Miami Dolphins @ Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota's Cousins gamble not paying off

Kirk Cousins
The Vikings have lost direction with Kirk Cousins

It's been a strange year for both these teams, yet they've still got playoff berths within reach. Expectations in Minnesota were much higher when the season started though, writes Mark Kirwan...

"To fix that they pushed all their chips in with the move for Kirk Cousins during the summer. The former Washington QB was an upgrade on their options from last season, but how much so has always been the question about him. He certainly hasn't elevated their offence to another level - something that the very best QBs can do, no matter the surrounding talent..."

Miami Dolphins @ Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 18:00
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Vikings identity crisis

What has happened to the preseason favourite Vikings? Last season, their hopes melted with Case Keenum's turnovers in the NFC title game, just one game short of a home stadium Super Bowl.

To fix that they pushed all their chips in with the move for Kirk Cousins during the summer. The former Washington QB was an upgrade on their options from last season, but how much so has always been the question about him.

He certainly hasn't elevated their offence to another level - something that the very best QBs can do, no matter the surrounding talent - but there are other factors involved too.

The Vikes' OC from last year is now the Head Coach for the Giants. The guy they replaced him with, John DeFilippo, formerly of the Eagles Super Bowl winning staff, is now formerly of Minnesota's staff too, having been fired this week after failing to gel with coach Mike Zimmer and the expensively free agent signalcaller.

Beyond the control of the team, Offensive Line Coach Tony Sparano's sudden passing earlier this year left a void that would never be easy to fill.

The running game is a shadow of last season's, despite Dalvin Cook returning from injury. Their defence has also had issues, not as dominant as it was last season.

It leaves them 6-6-1, a defeat to Seattle last week forcing them below .500 and leaving them thankful for the good fortune they enjoyed in tying with the Packers back in September. That result now means Minnesota have the edge on Green Bay in the race for an NFC Wild Card spot behind the Chicago Bears.

A shock home loss to Miami could shift that equation again.

Miami muddling on

Last week's miracle play to beat the Patriots was another peak on a rollercoaster campaign for the Dolphins.

There's been the weird Ryan Tannehill situation with coach Adam Gase, the wild win over the Bears followed up by big defeats to the Lions and Texans, all punctuated by a ton of injuries that have taken away big play threats.

Maybe their probable 8-8 finish will more accurately reflect the uncertainty around the franchise. They're 7-6 now. Four of their wins came in division, three against the Bills and Jets, and one from last week's freakish finale against the Pats.

They meet Buffalo again in week 17, where a win could sneak them into the postseason, so the schedule is definitely giving a helping hand here.

Quarterback Tannehill remains a divisive figure thanks to their up-and-down play. Just when you think it's time for them to move on, he'll flash the talent that convinced them to draft him back in 2012.

With the injuries all across their offence, it's meant they've had a chance to experiment with players. It also means they'll have a lot of decisions to make during the offseason.

The New England win catapulted them back into relevance. If they can follow up with another upset, they'll be strongly positioned to provide a challenge for a division winner come January, against many expectations.

The Picks

Neither of these teams inspire confidence given their fluctuations throughout the season. It's as easy to read this as a down spot for Miami as it is to see them taking off from the Patriots win.

Minnesota have made a big call on by firing the young hot-shot coordinator. Things can go very right or very wrong with this call. They've replaced him with Kevin Stefanski, who was on the staff last season and, some say, would've been coach Zimmer's first choice for the job in the summer.

Whether he can get more out of Cousins will decide if the risks they've taken in paying the quarterback and firing DeFilippo will pay off.

The line of -7 would be easier to take than -7.5, but the Vikings have to show a reaction from last week's loss at Seattle, where they were held out for the first 55 minutes of play. Their recent record whows tham beating weaker teams well - the Jets, Lions, Packers all seen off by a touchdown or more - and the Dolphins simply never convince from week-to-week. On the road, they're even harder to like.

I'd fancy a big win for the Vikings because they need it, so am willing to eat more than a TD at 2.001/1.

On the Total Points, again, neither team can be trusted. They're both trending to under in recent weeks, but Minnesota have had a tougher schedule. I'd look at the Home Team Total Points line on the Sportsbook with the line at 26.5. If we assume Minnesota can ocver the -7.5 line, we whould give them a shot at hitting the four touchdowns mark at 5/6.

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