If I’ve learned anything about betting on the NFL during the 2021 season, it’s that sometimes the best thing to do is wait. With COVID-19 always willing to pop up at any moment, patience has been critical. There’s no better example of that than Sunday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
As I sat down to write this article, news came out that Kirk Cousins would not play Sunday night after testing positive for COVID. Perhaps this was intentional to help Cousins avoid more humiliation in primetime.
So how do we handle this game knowing Cousins won’t be out there? Let’s break this matchup down.
- Opening line: Green Bay -6.5
- Current line: Green Bay -12.5
- Total: 42.5
How Kirk Cousins’ absence impacts the spread
It appears as if Sean Mannion will be Minnesota’s starter Sunday. Mannion is currently on the COVID-19 reserve list, but he’s expected to be activated this weekend. Behind him is rookie Kellen Mond and journeyman Kyle Sloter, who haven’t thrown a pass in a regular season game.
I'm told that the Vikings are planning to announce Sean Mannion will be coming off the COVID-19/Reserve list today. He was placed on the COVID list last Sunday while Kellen Mond served as Kirk Cousins' backup. Mannion will be in line to start vs. GB.
— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) December 31, 2021
The spread for this game sat at -6.5/-7 early Friday morning before Cousins was ruled out. Since then, FanDuel was the first sportsbook to put out a new number. FanDuel moved Green Bay from -6.5 to -12.5, indicating that Cousins is worth six points to the spread.
A career backup, Mannion has just two starts on his NFL resume. He hasn’t appeared in a game since 2019. Mannion is 0-2 for his career. He’s completed 45-of-74 passes for 384 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions.
While a small sample size, what we’ve seen from Mannion thus far indicates he’s one of the league’s worst backup options.
Vikings must rely heavily on Dalvin Cook
What was expected to be a pretty busy night for Dalvin Cook just got even busier. I’d expect a heavy workload for both Cook and Alexander Mattison, as Minnesota’s primary goal will be to pound the rock, shorten the game and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sideline.
The question is whether that goal is feasible, knowing that Green Bay can likely sell out to stop the run and dare whoever starts at QB to beat them.
The good news for Minnesota is Green Bay has struggled to defend the run all season, ranking 31st in run defense DVOA. However, the Packers did a good job against Minnesota’s rushing attack in the first matchup between these teams. Green Bay held the Vikings to just 90 yards on 29 attempts.
The issue for Minnesota is their offensive line, which isn’t very strong in run blocking. The Vikings rank 22nd in adjusted line yards, which explains why Minnesota’s offense ranks 27th in rushing DVOA despite having a top-tier tailback.
Establishing the run will be even harder with Mannion under center.
Green Bay is seeking revenge.
The Packers will be looking for vengeance after Minnesota handed them their third loss of the season. Aaron Rodgers might be on his way to consecutive MVP awards, as he’s thrown 33 touchdowns, four interceptions and has Green Bay in prime position to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Rodgers was fantastic in the first meeting, throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort. But Green Bay’s defense was shredded by Cousins, allowing 341 passing yards and three touchdowns.
But with Cousins out Sunday, defending Minnesota’s offense should be much easier. The Pack will also welcome back star cornerback Jaire Alexander, who was activated off injured reserve earlier this week.
With Cousins and Adam Thielen out, Green Bay’s defensive game plan should be simple. Load up the box, defend the run at all costs, and double team Justin Jefferson. Dare Mannion and Minnesota’s weak supporting cast to beat you.
Before Cousins was ruled out, I liked Minnesota at +7 or better, as I expected a maximum effort from a Minnesota team whose season is on the line.
But with Cousins out, I can’t touch this spread. Mannion is a total unknown. If I had to play a side, I would take Green Bay at anything under two touchdowns.
Instead, my favorite bet on this game is the under. I don’t see how the Vikings will score many points with Mannion under center. And I suspect Green Bay will take its foot off the gas knowing they could wrap up a first-round bye with a victory.
I’ll go with the under at anything above 42.
Pick: Under 42.5
Whether you’re new to sports betting or a betting pro, our How To Bet and Sports Betting Strategy and Advice pages are for you. You can get started with our 101 section — including How to Bet on Sports — or head to more advanced strategy — like 10 Tips to Become a Sharper Sports Bettor — to learn more.