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Thursday Night Football Preview: Vikings at Rams

tnf week 4

Thursday Night Football Preview

Minnesota Vikings at LA Rams -7 | 49.5

Last Week

Well, aside from predicting Tyrod Taylor’s injury and saying that Baker Mayfield would lead the Browns to victory, I pretty much hit this one right on the nose. The Browns won 21-17, compared to my Browns prediction of 21-18. As predicted in the article, the Jets leaned on their steady run game early. Over time, though, the Browns defense proved too formidable for Jets QB Sam Darnold. The rookie promptly folded in the 4th quarter, throwing 2 late interceptions. Not too shabby of a prediction. The line set at Browns -4, unfortunately, I was 0.5 points off there. But hey, I can’t be too mad.

Vikings at Rams

Rams Favored by 7 points | Over/Under 49.5 

After a crazy Week 3, we’ve got a stout NFC battle to start out Week 4. The Vikings will travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. Sean McVay’s squad, fresh off a 12-point victory over their neighboring Chargers, will be 7-point favorites in this affair

The Rams are currently the talk of the NFL, appearing at #1 in many power rankings. After starting 3-0, they’re currently the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl and seem to be clicking on all cylinders. The offense is particularly solid, having scored at least 33 points in all 3 games this year. Los Angeles is paced by one of the game’s greats, Todd Gurley. Through 3 weeks, Gurley has run for 255 yards on 62 carries, adding 121 receiving yards on 11 receptions. With 5 TD already in the young season, Gurley is a threat any time he touches the ball. The Vikings will surely be keyed in on limiting the damage he inflicts on Thursday.

Jared GoffThe Rams have been efficient through the air so far this year as well. Jared Goff’s third season is off to a strong start, as he’s thrown for 941 yards and 6 touchdowns. Goff has been reliable, with a 70% completion percentage, and a 111 QB rating so far this year. The Rams’ receiving corps has certainly been the beneficiary of Goff’s efficiency so far this year. Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp have each snagged at least 15 balls through 3 weeks, with Cooks and Woods totaling 19 apiece. And, let’s not forget Gurley’s 11 catches.

Cooks has had the lion’s share of yards (336), but Woods and Kupp each have two TDs. That’s part of what makes LA’s offense so scary… they have options galore. The Vikings secondary will certainly have their hands full trying to defend all of these receiving options; and if they lose track of one for even a moment, it could cause them 6 points.

On the opposing end, the Vikings have had a roller coaster type of season through 3 games. They sit at 1-1-1, and head to LA with a bad taste in their mouth. Last week, the Bills upset the Vikings in what Vegas saw as one of the largest upsets in NFL Regular Season history. Previously, Minnesota had knocked off the 49ers and battled back to tie the Packers at Lambeau Field. Surely, they’ll need to shake off last week’s atrocity if they hope to compete against this elite Rams squad. Kirk Cousins is manning the wheel for the Vikings after signing one of the most lucrative QB deals in history earlier this offseason.

Like the Vikings, Cousins has been up-and-down so far this year. While games 1 and 3 were pretty solid, Cousins’ Week 2 game in Green Bay was his finest in purple. Cousins threw for 425 yards and 4 touchdowns in the overtime battle, eventually willing his team to a tie. Kirk has been throwing often so far this year, averaging 46 passes per game through Week 3.

Dalvin CookPart of this increased usage is due to the absence of young stud RB Dalvin Cook. Coming off a knee injury in 2017, Cook played in Week 1 before exiting during Week 2’s matchup. He was inactive in Week 3, and at the time of writing this article, Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer noted that there’s a “possibility” he plays this week. With a short week, one would have to assume Cook will be a game-time decision, and even if he does play, he could be limited. Another missed game for Cook could spell trouble for the Vikings, as he’s one of their best weapons. If Cook can’t go, the load will again fall on the shoulders of Latavius Murray. While he’s shown shades of productivity in the past, the Vikings would certainly like to have their RB1 suit up on Thursday night.

In the event that Cook can’t play, the onus will be on Cousins and the Vikings pass-catchers to produce. WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been impressive so far with their new QB. Thielen has already pulled in 32 catches, good for 2nd in the NFL. On those catches, Thielen has produced 338 yards and a TD. On the other side of the field, Stefon Diggs has also produced, with 16 catches for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Rams are expected to be shorthanded in the secondary, with both Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters sustaining significant injuries last week. With a less intimidating matchup than expected, watch for the Vikings WR duo to shine on Thursday night.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph has also been a weapon for Minnesota, adding 13 catches for 131 yards and 2 TD. Rudolph is a huge body, and a huge asset for the Vikings in the Red Zone. Watch for Cousins to look to him as they get closer to the goal line… especially this week, as the Rams have shown weakness at times when covering the opposing TE.

As previously mentioned, the Rams are a bit banged up on the defensive side of the ball. Aqib Talib injured his ankle last week, and Coach Sean McVay said Monday that he’ll likely require surgery. Marcus Peters was also hurt in Week 3’s game, straining his calf. Peters’ injury looked much worse, as many feared he might have injured his Achilles’ tendon. Nonetheless, he’s listed as Questionable for Thursday. Lamarcus Joyner, Sam Shields, and Nickell Robey-Coleman will have to step up in the stars’ absence to keep the Vikings from lighting up the scoreboard.

The Rams’ defense will have to rely on their pass rush to be successful against Minnesota, as their secondary will be weaker than usual. All-Pro Aaron Donald anchors the Rams’ line, where he pairs with Ndamukong Suh to form arguably the NFL’s most elite front. Cory Littleton leads the team with 26 combined tackles, as he and Ramik Wilson will anchor the LA Linebacker corps until Mark Barron returns from injury. Needless to say, the Rams will have to get creative on the defensive side of the ball to hold off Minnesota’s attack.

 

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The Vikings will also be shorthanded on Thursday with the recent concerning actions of Everson Griffen, who is currently battling mental-health related issues. In his place, Danielle Hunter will have to step up his game and pace the Vikings pass rush. His 3.0 sacks so far this season prove how dangerous he is. If he’s able to get to Goff in this game, it would certainly help the Vikings’ cause. Along the line, Hunter will work with Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson to cause disruption. Minnesota’s secondary is strong as well, with the likes of Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes aiming to shut down the Rams’ trio of star receivers. Rhodes is one of the game’s best defensive backs, and has the after-burners to keep up with a speedster like Cooks.

Safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo are two of the best in the League and certainly have the capability to put a cap on the Rams’ high-powered passing attack. I think that secondary play will heavily influence the outcome in this game. Will it be the full-strength Vikings? Or the banged-up Rams?

The Pick

Again, we have two strong teams, each coming into Thursday’s matchup with a different feeling. The Vikings are out for revenge after a lackluster (to say the least) performance, while the Rams are the second coming of the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Short weeks are never easy for teams to handle. I think that the short week of preparation will particularly hurt the Rams’ new starters in the secondary.

I do think that Gurley is the X-Factor here. The absence of Griffen will allow the Rams to get Gurley around the edge. All things considered, I think the Vikings are a good team, and a value bet getting 8 points. While I could see the Vikings pulling an upset, they haven’t shown enough consistency yet to warrant me making that pick straight up.

I’ll take the Rams to win the game 28-23, but the Vikings +7.

Good Luck!

 

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