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Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers: Storylines, prediction for a matchup with huge playoff consequences

What is our prediction for the Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers matchup, and what are the current odds and storylines to watch?

Back-to-back wins for both the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings have made this matchup tough to predict. Who will pick up a crucial win this week with both teams on a hot streak and back in the playoff picture? Let’s take a look at the storylines for this Vikings vs. 49ers matchup, the current NFL odds, and make a prediction for how the game may go.

Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers Predictions | Storylines to watch in Week 12

As recently as two weeks ago, it looked like the 49ers’ and Vikings’ seasons were over after losses to the Cardinals and Ravens, respectively. At that point, both teams were at 3-5, and while the NFC playoff standings were still in flux, the teams appeared to be heading in the wrong direction.

However, over the past two weeks, the two teams have combined to go 4-0, with three statement wins. The 49ers manhandled the Rams on Monday Night Football in a surprise 31-10 upset. Meanwhile, the Vikings visited the Chargers and got a tightly fought 27-20 victory before Kirk Cousins produced a game-winning drive to salvage a 34-31 win over the Packers.

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Minnesota is currently the sixth seed, with San Francisco at seven. Yet, both have five wins, and so do the Eagles, Panthers, and Saints. Those other three teams have one more loss, but the Vikings and 49ers need to win to give them the inside track to one of those final two playoff spots.

Let’s take a look at the storylines that are the key elements in this game before predicting who will win.

The 49ers have looked like a complete team over the last two weeks

Think of any box you want a team to tick if they are to succeed in the NFL, and the 49ers have ticked them over the past two weeks. They have dominated time of possession on the back of a strong run game that has made the opposing offense one-dimensional. On top of that, they have won the turnover battle 4-0 in that time.

Then you look at Jimmy Garoppolo’s numbers — his efficiency has been incredible over the past two weeks. Garoppolo has completed 31 of his 41 pass attempts for 358 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. While the numbers do not look impressive when you look at his 8.7 yards per pass attempt and 9.8% touchdown rate, it changes the perspective. The run game has been the driver of the offense, but Garoppolo has been the perfect complement.

Which offense can step up on third downs and which defense can stand strong in the red zone? 

This game between the Vikings and 49ers has an interesting subplot when making a prediction. On third downs, both offenses rank in the bottom half of the league in terms of conversion rate. In contrast, the two defenses are top-12 units. The offense that can step up, convert, and stay on the field has the chance to control the clock and put the pressure on the opposing QB.

Moreover, it is the offenses in this matchup that have dominated in the red zone this season. The 49ers lead the league with a 77.8% conversion rate, while the Vikings are fifth in the league at 67.7%. Meanwhile, both defenses rank in the bottom half. In a game that could be tight, scoring 7 points instead of 3 could be the difference.

The Vikings need to drive home their strong starts

When looking at the last four weeks, there is a common theme in the Vikings’ games. They start strong, and then they let their opponents back in. In Week 8, they led 10-3 over a Cooper Rush-led Cowboys squad at halftime. In Week 9, they led the Ravens 17-3 and 24-10 on either side of halftime. In Week 10, Minnesota had a 13-3 lead late in the second quarter, and Week 11 saw them lead 16-3 and 23-10 on either side of halftime.

Opponents are working the Vikings out in the second quarter, or Minnesota is struggling once they get beyond a set number of play calls. There is arguably an element of both, but it calls into question the complexity of the schemes the Vikings are using.

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If the Vikings keep throwing the same looks at teams, they will eventually adjust and be able to make plays. Unfortunately, if scheme complexity is the problem, it can be hard to address in season — at least quickly.

It will be interesting to see what happens if the Vikings make that strong start. Will the 49ers still lean on their strong run game, or will they have to ask Garoppolo to put the team on his back? If it is the latter and Jimmy G. leads the 49ers back for a victory, then alarm bells will really start to ring for the Vikings.

Vikings at 49ers betting line and game prediction

Given how similar these two teams are, the 49ers being 3-point favorites is to be expected with them playing at home. However, that number might be a touch harsh on the 49ers. The Vikings might be slightly better on offense, but the 49ers’ defensive numbers are significantly better.

One key here will be Minnesota’s run defense against San Francisco’s run game. The 49ers have rushed for over 150 yards in each of their last two games and have gone over 100 yards in five of their last six. The 49ers like to lean on the run game. That is a problem for the Vikings’ 31st-ranked run defense in terms of yards per rush attempt allowed (4.8). That very easily could be the difference in this game which is otherwise extremely close.

Vikings vs. 49ers prediction: 49ers 30, Vikings 27

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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