EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are looking to get above .500 for the first time this season.
And Minnesota can do so in the most-recent place when it did have a winning record: San Francisco, which hosted the 2019 Divisional Round game between the franchises on Jan. 11, 2020.
The Vikings and 49ers are both 5-5 and meet at Levi's Stadium in Week 12. Kickoff is at 3:25 p.m. (CT) Sunday.
To say this is a pivotal game is likely understating it.
"It's important. It's an important game," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "I'm sure they'd say the same thing, but I think there's still seven games left and, you know, we have to play each game the best we can and count them up at the end.
"That's what will do it," Zimmer added. "We've got to put all our focus on this particular game and then we'll worry about next week and the next week."
Both teams would be in the NFC playoff field if the season ended today, as Minnesota is currently the No. 6 seed while San Francisco is in the No. 7 spot.
The ramifications are high for this one with seven games left. The winner will be the NFC's sixth seed after the game is over.
If that's the Vikings, they would be in a strong spot with a crucial head-to-head tiebreaker over the 49ers. But if Minnesota loses, it could fall back a bit while still remaining in the playoff picture depending on what happens elsewhere around the league.
"This seven-game stretch, every game is going to be important from now on," Dalvin Cook said. "We put ourselves in position to be at zero right now. This is a zero start, that's how we're going to take it.
"We've got to take it one game at a time. San Fran is on the schedule so we've got to go take care of business," Cook added. "But we've put ourselves in position to control what we can control and put ourselves in position to go get a playoff spot."
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Vikings currently have a 61-percent chance to make the playoffs. Those odds jump to 85 percent with a Minnesota win, and drop to 45 percent if the Vikings lose.
It's Week 12, but the outcome of this game will be felt the rest of the season, including after Week 18.
Here is what Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters of Vikings.com will be watching in Week 12:
The stars need to shine | By @EricLSmith
When the Vikings beat the Chargers in Week 10, Minnesota's skilled trio of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and Cook accounted for 322 of the 381 total offensive yards (85.4 percent) produced by Minnesota.
A week ago against the Packers, the Vikings dynamic group was even more involved, putting up 369 combined yards out of Minnesota's 408 yards on offense. That's 90.4-percent of the yardage total.
If the Vikings want to get a win against the 49ers, they will need their stars to shine once again.
Minnesota's defense is depleted for a myriad of reasons, and that unit has endured its own ups and downs throughout the 2021 season.
The Vikings offense has led the way in back-to-back wins, with the three aforementioned Pro Bowlers carrying the load.
Kirk Cousins has also done his part, too, with 635 combined passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two straight wins. He is in the midst of his best season in Purple.
Zimmer had praise for Cousins, Thielen and Jefferson earlier this week.
"I think Kirk is doing a great job of getting them the ball," Zimmer said. "They're very competitive, they go up and get the football extremely well.
"Some of the catches that Adam makes are outstanding and same thing with J.J.," Zimmer added. "But they both love playing football and that's a big attribute. They do whatever they can to get open, and Kirk has been finding them."
Jefferson, Thielen and Cook have combined for 2,332 scrimmage yards in 2021. That accounts for 60.3 percent for Minnesota's 3,870 yards of offense so far this season.
Winning in the trenches | By @LindseyMNSports
The Vikings will have their hands full in the trenches Sunday – on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota knows it will need a stout offensive line performance in order to keep Cousins clean in the pocket and get the Vikings run game going. It's a tall task, though, going against the 49ers defensive line that features the likes of Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. Fortunately for the Vikings, San Francisco traded DeForest Buckner to the Colts after defeating Minnesota in the 2019 Divisional Round playoff game.
"Well, Bosa's a really good rusher," Zimmer said Wednesday. "They lost the one guy to Indianapolis, but Armstead's still a good player. The linebackers (Azeez Al-Shaair, Fred Warner and Marcell Harris) are fast, so they'll use them in some pressures, but I'm trying to think back to what pass protection two years ago was ... I think they've done a pretty good job for the most part, and I think Kirk [Cousins] knows where to go with the football. Their secondary scheme is similar to what it was."
Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill said he has a "ton of respect" for Bosa's game.
"He's extremely explosive, he's long, he's athletic. He can beat you with power, beat you with speed, beat you with [technique by] using his hands. He's got everything," O'Neill said. "He's the whole package and one of the best in the NFL, so it's a big challenge for me."
A lot rests with the Vikings offensive line on Sunday, but we'll also be watching the shorthanded defensive line.
Everson Griffen has been placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list. That means that all four starters – Griffen, Michael Pierce (Injured Reserve), Dalvin Tomlinson (Reserve/COVID-19) and Danielle Hunter (Injured Reserve) – will be sidelined for the NFC matchup.
The Vikings will look to D.J. Wonnum, who has been starting in Hunter's absence and Sheldon Richardson, who started the season playing 3-technique but has been played most of last week’s game at defensive end.
Minnesota also re-signed two former Vikings, Eddie Yarbrough and Tashawn Bower, back.
"They have better recall, so it's not like starting completely over," Zimmer said. "Tashawn's done a good job this week. He remembered a lot of things. So, we'll see."
Possession nearly as important as points | By @pcraigers
The Vikings offense hit the Chargers and Packers with big plays in the past two weeks, but clock-churning drives might be the best path against a 49ers team that likes to hog the pigskin and play bully ball after a bevy of pre-snap motions and shifts.
Minnesota opened the second half last week against Green Bay with one of its most balanced and impressive possessions of 2021. Eight runs gained a total of 38 yards, and Cousins was 4-of-6 passing for 37 yards. The drive ended, importantly, in the end zone with a 9-yard pass to Thielen, but it also lasted 6:34.
Zimmer made it clear that points are always the most important, but also said being able to control the ball on offense could prevent San Francisco from doing what it most likes to do.
"Well, scoring's always more important, right? We're gonna have to play great in the red zone," Zimmer said. "We're gonna have to be better in 2-minute on defense. But yeah, they want to control the clock, and they're going to give you a lot of window dressing, but they're a power football team, at the end of the day. So obviously the more we hold onto the ball, the better it is."
Moving the chains and protecting the football will be important for the offense, and the defense can potentially help itself with a takeaway or two.
Turnovers have been one of the biggest problems for the 49ers this season. San Francisco is tied for 27th in the NFL with a turnover margin of minus-5.
The 49ers have been intercepted six times, and they've lost eight fumbles. QB Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown five of the picks and lost three of the fumbles. Deebo Samuel has lost two fumbles on 74 total touches.
Minnesota is tied for fifth in the NFL in turnover margin at plus-6 (12 takeaways and six giveaways).
"Well, we need to get some [takeaways]. We didn't get any last week; we need to start getting some more," Zimmer said. "You know, hopefully we can get the ball on the ground or get it out of the air a little bit. We continue to do some turnover things in practice to try to emphasize that, but at the end of the day, it's about getting to the ball and finishing."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the 49ers.
Notable Number: 5
The Vikings will try to end a recent string of success by the home team in the Minnesota-San Francisco series history.
The home team has been victorious the past five meetings, including the playoffs. Here is the recent breakdown of those five games:
Jan. 11, 2020: 27-10 Vikings loss on the road (Divisional Round of NFC Playoffs)
Sept. 9, 2018: 24-16 Vikings win at home
Sept. 14, 2015: 20-3 Vikings loss on the road
Sept. 23, 2012: 24-13 Vikings win at home
Sept. 27, 2009: 27-24 Vikings win at home
The Vikings are 2-3 on the road this season, getting wins against the Panthers and Chargers.