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Each week during the NFL season, we'll focus on one underdog with a chance to pull off the outright upset. Last week, we placed our faith in the Giants (+170), who were mercilessly steamrolled by the injury-ravaged 49ers. Yikes.
Both of these teams are 0-3, but the Texans tend to get the benefit of the doubt given the strength of their schedule. Their first three opponents were the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers. That trio won by a combined 38 points.
Let's not act like the Vikings have played a cupcake schedule, though. Their first loss came against the Packers, PFF's No. 1 team. Their second was against the Colts, the top-ranked team in DVOA. Minnesota then dropped a one-point loss to the Titans last week despite having a 175-yard rusher (Dalvin Cook) and a 175-yard receiver (Justin Jefferson) - a first in NFL history.
These two teams' PFF and DVOA rankings are almost identical, and the Vikings actually rank higher in net yards per play (0.4 to 0.1), a stat savvy bettors commonly use to handicap games. Why is Houston the clear and obvious favorite in this matchup?
Minnesota's issues in pass coverage are well-documented after the team allowed the third-most passing yards per game (292.3) through the first three weeks of the season. But the Texans' pass defense ranks worse than the Vikings' by advanced metrics, and their pass offense has been simply mediocre thus far.
The run game is more likely to decide this contest. Houston has allowed the most rushing yards per game (188.3) and sixth-most yards per carry (5.2) in the NFL in 2020. Enter Cook, who ranks third in rushing yards (294), sixth in yards per carry (6.1), and is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (four).
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is 32-4-4 straight up (88.9%) when his team rushes for at least 120 yards - by far the best record of any active NFL coach and well above the league average (70.3%) since he took over in 2014. If Minnesota can attack the Texans' vulnerable front seven, an upset is on the horizon.
Are we sure Houston is the better team? The Vikings entered the year with greater expectations in the betting market. Since then, both teams have gone 0-3, but Minnesota ranks higher in advanced metrics and is coming off a game it should have won.
The one caveat is preparation. This line opened at Houston -3.5 and has since moved to -4.5, likely due in part to uncertainty around the Vikings' reduced practice time with facilities closed. It's not like Zimmer and his staff spent three days twiddling their thumbs, though, and their roster is still superior to the Texans'. At this price, Minnesota is an easy buy.
(Odds source: theScore Bet)
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.