NFC Wild Card Weekend Predictions: Can Vikings pull off upset in New Orleans?

Which teams will move on to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs to face the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers? PFN's Offensive Share Metric tells us what we can expect to see in the NFC Wild Card matchups and predictions for the final scores.

Over the past year, PFN has been introducing the football community to the Offensive Share Metric (OSM) – a unique way to assess skill positions as it relates to contributions made during each play. Earlier this week PFN contributor, Chase Haynes, showed us how he used OSM to get a leg up on weekly waiver wires on his way to a fantasy league championship. Now, we’ll use it to predict this weekend’s NFC Wild Card matchups – Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles. 

To create a level playing field, we’ll be considering weekly average OSM scores through Week 16 of the NFL season. Since the result of the play is not a factor in OSM, we’ll also consider average points per OSM to predict a final score for each game.

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints  – Sunday, Jan. 5th, 1:05 PM ET

Of the NFC teams playing this weekend, Minnesota has the top-ranked running back group, spearheaded by Dalvin Cook, with an average OSM of 15.6. However, they’re playing the top-ranked running defense in New Orleans, who has allowed an average OSM of just 10.0 through Week 16, with no individual rushers gaining 100 yards or more.

Cook has already surpassed that milestone five times this year, though not in the past two months. Luckily, the Vikings have dependable backups in Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone, who have both had top three OSM finishes this year. Look for both to contribute in big ways, especially if Cook’s shoulder is nagging him at all.

On the other side of the field, the Saints running backs are averaging an OSM of 14.4, 1.3 higher than the league average. The Vikings defense is also allowing an average 14.4, so you can expect to see the same production out of Alvin Kamara and company that you’ve become accustomed to.

The Saints receiving corps, led by 2019 NFL Pro Bowler Michael Thomas, has averaged an OSM of 34.5 this season, while the Vikings secondary is allowing 34.2 to opposing teams. As with the Saints rushers, expect similar production from the Saints receivers as they had in the regular season.

The Vikings receivers have had similar results as the Saints, averaging an OSM of 34.1. However, the Saints defense has allowed an OSM of 33.1, which is worse than the league average and the Vikings receivers will likely take advantage of that.

The Saints are holding their opposing receivers to a 61% completion rate while providing nearly six yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage, nearly three yards of separation at the point of completion, and 5.2 yards after the catch. The Vikings are able to obtain a 69% completion rate as it is but have only been getting 5.5 yards of cushion, 2.7 yards of separation, and 3.9 yards after the catch.

Stefon Diggs, in particular, should have a great game as he was ranked in the top five of OSM four times during the regular season. He’s completing nearly 70% of his targets while averaging less than 2.5 yards of separation. If the Saints give him the extra room, he’ll likely cause havoc.

Kirk Cousins should have made the Pro Bowl this year based on his OSM grade, with a weekly average of 25.8. That’s better than the Saints quarterbacks (combined), who’s average OSM was 24.8. However, in the nine games Drew Brees qualified for OSM through Week 16, his OSM average was 29.0 and was rightfully selected to the Pro Bowl.

Expect Cousins to take advantage of a Saints passing defense which has allowed an OSM of 23.8. Cousins is completing 6% more passes than expected based on NFL Next Gen Stats, while the Saints are allowing completions at the expected rate.

Brees will similarly try to take advantage of a Vikings defense that is allowing the highest average OSM, of all teams playing this wild card weekend, at 27.6. If the Vikings want a chance to win, they’ll have to keep Brees’ completion rate under 74%, as his only two losses in games which he qualified for OSM fell short of that number. Luckily, for the Vikings, they’ve only allowed a completion rate higher than 74% in two contests this year.

OSM predicts the Saints will play better than the Vikings, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. The expected average OSM for New Orleans is 25.0 compared to 23.7 for Minnesota. However, this will be another playoff nail-biter in Louisiana and perhaps another Minnesota Miracle, as the Vikings put 2.1% more points on the board per OSM and could walk away with an upset victory. Expect this game to come down to the last possession.

NFC Wild Card Prediction: Minnesota Vikings 29, New Orleans Saints 27

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles – Sunday, Jan. 5th, 4:40 PM ET

Russell Wilson is the best NFC quarterback playing in the Wild Card round per OSM, averaging 31.3 through Week 16. Against a Philadelphia defense that is allowing a higher than average OSM at 24.1, expect Wilson to continue his strong quarterback play. The Eagles allow above-average intended air yards and completed air yards, which Wilson ranks third and eighth in, respectively.

Carson Wentz may struggle a little as his OSM is below average at 22.0 and he’s up against the best passing defense playing this weekend, with the Seahawks allowing an OSM of 16.9 to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season.

Since Week 10, the Seahawks have kept quarterbacks to an average of 4.4 completed air yards and a 4.5% less than expected completion rate per game, which is third-best in the league. Both of Wentz’s completed air yards and variance to expected completion rate fall below the league average and Seattle’s defense will look to capitalize on that.

Seattle’s running game was twelfth in the league heading into Week 17, about two points above average at 15.2. The addition of Marshawn Lynch certainly won’t hurt the Seahawks in this game. His OSM was 14.2 in 2018 and last week his production was 15.6. Expect that number to be higher on Sunday as the Eagles have given up an average OSM of 18.6 this season which is fifth-worst overall and the worst of any playoff teams per OSM.

Seattle’s run defense hasn’t been much better, eighth-worst overall with an OSM of 16.5 allowed and a top ten running back performance in half of their games this year. Don’t expect much from the Eagles rush attack though, at least from an OSM perspective.

Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Boston Scott have combined for an average OSM of 10.9 this season, ranking last of all playoff teams and 26th overall. They have only cracked the top ten twice, both against teams allowing higher OSM grades for runners than Seattle (Buffalo & Washington). However, 90% of their scores have been when their OSM was higher than 10.9. If Seattle allows them to run efficiently with eight men in the box, the Eagles should see some touchdowns on the ground.

OSM scores for pass catchers from both teams have been pretty even this year, though slightly in favor of the Seahawks at 35.2 versus 32.8 for the Eagles. Expect a level playing field, however, as the Eagles defense is allowing an average OSM of 31.8 versus 34.4 for the Seahawks.

For the Seahawks, keep an eye on Tyler Lockett and Jacob Hollister. They are both getting at least 3.3 yards of separation and completing 70% or more of their targets. When the Eagles defense has allowed 3.3 yards of separation, completion rates for opposing receivers jump from 57% to 65% and yards after catch jump from 4.7 to 6.4.

The absence of Zach Ertz at tight end shouldn’t hurt the Eagles as Dallas Goedert and Josh Perkins have played exceptionally well when called upon. They should have elite OSM numbers against the Seahawks who have allowed a tight end to rank in the top ten 75% of the time, including Goedert in Week 12.

OSM predicts the Seahawks will outperform the Eagles, especially Russell Wilson, but the Eagles are 3.4% more efficient at scoring per OSM. If Goedert plays as expected, and Sanders or Howard can score while facing eight men in the box, the Eagles could sneak out of this with the win despite an expected average OSM of 22.3 to Seattle’s 26.0.

NFC Wild Card Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles 29, Seattle Seahawks 25

For AFC Wild Card Predictions, click here. And for the latest news and NFL updates, be sure to follow Pro Football Network on Facebook and on Twitter @PFN365.

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