The Vikings have enjoyed a home-dominated schedule over the first seven weeks, but they'll do pretty much the opposite of playing at home this week. They travel across the Atlantic Ocean to play the Cleveland Browns at Twickenham Stadium in London, England. Here are five storylines to watch in the buildup to this week's Vikings-Browns contest.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Browns.
1. Nothing will be easy against these Browns
No, the Browns have not won a game. They are 0-7. They haven't been able to settle on a starting quarterback and they are dealing with injuries to starters. But they are no walk in the park. Cleveland has four three-point losses already this season, including last week's to Tennessee in overtime. There is plenty of young talent on the roster, including athletic pass-catching tight end David Njoku and explosive defensive lineman Myles Garrett. Plus, they play in the rough and tumble AFC North, a division Mike Zimmer knows well and respects and a division that includes two teams – Baltimore and Pittsburgh – who've already played the Vikings tough.
2. Defense travels
Some of the advantages a team derives from playing at home disappear on the road. Some offenses don't perform as optimally when not on their preferred surface or in the preferred environment. The kicking game can be impacted when playing in unfamiliar environments. But they say defense travels, and that is good news for the Vikings. As they travel to London for this week's title against the Browns, the Vikings bring with them one of the fiercest defenses in the League. It's a group that ranks No. 2 on 3rd downs (27.3%), No. 3 in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.2), No. 5 in points allowed per game (17.0) and No. 6 with 21 sacks. The Vikings defense has been nothing short of phenomenal this season and they'll need a typically phenomenal effort on Sunday to leave London with win No. 6.
3. Vikings offense is on the run
Dalvin Cook was lost for the season in Week 4, but Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have teamed up to shoulder the load in the rookie's stead. The tandem has helped the Vikings rush for 440 yards in the last three contests, second-most in the NFL over that span. Murray ran for 113 yards and had his first Vikings touchdown last week in the win over Baltimore, while McKinnon was the hot hand in Week 5 and Week 6 with 245 total yards and three touchdowns in wins over the Bears and Packers. McKinnon and Murray will have their work cut out for them this week, as the Browns enter this weeks' contest ranked No.1 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.0) and No. 6 in rushing yards allowed per game (83.7).
4. New Browns left tackle meets Everson Griffen
Yes, that's right. The Browns will not have Joe Thomas at left tackle for the first time since 2007, as his consecutive snap streak of 10,363 was broken last week against Tennessee when he was forced from the game with a triceps injury. It's not a good time for the Browns to be working in a new left tackle because lining up across from the new guy (2016 fifth-round pick Spencer Drango) will be one of the best defensive ends in the NFL – Everson Griffen. He is one of just two players in the NFL to have a sack in every game played and he is third in the League with 9.0 sacks for the season. This will be a big matchup in the game.
5. Some starters could return to Vikings lineup
Offensive starters Stefon Diggs and Nick Easton have both missed the past two games, but head coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about their chances of returning to the lineup this week against Cleveland. Zimmer sounded equally optimistic about starting nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander playing this week after being held out of last week's win over Baltimore. The return of the offensive starters could provide a spark to a group that found the end zone just once last week against the Ravens and would like to put some positive things on tape before heading into the bye week following the game in London.