Minnesota Vikings @ New York Jets: Vikings need to prove they've got championship steel
Minnesota were one of the hottest picks for the Super Bowl coming into the season but a shock loss to Buffalo has sewn doubts about their championship credentials, writes Mark Kirwan...
"There's no doubt the QB is an upgrade on last season, and Adam Thielen looks like the best receiver in the league right now, but the running game has struggled, and their defence doesn't look like the imposing unit we've come to expect."
Minnesota Vikings @ New York Jets
Sunday, 18:00 BST
Live on Sky Sports Action
Vikes slow starters
From looking like one of the more solid propositions in the offseason - they upgraded at QB, lost no one of significance, got their starting running back healthy after an ACL tear, and have a roster primed for a Super Bowl run - the Minnesota Vikings haven't convinced through six weeks.
As experienced NFL watchers will know, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of playoff champs give cause of doubt in the opening weeks - look at the Patriots in recent years - but you would prefer to see a team functioning smoothly, especially when everything looked primed for this team last year and they laid an egg in the NFC title game.
Though they're 3-2-1, have beaten the defending Super Bowl champs, played the Rams close and avoided defeat (fortuitously) at Lambeau to their big divisional rival, it's the embarrassment at home to Buffalo as 16.5 point favourites that lingers like a bad smell around them now.
That performance undermined so much of the expectation and optimism arising from Kirk Cousins' signing. The Bills since have shown they mean business, at least on defence, so perhaps they were underestimated by the markets and their opponents in week three.
The other factor there was the NFL scheduling geniuses. The Vikes melted against the Bills on Sunday, and then had the Rams the next Thursday. It would be understandable if they got ahead of themselves and focused more on the big midweek game rather than the Sunday no-hoper.
They paid for looking ahead, though they easily could've won in LA, which counts for something given how the Rams are playing.
Cousins' offence has suffered line turmoil+ through the opening weeks, and that must account for some of the deflation of the Vikes' balloon too, but they're getting healthier now.
There's no doubt the QB is an upgrade on last season, and Adam Thielen looks like the best receiver in the league right now, but the running game has struggled, and their defence doesn't look like the imposing unit we've come to expect.
However, they may not need to be at their very best to handle the New York Jets.
Gang Green have plenty to be happy about in rookie quarterback Sam Darnold's first few games.
Or if not happy, at least relieved, because it looks like they have a franchise QB for the first time in a long time, and are playing above expectations given the talent they've pulled together at skill positions - some might be concerned by the number of former Browns, for instance, in crucial offensive roles.
The secondary has some playmakers and the team in general looks motivated, which is an achievement given this is coach Todd Bowles' fourth season in charge and one where it would be easy for guys to switch off.
The Jets are 3-3. They've shown they can beat bad teams, putting up points on the Lions, Broncos and Colts in their three wins.
That's unlikely to keep them in the playoff picture in the AFC this year, though their schedule after this week and the Bears next is choc-a-bloc with AFC East and South opponents, so there's no reason they can't finish 8-8 or 9-7 if we accentuate the positive.
"Who are the Vikings?" is a question that still needs answering in light of their Bills meltdown. Whoever they are, we know they're a better team than the plucky New York side, so it's a little surprising to see them have to cover just 3.5 points on Sunday.
Their hosts have had a couple of high-scoring wins in the last few weeks, which must account for some of their price inflation, but injuries to some of Darnold's favourite targets do not bode well, so I'd look at Minnesota to /cover here at [1.96].
The over on the total points line, priced at [1.94], also appeals with the line at 46. Both of these teams trend in the right direction, with six of eight Jets home games topping the total line and the Vikings in similar form on the road. Both defences are capable of forcing turnovers and short fields too, so that could help drive scoring.
1pt on the Minnesota Vikings -3.5 on the Handicap market @ [1.96] on the Exchange
1pt on Under 46 on the Total Points market @ [1.94] on the Exchange