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NFC Wild Card Game — Can Vikings ‘Cook’ Up a Formula For Beating Saints?

The Minnesota Vikings have their work cut out for them on Sunday at the Superdome. Not only are they facing a New Orleans Saints team that is itching to issue some payback to them for the “Minneapolis Miracle” from a couple of years ago, it is also a red-hot squad they have to overcome.

New Orleans has averaged just over 36 points in the last seven games, and as a team that does not turn the ball over (only eight times, a record), they present an obstacle as Minnesota relies a lot on flipping the field with takeaways (30, fourth best in the NFL).

But they got some good news from one of their stars during the week as they prepare to take the field at 1:05 PM ET on Fox Network. A reminder – BetAnySports customers can watch the game and place wagers in real time using that which is available through Sports Betting Ultra.

Dalvin Cook, regarded as one of the better running backs in the league, has rested a shoulder injury for the last couple of games. The first one was a home game against Green Bay that was important to the NFC North title race, and the Vikings totaled only 57 yards in a defeat. And then there was the relatively meaningless season finale, where Mike Boone subbed for him and had 148 yards.

Cook, whose absence last season caused the Vikings to plummet to 30th in the NFL in rushing yards, has announced that he is “good to go,” which we assume means he’ll start and play a considerable number of snaps.

And the prospect of going against a New Orleans defensive front that is missing starters Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport seems appetizing. But what does Cook’s presence truly mean for a Minnesota attack that runs the ball more frequently (on a percentage basis) than any teams other than Baltimore and San Francisco?

We’ll talk about that.

In the NFC Wild Card odds on this game, the Saints are laying more than a touchdown:

New Orleans Saints -7.5
Minnesota Vikings +7.5

Over 49.5 points -110
Under 49.5 points -110

And if you are looking for a better price than -110 to lay on football, check out “reduced juice,” which is available at BetAnySports!

We know for a fact that Mike Zimmer would like to build his offense behind the running game if he is able to. So Cook is central to that. When we look through his game-by-game stats, he see that his best game of the season came against the Packers, against whom he had 154 yards at Lambeau. He’s played 14 games, and in five of them he has exceeded 100 rushing yards. But he has not had a 100-yard game since October 20 against Detroit. And although he has averaged 4.5 yards a carry for the season, he hasn’t come close to reaching four yards a carry in any of his last six games. And in his last three appearances, he has played fewer than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps.

So it would be very doubtful as to whether he could help Minnesota control the game with its ground attack. Maybe the Saints will be wary of him, as maybe they should, and that gives him value as a decoy. After all, they would love to be able to work play-action passes with Kirk Cousins.

There’s another angle here. We’re not sure a lot of people are aware that in terms of yardage, Cook is this team’s second leading receiver, with 519 yards. Naturally the injury issues for Adam Thielen have something to do with it, but the guy has caught 53 passes.

I guess what I’m saying is that this could have the effort of creating more passing situations, and that may, in turn, promote more scoring. Cousins has not done a lot of winning when he plays on this kind of stage, but he’s a pretty good “numbers” guy (69%, 3603 yards, 26-6 ratio). And the Saints found themselves in quite a few shootouts in the second half of the season.

So even though this posted total seems high, it is achievable. And we will hit it.

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