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On Sunday night, bettors have to decide between a team that should be 5-1, and a team that is actually 5-1.
The story of the Minnesota Vikings' season is what could have been, and that can be taken as a positive or a negative. The Vikings had one decisive win, over the Seattle Seahawks. Their other five games could have gone either way. Minnesota is 3-3 but could be 1-5 or 6-0 if just a few plays were different. They're that team this season.
The Vikings can show they're a lot better than their record, or that they are just another subpar team on Sunday night. They face the Dallas Cowboys and are a fairly light 2-point underdog at BetMGM. That seems light because the Cowboys are 5-1, and whether they're good or bad they never lack support at the betting window. If the Vikings want to be a playoff contender, Sunday night would be a good time to show it.
Dallas' start has been impressive. The Cowboys' offense is going to be impossible to stop. They have high-end talent at every position group. They can run it in games against inferior opponents and pass it when the games get tight. If the Cowboys focused on having two 1,000-yard rushers or a 5,000-yard passer, they could easily do either.
This is a big test for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and his much-improved defense. It'll be hard to slow down the Cowboys but Minnesota will be prepared. They almost beat the Bengals and Cardinals on the road this season, and those are the No. 1 seeds in the AFC and NFC heading into Week 8.
I like the Cowboys -2 (of course, this changes dramatically if Dak Prescott doesn't play through a calf injury), even though the Vikings seem like a popular underdog play. Dallas is the better team and home-field advantage is dying off. And while it would be a massive win for the Vikings, it would be a nice under-the-radar quality win for the Cowboys as well.
Here are the against-the-spread picks for Week 8, with lines from BetMGM:
Packers (+6.5) over Cardinals
Falcons (-3) over Panthers
The Falcons aren't great but are playing better. Matt Ryan has warmed up, and a big part of that is the coaching staff finally using Kyle Pitts. Meanwhile, the Panthers are still without Christian McCaffrey, who is on IR and can't return until Week 9. Which means the offense could struggle again.
Dolphins (+13.5) over Bills
Taking double-digit underdogs this season hasn't worked out yet. It's not a great spot for the Dolphins, coming off yet another loss with the Bills having a week off to think about their loss to the Titans in Week 6. Yet, it's still tough to take favorites giving this many points, no matter the record so far this season. This could be a pick I regret pretty early on Sunday.
49ers (-4) over Bears
One of these fanbases is going to be angry for another week. Both teams are disappointing in their own ways. I haven't yet given up on the 49ers being a good team this season.
Steelers (+3.5) over Browns
We'll see who plays for the Browns this week, but it'll be either Case Keenum or a compromised Baker Mayfield. Not that I trust the Steelers offense much, but their defense should keep the game close.
Lions (+3.5) over Eagles
You always worry about buying into a narrative. But this really does seem like a shot for the Lions to get that win that has eluded them. The Eagles are mediocre in all areas. If the Lions don't win here, it might be a while before they do.
Colts (-1) over Titans
This a great matchup. You can make a good case for either team, but the tiebreaker to me is urgency. If the Colts lose, they'll trail the Titans by three games in the AFC South and Tennessee will have the tiebreaker. The Colts need to win.
Bengals (-10.5) over Jets
The line keeps moving up, and it makes sense. How many points can we really expect from a Mike White-led Jets offense? It would seem 14 could be the high mark. And we know the Bengals can score.
Rams (-14.5) over Texans
Texans coach David Culley said quarterback Davis Mills will get most of the reps in practice this week, even though Tyrod Taylor has been designated to return off injured reserve. Either way the plan is bad: Taylor starting after weeks off without much practice, or Mills starting again.
Patriots (+6) over Chargers
I've gone back and forth on this game since discussing all of this week's lines with Scott Pianowski on our weekly betting podcast. I don't have a lot of confidence in the pick, but maybe the Patriots can run the ball and throw some things at Justin Herbert to keep it close.
Seahawks (-3.5) over Jaguars
Seattle isn't good. It's clear now how valuable Russell Wilson is. But if you're taking a 3.5-point underdog, you better believe they can win. And I don't believe the Jaguars can win this one.
Broncos (-3) over Washington
Where to even start with this one. Both teams are fading fast. There's not much to like with the Washington Football Team and it seems like the Broncos might consider a coaching change with a loss on Sunday. I'm only picking the Broncos because I have to choose one of the two sides. A reminder: You don't have to bet every game on the board.
Buccaneers (-5.5) over Saints
There won't be many "up" games for the Bucs. They're the clear division favorites and have shown last year's Super Bowl was no fluke. They're mostly in cruise control until the playoffs. But they might get up for this one. The major blemish on the Bucs' record last season was a regular-season sweep against the Saints. Maybe the Bucs got their revenge in the payoffs and that allowed them to move on emotionally, but I think they'll have some extra juice for this one. Also, the Saints aren't good on offense.
Giants (+10) over Chiefs
It's not like I love the Giants, but how can you take the Chiefs as a double-digit favorite after what we've seen this season? The Giants can score at times. The Giants won't be a comfortable side to be on but at this point, neither would the Chiefs.
Last week: 6-7
Season to date: 56-50-1