After a high-scoring victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Vikings will face another division leader this week as they travel to Cincinnati for a bout against the Bengals. Cincinnati enters the week having won three of its last four but with the loss coming a few days ago to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Bengals will try to rebound and stay in the playoff picture while the Vikings will look to play spoiler for another week.
Let’s take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Bengals prepare to battle…
The Vikings were able to hang 48 points on the Eagles defense, contain the Eagles offense for most of the day and dominate on special teams despite missing starters up and down the lineup last week. A backup at right guard, third-stringers at running back and tight end, deep reserves in the secondary and even a backup long snapper all contributed to the victory. All of that means all eyes will be on the Vikings injury reports this week to see if the likes of
Bengals defensive line poses challenge
No matter how you look at the Bengals defense, the numbers are impressive. They ranks sixth in the NFL in passer rating allowed (78.9), fifth in rushing defense (98.7 yards per game) and fourth in scoring defense (17.4 points per game). The Bengals are one of just six teams that allow fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and they’ve surrendered just five rushing touchdowns all season, which is tied for fourth in the League. Success like this is the product of a solid lineup at every level, and there’s no doubt the Bengals group of linebackers is athletic and productive and their secondary can make plays. But the key to the Bengals defense may be the performance of its defensive line, a group that is anchored in the middle by tackle Domata Peko and features pass rusher Michael Johnson at right end. All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins is out because of injury, but this group is still dangerous. The Bengals are tied with the St. Louis Rams for most sacks since the start of 2011 with 133, so the Vikings offensive line will be challenged this week with protecting
Containing AJ Green will be key for Vikings defense
The Vikings defense is no stranger to athletic, fast and big wide receivers. That profile of receiver lines up against the Vikings with regularity in the NFC North – Chicago has Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, Detroit has Calvin Johnson and Green Bay has Jordy Nelson. The AFC North has one of those receivers, too, in AJ Green. He’s having another monster season in 2013 with 87 receptions for 1,268 yards and eight touchdowns. Green has six 100-yard games this season, including five straight such performances at one point, and he’s averaging 14.6 yards per reception. Regardless of who is able to play for the Vikings in their injury-plagued secondary, Priority No. 1 will be to find Green and contain him on every snap.
The last time the Vikings traveled to play a team from the AFC North, a winter wonderland took form at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and it produced a defensive battle for three quarters followed by a scoreboard explosion in the 4th quarter. While snow globe conditions are not expected this week in Cincinnati, it appears weather will indeed be a factor again. The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-50s with rain likely. Will temperatures drop enough for snow to fall? Will the wind be a factor?
Spoiler role continues for Vikings
As the Vikings look to finish the season strong and build momentum for 2014, they are also playing spoiler over the last month of the season for a group of teams that need wins to stay in the playoff hunt. Baltimore escaped with a victory two weeks ago, but the Eagles weren’t as lucky last week against the Vikings. The Bengals need a win to keep their division title hopes alive this week and then next week Detroit will likely need a win for a chance to qualify for the postseason.