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49ers health is key in making a pick against the spread

The 49ers and Vikings square off in the Divisional Round. The injury report is why I’m backing the favorites.

The Minnesota Vikings travel on a short week to face the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional Round of the 2020 NFL Playoffs. The Vikings stunned the third-seeded New Orleans Saints last Sunday in the Wild Card round, and now have to turn around the face the top-seeded 49ers on Saturday.

The 49ers opened as a touchdown favorite at DraftKings Sportsbook, with the total at 46.5. The line has remained a touchdown, but the point total has come down to 44 as of Friday morning. The 49ers are -295 on the money line and the Vikings are +255. The 49ers are 9-6-1 against the spread this season, and have gone over the point total eight times. The Vikings are 10-7 ATS and have gone over the point total nine times.

Injury report

The Vikings will be without cornerback Manckensie Alexander due to a knee injury, safety Jayron Kearse is doubtful, and wide receiver Adam Thielen is questionable with an ankle injury. Thielen is expected to play after suffering a cut on his ankle that required stitches. Kearse’s likely absence coupled with Alexander’s definite absence hurts the secondary depth.

The 49ers are expected to welcome back linebacker Kwon Alexander from injured reserve, and edge rusher Dee Ford is questionable but expected to play. Add in the return of Jaquiski Tartt who was removed entirely from the injury report, and the 49ers are getting some key cogs back. They also get back guard Mike Person, who missed Week 16 and Week 17 with a neck injury.

Pick against the spread

A touchdown is a lot to lay in the playoffs, and this coming a week after I laid eight points with the Saints against the Vikings. I’m a glutton for punishment however, as I think the 49ers are getting healthy at the right time. Having Ford and Alexander in the lineup is a huge boost to the defense. Alexander’s pectoral injury does raise some questions, but it’s still a boost. The pass rush in particular is better with Ford in the lineup.

The big question for the defense is how they’ll handle Dalvin Cook. The Vikings running back is looking healthy and while his yards per carry weren’t great against, he made some key plays. This will be the test for a 49ers defense that ranked 11th in run defense efficiency.

On the other side of the ball, this is Jimmy Garoppolo’s first playoff game, so hesitancy backing him right out of the gate would not be surprising. However, the 49ers in some ways have been playing playoff games for much of the past month and a half. Dating back to Week 12, four of their six opponents are still alive in the playoffs and the 49ers needed every last win to clinch home field. Jimmy G stepped up in those games, so the playoff debut is not as big a concern for me.

It comes down to health, and the 49ers are getting key pieces back at the right time. I’d recommend waiting to see if you can get the 49ers at 6.5, but I doubt it comes down from seven. On the other hand, the point total sits right on a magic number of 44. There’s going to be some kind of movement, but it’s hard to tell if it will be up to 44.5 or down to 43.5. If you’re thinking under, you should probably go with it sooner rather than later.

If you’re not comfortable betting a touchdown favorite, it’s worth noting that 25 times since 1984 a Sunday Wild Card round winner has had to play a Saturday Divisional round game. In those 25 games, the short week team is 16-9 against the spread but only 7-18 straight up, according to betting analyst Joe Osborne. It’s a small sample size, and the last time it happened was 2016 when Green Bay beat Washington in the Wild Card round and then lost 26-20 to Arizona in the Divisional Round. They covered the seven point spread in that game, so if you want to roll with that, be my guest.

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