STAR PREVIEW: Minnesota Vikings v Cleveland Browns

ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.

Tom Brady’s return to New England isn’t the only homecoming in the NFL this week as we also see Browns head coach and Reigning Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski returning to Minnesota to face his former boss Mike Zimmer having spent 13 years with the Vikings.

Both these sides could conceivably be at 3-0 right now with the Vikings (1-2) losing their first two games by a combined four points and the Browns (2-1) having lost narrowly to the Chiefs first up before winning their last two. Both teams boast top-seven offences although the Vikings will need to be at their best on that side of the ball as the Browns pass rush and defensive depth may just give them the edge.

The Browns 1-2 punch at running back is well-known with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt providing the ground game and they do like to run the ball but there have been signs in the past few weeks that they are trying to find more balance within their offence. That’s not to say that both Chubb and Hunt won’t have a big part to play here (Cleveland rank first in rushing attempts, 34), they will but in an indoor environment the Browns will have an opportunity to pass a lot more.

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is 2-1 on the under/over on his passing yards this year but his yardage total has closed at above 260 yards twice. This week, against a bottom-tier defence, his passing yards total is set at 248.5. The Vikings’ defence has allowed Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson a combined average of 319.6 passing yards per game.

This bodes well for Mayfield in Week 4 as his offensive line is allowing the lowest pressure rate in the NFL and those three aforementioned quarterbacks have all gone over their passing totals against the Vikings this year. With Odell Beckham Jr back in the mix and looking solid once more Mayfield has a principals receiver in form and one who could draw the coverage of one of the worst-ranked NFL cornerbacks in Bashaud Breeland.

If the Browns can establish themselves on the ground and with the Vikings likely to be missing defensive tackle Michael Pierce they should accomplish that easily Baker will be able to use his play-action passing game to attack the Vikings deep via OBJ and that could result in some big gains. That is the perfect scenario for the Mayfield passing yards line to be toppled easily.

Perhaps the fact that the Vikings have acknowledged their defensive shortcomings have seen them adopt a somewhat more aggressive approach on offence with the needs to score points evident. They remain something of a Jekyll and Hyde team in terms of home/road splits. In two road contests this season, Mike Zimmer’s crew is permitting an average of 30.5 points and 420 yards per game. In one home date the Vikings allowed just 17 points and 389 total yards and there is no doubt that the Vikings perform better at home than on the road.

Like the Browns their offensive identify is shaped by the run game although it’s not certain at the time of writing if their main running back Dalvin Cook will return from injury this week (has practised all week) having suffered an ankle injury in Week 2. His deputy Alexander Mattison handled all of the work that he was given last week with great aplomb turning 32 touches into 171 yards gained.

Like the Browns if the Vikings can establish their ground game it will open up the passing game especially the play-action variety for Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins; on such plays, Cousins leads the NFL in QBR (94.1) and is tied for third in TD passes with three. Cousins will though be facing a Browns pass rush that has been on fire with sack-monster Myles Garrett leading the way and that Vikings offensive line will be under pressure for much of the game.

If Cousins can fire, buy time and avoid the pass rush then he should be allowed to continue to pass at a rate that has seen him so far rank 8th in the league in passing attempts and he’s armed with a pass-catching corps that isn’t easy to cover. Justin Jefferson undoubtedly has big play ability stamped all over him and has already racked up 254 yards receiving on 20 receptions but it would appear the other Vikings main receiver Adam Thielen offers the best value in terms of the player markets.

Thielen has scored in all three games this year and has (odd statistic coming up) caught a TD pass in 11 straight October games. Last week Thielen had his best game of the season turning 10 targets into 9 receptions for 92 yards and 2 TD’s. An obsessive scoring-position go-to target for Cousins, Thielen has scored 16 TDs over his last 16 games and he looks to have a good opportunity to add to those numbers this week against the Browns.

This is a tough game to call overall although I would narrowly favour the Browns but with the coaching staff’s having knowledge of each other this will be an interesting watch to see how it all plays out; what value there is in the market lies in the player prop markets detailed in the recommended bets.

BACK Baker Mayfield over +248.5 passing yards 3pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Adam Thielen over +64.5 receiving yards 3pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Adam Thielen to score a TD 2pts at 6/5 (Latest Star Price ? CLICK TO BET NOW)

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