The regular season schedule poses a unique set of challenges for every NFL team. They might all play the same amount of games, but it would be impossible to make the schedule entirely fair. It's one reason the league has successfully turned its schedule release into a broadcast event. It gives the football world something to sink its teeth into during the dog days of May.
Fans float conspiracy theories on whether or not the league office is plotting against their favorite franchise, while bettors calculate ways to leverage the information into future wagers. It's a win-win for everyone.
However, understanding the dynamics of each team's schedule should not be understated. Prime-time games, weekly rest days, travel and placement of the bye weeks all hold significance as teams and coaches react differently as they navigate the forced nuance.
Last week, the Saints and Vikings traveled overseas to London. Kirk Cousins' sleep schedule was a constant topic throughout the week, as Vikings backers hoped to cash in on a perceived edge based on the early start time. I had my money on the Saints looking to fade Kevin O'Connell, a first-time head coach, handling such an atypical travel schedule. The game was a sweat for both sides, but ultimately the Vikings won the game while New Orleans covered the 3.5-point spread.
Regardless of the outcome, it illustrates the importance of weighing team travel into your process. But, the London handicap doesn't end with the game. Will there be a fatigue factor this week for the Saints and Vikings returning from such a long road trip? Typically, the NFL encourages teams to use their bye week following an international game, but both teams declined and will be back in action on Sunday. The Vikings return home to face the Bears as 7-point favorites, and how much you weigh the fatigue factor will likely determine which side you land on.
Minnesota Vikings -7 (-105) vs. Chicago Bears
I faded the Vikings in all four games this season, but here is why I am betting them as a big favorite against the Bears. The secondary was a major factor in why I was below market on Minnesota. I felt like the absence of former head coach Mike Zimmer would hurt the pass rush, further exposing a cornerback trio that could be one of the league's worst. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't able to take advantage in Week 1. There were apparent continuity issues with Green Bay's young wideouts, leading Minnesota to a comfortable win. In the following two games, the Vikings were torched by Jalen Hurts and Jared Goff, failing to cover the spread in either game. Hurts completed 83% of his passes in a blowout win, and Goff jumped out to 24-14 lead after three quarters. Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in Dropback EPA allowed during those two weeks.
We saw a similar situation in London last week. The Vikings failed to cover the spread as favorites because they kept letting New Orleans back in the game. So what makes this week any different? Their opponent is the worst passing football team in the NFL. I won't bore you with a bunch of advanced metrics to show how poor Chicago's passing game is. Instead, I will get to the point with how they grade out via PFF.
Passing Grade: 43.5 (32nd)
Receiving Grade: 57.9 (31st)
The opener against Green Bay gives us a data point on how Minnesota performs when facing a passing offense that can't take advantage of its biggest weakness. The Vikings defense sacked Aaron Rodgers four times and held him without a touchdown in a 16-point win. Chicago's offensive line allows more sacks per dropback than any team in the league by a massive margin. Per Football Outsiders, their 18.5% adjusted sack rate is 6.5% higher than the next worse team. I don't care if the Vikings are returning from playing on Jupiter; this Bears offense can't score on anyone.
The Vikings have the fifth-most efficient offense through four games and are a good bet to put up points in front of the home crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium. The fatigue factor is something I considered, but I still see the Vikings winning by a wide margin at home more than 51% of the time. That makes this a bet I have to make at -105 odds.