2020 NFL Week 14: Minnesota Vikings @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Paying up for the road dogs plus the touchdown: Minnesota Vikings +7 -135
Rather atypically, our power rankings framework ascribes a pretty wide range to the Bucs' edge over the Vikings in week 14 NFL action. We make Tampa to be somewhere between two and six points better than Minnesota on a neutral field this week. But this wider than usual span still implies at least modest value at the present spread of Vikings +6.5. Accordingly, we are getting down on the road dogs, but are paying up to get over the hook, to the key seven level.
Supporting the signal from our power rankings work, that the Bucs and Vikings are trending in opposite directions seems to support a play on Minnesota Sunday. Tampa Bay has dropped three of their last four (albeit to very good teams in the Chiefs, Rams and Saints), while, after a disheartening 1-5 start, the Vikings have suffered (straight up) disappointment only once in their last six games. We have noted a couple of times by now that underdog teams that appear to be turning their season around should be trusted (see here and here).
Mediocre teams receiving points after strong near-term runs have been good for a 12% return on investment since 2004.
The Bucs' QB, Tom Brady's, poor sportsmanship has come into focus this season. We guess that Brady has always been a very sore loser, however, in our reckoning, the Pats' seemingly perennial winning streak probably served to mask this character flaw. Unfortunately for those who might want to herald Brady as a role model, this year's iteration of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not nearly as competitive as the Brady/Belichick tandems that proved so dynastic in years past...and the future hall-of-famer has not handled defeat with grace.
But, Brady's apparent lapses in virtue, while interesting to those of us that simply love to hate the man, seem to be a symptom of a bigger issue...one that should assuage bettors' anxiety about fading these Bucs. Tom Brady, while still enjoying a highly productive season by most objective standards, is unmistakably exhibiting signs of age-related decline--as do all great athletes (ultimately).
From FootballOutsiders.com, the following chart shows Tom Brady's Defense Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) for each season of his career, minus the average DYAR that year for all NFL quarterbacks that attempted at least 200 passes. DYAR measures a QB's efficiency, based on every single snap and adjusted for situation and opponent, expressed as yards gained above that expected from a generic replacement-level player.
It is clear from the chart that Brady's relative productivity peaked roughly somewhere around the turn of the last decade and has been on the wane since. To be clear, through 13 weeks of play this year, Brady ranks 5th among qualified QB's by DYAR. However, we do not think that simply still being good justifies the "never bet against Tom Brady" mantras that have become common refrain in the sports betting community.
Further, in contrast to Brady's declining abilities in request years, Kirk Cousins, the Viking's quarterback, has experienced a rising historical DYAR over his career (Cousins historical DYAR, relative to that of the average NFL starting QB, is plotted in blue on the chart).
A look at Brady's historical QBR or ATS cover rates echoes this story of diminished capacities. We examined this topic in week 2 and drew conclusions similar to those that flowed from the examination of Brady's DYAR over time.
To be clear, the Bucs have clear advantages Sunday, namely defending the run and on special teams, but by several measures, these teams' offenses are pretty evenly matched. This observation suggests to us that Minnesota will, at the very least, enjoy a puncher's chance. Given the favorable indication from our power rankings framework and the historical context for turnaround teams, and the reality that Tom Brady is mortal, we are comfortable taking somewhere around a touchdown and betting on the Vikings cover.
Season-to-date, team-specific trends in effect for this contest:
Tampa Bay is 1-3 ATS this season as the home favorite,
But the Bucs are also 4-0 versus the number off a loss,
The Purple People Eaters are 4-1 ATS on the road,
Minnesota is 4-1 as the underdog,
The Vikings are also 3-2 ATS following a straight up win