The Vikings and Bengals will meet on Sunday in Cincinnati, and a quick glance at the records shows it's a contest between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” with Cincinnati fighting for playoff positioning and the Vikings looking to finish 2013 on a positive note to build momentum for 2014.
But a deeper look at this matchup reveals a Bengals defense that has been stingy in surrendering points, ranking fourth in the NFL in points per game allowed (17.4), and a Vikings offense that has performed better than many realize for most of the season (ninth in scoring) and that has been especially resurgent over the last month (30.75 points and 444.25 yards per game in the last four contests).
A three-pronged carousel at quarterback and a record that has stayed well below .500 for much of the season has masked what has been a productive season for the Vikings offense. The Vikings have scored more offensive points than 16 teams that boast more wins, including Carolina, Indianapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco, just to name a few. Specifically, the Vikings are coming off a season-high 48 point output against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, a game that followed a fourth-quarter explosion in Baltimore the week prior and a 26-point output at Lambeau Field two weeks prior. Add in the fact that
Don't expect the Bengals defense to cower at the challenge, though. At all three levels, this is a defense that boasts talent and a blend of youth and experience. The defensive line anchors a defense that has more sacks (133.0) than all other teams except the St. Louis Rams (also 133.0) since the start of 2011, and even though is missing it’s best player (defensive tackle Geno Atkins) still sees outstanding contributions on a weekly basis from stars such as defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Domata Peko. The linebacker group includes three athletic and productive defenders, starting with 2012 undrafted stud Vontaze Burfict in the middle, former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison on the outside and former middle linebacker-turned-outside linebacker Ray Maualuga.
The entire group is coordinated by Mike Zimmer, a well-respected defensive mind in NFL coaching circles who is in his 20th season as a NFL coach and in his sixth with the Bengals. This season, aside from ranking fourth in scoring defense, the Bengals also rank sixth in passer rating allowed (78.9) and fifth against the run (98.7 yards per game allowed). The Bengals are one of just five teams who are yielding fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and they have allowed only five rushing touchdowns all season.
Presuming Peterson makes his return to the lineup for the Vikings, Sunday's game in Cincinnati marks a great matchup of strength versus strength in the running game. Also, the match between the Vikings passing offense and the back end of the Bengals defense is certainly not one to ignore, especially given Cassel’s productive showing last week in which he found Jennings 11 times, Patterson five times, and in total completed 74.2% of his passes for 382 yards with two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to boot.
Over the last month of the season, the Vikings schedule is littered with playoff-caliber opponents, meaning the Vikings have a chance to play spoiler. While their record may not indicate it, the Vikings are capable of turning a Bengals team that is a “have” into another “have-not” with another productive offensive showing and with a defense that, despite its youth in the back end, continues to show improvement.