EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings (9-2) will close their three-game home stand by hosting the New York Jets (7-4) at noon (CT) Sunday in a game between teams that have exceeded expectations and already passed win totals from either of the past two seasons.
Minnesota has a chance to claim the NFC North with a victory and a loss by Detroit (4-7), who is hosting Jacksonville (4-7) at the same time as the Vikings-Jets game.
The Vikings have topped their victory totals in 2020 (7-9) and in 2021 (8-9) in trying to win their division for the first time since 2017.
The Jets have exceeded their win total in the past two seasons combined (2-14 in 2020 and 4-13 in 2021) as second-year Head Coach Robert Saleh has New York's defense playing one of its best seasons since 1970. The Jets currently rank fourth in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.8) and fifth in yards allowed per game (308.8). The only two previous seasons since 1970 in which the Jets have finished in the top six in both categories were in 2009 and 2010 when New York advanced to the AFC Championship Game each time.
Here is a predicted key matchup, along with five storylines for this week.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Jets.
Matchup to watch: Vikings offense vs. Jets defense
This will be the fourth consecutive week for Minnesota to face an opposing defense ranked in the top five in scoring defense (entering the week of the game).
Minnesota has put up 33 at Buffalo and 33 at home last week against New England in victories but only managed a field goal against Dallas during this stretch.
According to NFL Media Research, only four teams since 1970 have faced top-five scoring defense in four or more consecutive weeks: the 1978 Saints, 1991 Cardinals, 1998 Broncos and 2011 Bengals. Only the Broncos, who went 14-2 that season and went on to win Super Bowl XXXIII, had a winning record during those stretches.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins is 5-1 with a 102.0 passer rating against top-five scoring defenses in Week 5 or later since 2019, having completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 282.5 yards per game with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Minnesota has averaged 27.5 points per game in those six contests and scored more than 30 four times.
New York has successfully blended its pass rush and coverage. Defensive lineman Quinnen Williams leads the Jets with 8.0 sacks, and safety Lamarcus Joyner has recorded a team-best three interceptions. New York's 34 sacks this season rank seventh and are already one more than the team totaled in 2021.
"Another really good defense that we're playing — the coaches, the scheme and the players," Cousins said. "It shows up when you look at the metrics, when you look at the tape, it's just good football."
1. Narrow focus
Minnesota can become the first team to clinch a division title this season and do so as early as Sunday. The Vikings position of needing one more win and one more loss by the Lions at any point the rest of the way will allow them to stay focused on the task at-hand to try to continue stacking wins.
"For me, I think ignorance is bliss. I just know that we want to go 1-0 this week and really try to simplify my thought process," Cousins explained. "And I don't need to think about other things. I also don't like to waste energy on things I can't control. What we can control is the way we play on Sunday and our schedule and then try not to worry about too much else."
Cousins definitely wasn't downplaying the significance of winning the first nine of 11 games. He instead was emphasizing the focus on trying to repeat another victory in a game that is one of six this weekend between two teams with winning records.
"My experience in this league is that you have to win when you have the chance. I never think about future weeks, or really can't afford to look in the rear-view mirror, either," Cousins said. "It's got to be all about this week and getting a win. Really nothing else matters. Nothing else in the past matters, and nothing else in the future matters. Also, having played in the league for a while, you also understand how difficult it is to get to 9-2. There are many teams who at this stage of the game are hovering around .500 end up playing for the Super Bowl, so you understand how this league will beat up and go back and forth, and that doesn't mean you can't finish strong, but that also shows how difficult it can be to kind of get out ahead midseason. It's just so important that whether we were below .500, at .500, or where we are, that it doesn't impact in a negative way the way you play this Sunday. You have to bring your best, no matter what your record is and play to a high standard every single week.
2. How will Jets try to contain @JJettas2?
Justin Jefferson has been ablaze, recording more than 100 yards in six of his past eight games and seven this season.
He's done particularly well against AFC East teams, catching 25 passes for 439 yards and two touchdowns on 35 targets in wins at Miami and Buffalo and last week at home against New England.
It's the first time since 2000 for the Vikings to defeat the Dolphins, Bills and Patriots in the same season. Minnesota is trying to sweep this iteration of the AFC East, which formed in 2002, for the first time.
Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner has been shutting down foes, allowing just a 43.4 completion percentage and 47.6 passer rating. Gardner leads the NFL with 14 passes defensed this season.
But according to Next Gen Stats, Gardner has played 91.0 percent of his snaps on the left outside corner spot and Jefferson has aligned at the right receiver spot on just 27.7 percent of snaps this season, so a head-to-head matchup throughout the game might not be on tap.
3. The Mike White effect
After struggling against New England, the Jets opted to bench QB Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick of 2021, in favor of Mike White, who initially entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2018.
White completed 22 of 28 passes against the Bears for 315 yards and three scores, finishing with a passer rating of 149.3. He improved to 2-2 as a starter over the past two seasons as the Jets scored 31 and totaled a season-high 466 yards.
Since the start of 2021, the Jets have had three games with 30+ points and more than 450 yards, and White has started all three games.
According to NFL Media Research, it was the third time in the past 35 seasons that a Jets QB threw for 300 yards, three scores and completed more than 75 percent of his passes. White accomplished that in Week 8 of 2021, and Geno Smith did it in the 2014 regular-season finale at Miami.
The Vikings have allowed six QBs to complete 143 of 204 passes (70.1 percent) for 277.3 yards per game with nine combined touchdowns against four interceptions in six games at U.S. Bank Stadium this season. Dak Prescott (139.3), Mac Jones (119.8) and Justin Fields (118.8) each recorded triple-digit passer ratings, but Prescott's Cowboys are the only visiting team to defeat the Vikings this season.
4. Couple of closers
Both teams have excelled in fourth quarters this season after not doing so well in third quarters.
The Jets are plus-51 on the scoreboard (84-33) in fourth quarters, and the Vikings are plus-50 (93-43).
New York has been outscored 54-38 in third quarters, and Minnesota has fared much worse in those periods (80-34).