contenders.
A big difference between the two was the turnover department. Seattle led the NFL with a plus 15 differential. That was keyed by a league-fewest 11 giveaways. Russell Wilson’s offense should be able to continue avoiding high impact miscues. But differential is a fickle category that’s hard to dominate two years in a row.
Minnesota was dead even. Turnovers have a way of following quarterback Kirk Cousins around, but the Vikings do have an elite defense. Poor opposing offenses have little hope of putting up points on the purple people eaters.
Entering 2019, betting markets are slightly more bullish on Minnesota according to these odds from William Hill:
Minnesota sits at 9, with the Over juiced to -125 (risk $125 to win $100 that the Vikings will clear their hurdle). Seattle is 8.5, but with higher vig at -140. Both trail the Rams and Saints (10.5 with Under juice) and Philadelphia (10).
Odds to win the NFC
Minnesota is 10/1 (9% percentage equivalent), while Seattle is 12/1 (8%). Remember that sports books build a universe larger than 100% to create a house edge. The NFC race could get very exciting with these two plus Chicago (whose brutal schedule we discussed Friday), Green Bay, and Dallas all hoping to chase down the Rams, Saints, and Eagles.
Odds to win the Super Bowl
You can commonly double conference futures prices to get Super Bowl odds. The championship game is seen as a 50/50 math prospect this far in advance. Unsurprisingly, Minnesota is 20/1 (5%), Seattle 25/1 (4%).
Handicappers should plan to evaluate these September litmus tests: Seattle at Pittsburgh (9/15), Minnesota at Green Bay (9/15), New Orleans at Seattle (9/22), Minnesota at Chicago (9/29).
Today’s tweeners won’t be “playoff caliber” until they win more often vs. other playoff contenders.