Sports picksOctober 30, 2006

The Royal Post – New England / Minnesota

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New England Patriots vs. Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots (5-1 SU & 4-2 ATS) are winning again and they’re beginning to show more faith in their receivers. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings’ (4-2 SU & 5-1 ATS) unexpected emergence is due partly to a ground game they can finally trust.

With QB Tom Brady’s targets playing well, the Patriots look to extend a five-game road winning streak when they take on Chester Taylor and the Vikings on Monday night.

New England has won three consecutive games SU since a 17-7 loss to Denver on Sept. 24, opening up a 1.5 game lead over the New York Jets in the AFC East.

After missing the playoffs last season and bringing in a new coaching staff, Minnesota has been a surprise contender in the NFC. The Vikings are coming off a 31-13 win at Seattle that ended the defending NFC champion Seahawks’ 12-game home win streak, including playoffs.

Monday’s contest features two strong defenses, New England’s resurgent passing offense and the NFL’s second-leading rusher in Minnesota’s Taylor.

With Doug Gabriel and rookie Chad Jackson catching TD passes, the Patriots took to the air in a 28-6 victory at Buffalo last Sunday.

Gabriel, Jackson, Reche Caldwell and Troy Brown combined for 11 catches for 123 yards, and Brady threw two TD passes for the third straight game.

The Patriots have been searching all season for reliable targets to replace Deion Branch, who was traded to Seattle after a contract dispute, and David Givens, who signed with Tennessee as a free agent.

Brady’s numbers have suffered because of the changeover. The two-time Super Bowl MVP entered last week’s game as the league’s 16th-rated QB, but he completed 18-of -27 passes for 195 yards for his highest passer rating of the season (112.4).

A strong passing game to complement a defense allowing just 13.3 ppg can only help the Patriots continue their run on the road. Their last loss away from home was on Nov. 27, when they were defeated 26-16 by Kansas City.

Taylor raced for a career-high 169 yards, including a franchise-record 95-yard TD run, on 26 carries to lead the Vikings last Sunday. He has 590 yards rushing through six games — 493 of those in Minnesota’s four wins.

Taylor, signed as a free agent from Baltimore in the off-season, has brought stability to a running game that has ranked no better than 18th the past two seasons.

The Vikings have been relying on Taylor, an efficient passing game and a defense that is allowing 15.8 ppg in their first season under coach Brad Childress.

Most of QB Brad Johnson’s throws have been to Chester Taylor out of the backfield. He leads the team with 21 receptions, which isn’t even in the top 50 in the league.

Scoring near the goal line has been the Vikings’ biggest offensive issue. Minnesota is tied for 30th in the league with a red-zone TD conversion rate of only 28.6 percent, scoring four times in 14 possessions. The good news is the other 10 all went for field goals.

Minnesota has some health problems at receiver, though Childress indicated Monday that Marcus Robinson (bruised lower back), Travis Taylor (concussion) and Troy Williamson (concussion) could all be ready to play Monday.

These teams haven’t met since Brady threw three TD passes to lead the Patriots to a 24-17 win at home on Nov. 24, 2002. This is the first matchup in Minnesota since a 23-18 Vikings’ victory on Nov. 2, 1997.

Notable Game Trends:

– Patriots are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games as a road favorite.

– Patriots are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games on Turf.

– Patriots are 6-2-1 ATS in their last 9 games as a favorite of 0.5-3.0.

– Patriots are 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16 games in October.

– Patriots are 20-8-1 ATS in their last 29 road games.

– Patriots are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games as a favorite.

– Vikings are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 home games.

– Vikings are 8-1 ATS in their last 9 games following a SU win.

– Vikings are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as a home underdog.

– Vikings are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games on Turf.

– Vikings are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games following a ATS win.

– Vikings are 4-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.

Prediction – New England 24 Minnesota 20