Minnesota’s against-the-spread run has been semi-historic and largely ignored

Quarterback Sam Bradford (8) and his Minnesota mates haven’t convinced bettors to back the Vikings in bulk.
Photo: Andy Clayton-King/AP

The Minnesota Vikings picked up a momentous victory Sunday night, opening U.S. Bank Stadium with a 17-14 victory over hated rival Green Bay. In Las Vegas sports books, the win bordered on the historic, where the Vikings are on the best against-the-spread run we’ve seen in a decade. Minnesota has now covered in 16 of its past 19 games (including one in the playoffs) dating back to the start of the 2015 season, when its 14-3 record versus the number was the most profitable by a team since the 2004 San Diego Chargers.

One more successful cover—Minnesota’s a 7-point underdog at Carolina in Week 3—and the Vikings will match the ’07 Patriots and ’11 49ers with an eight-game winning streak against the spread. Those types of stretches typically become things of legend to bettors, and horror to bookmakers. But the Vikings’ reign atop the betting world hasn’t been either. Gamblers haven’t hitched their bankrolls to Minnesota in the way they did to their spread-smashing predecessors.

Eighty-four percent of the tickets printed by William Hill US (which operates a majority of Nevada’s sports books) on last week’s Sunday Night Football game were on the Packers minus-1.5 over the Vikings. Even in Week 1, Minnesota drew only 52 percent of the bets as 2.5-point favorites ahead of a 25-16 victory at Tennessee. The figures weren’t much different game by game last year when the Vikings snapped the Packers’ streak of four straight division titles. But Minnesota’s relative lack of support isn’t that surprising when you consider the makeup of its roster.

The aforementioned Patriots team had Tom Brady directing a record-breaking offense during an undefeated regular season. The 49ers’ defense of five years ago was almost as transcendent in Jim Harbaugh’s first year coaching in the NFL. Minnesota does have Adrian Peterson, widely considered the league’s best running back, but he’s been somewhat pedestrian recently by his lofty standards. Peterson’s 4.3 yards per carry since the start of last season is more than a half-yard below his career average, and outside the NFL’s top 15 rushing averages in that span.

An even bigger difference between Minnesota and past teams that cashed at such a high clip is the way the Vikings have been winning. Where the ’04 Chargers, ’07 Patriots and ’11 49ers all outscored opponents by more than eight points per game, the Vikings’ average margin of victory last year was less than four. And in two games this year, the Vikings have only outgained their opponents by a combined six yards.

Those subdued statistics have kept professional bettors from backing them in bulk, and makes Minnesota’s 2-0 start seem like an anomaly, though the Vikings overcame similar negative indicators last season, too. Some of the NFL coaches with the best against-the-spread results—Harbaugh and New England’s Bill Belichick included—have covered at a rate statistics can’t fully explain.

There’s nearly a big enough sample size now to merit adding Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer to the list. He has his work cut out for him going forward, with Peterson—out with a torn meniscus—joining No. 1 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on the team’s injury list. Still, if the past year has taught gamblers anything, it’s that there’s no value in betting against the Vikings.

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