Having played just once at home Since October 22, the Vikings will look to get back on the wining track this Sunday against the Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Here are five storylines to watch in the buildup to the Vikings-Bengals clash.
1. Division-clinching Sunday: Take two
The Vikings came up just short of clinching the NFC North division championship last week in Carolina, but they have another chance to do it this Sunday at home against the Bengals. A 10-2 start to the season that included a 3-1 division record put the Vikings in position to control their own destiny in the NFC North over the final month of the season. While the Vikings have bigger goals in mind than just winning the division, those bigger-picture goals are much more attainable from the perch of a division championship than from the starting place of a road playoff game in the Wild Card round.
2. Both teams battle injuries
The Vikings didn't come away from last week's physical confrontation with the Panthers unscathed. Left tackle Riley Reiff left the game and did not return with a leg injury and both tight end Kyle Rudolph and receiver Adam Thielen were banged up, as well. Two other starters – center Pat Elflein and right tackle Mike Remmers – didn't suit up for the game. The status of all those players remains uncertain entering the first day of practice for the week. Cincinnati will be looking to get key players back from injury, too, as starting linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil were absent last week as were starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and starting safety Shawn Williams; starting cornerback Adam Jones has been placed on the Reserve/Injured list. The Bengals were also without running back Joe Mixon last week (concussion).
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bengals.
3. Familiarity between Zimmer, Bengals will up the ante
The Vikings have enough on the line in the way of playoff prospects to give Sunday's game everything they have, but the 5-8 Bengals don't have as rosy a postseason outlook. But don't worry, Marvin Lewis' squad won't sleepwalk through this one – not with former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer roaming the Vikings sideline. Zimmer was a popular leader for the Bengals under Lewis from 2008-13 before taking his current job with the Vikings, and you can be sure Bengals players on all sides of the ball will be anxious to spoil Zimmer's hopes of clinching the division. Vikings cornerback Terence Newman is also a former Bengal, having played three seasons in Cincinnati, and that only adds to the "up the ante" feeling of this matchup.
4. Keenum, aerial assault look to take off at home
Case Keenum's 2017 season has been nothing short of special. He started in Week 2 and Week 3, gave way for the first half in Week 4 and then took over as the starter in Week 5. Through it all, he's produced impressive numbers and is one of the biggest reasons the Vikings won 10 of their first 13 games. That roll slowed a tick last week in Carolina, and a home game might be just what the doctor ordered for this offense to get back on track. In the last three road games, Keenum has 104 passing attempts with a 6-2 touchdown-interception ratio and 10 sacks. But in 170 attempts over all five of his home starts this season, Keenum has 170 attempts, a 5-2 ratio and only two sacks. U.S. Bank Stadium has certainly been friendly confines for Keenum and Co., and they'll look to settle right back in at home with two games in front of the home crowd over the final three weeks of the regular season.
5. Another elite matchup for Rhodes
The Vikings have one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in Xavier Rhodes. The Bengals have one of the best receivers in the NFL in AJ Green. And so it looks like Rhodes has yet another dynamite matchup coming up this weekend, just another in a long line of these kinds of matchups against the likes of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas.