The home stretch of the regular season has arrived and the Vikings are looking to get back on the winning track in an attempt to qualify for the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09. The opponent this week is the Dolphins, who are coming off an improbable win over the New England Patriots thanks to a walk-off touchdown that included two backward laterals.
Here are five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings prepare to play the Dolphins.
1. Kevin Stefanski takes the reins of Vikings offense
The Vikings played in the final game of the NFL's Week 14 calendar and it wasn't a pleasant experience as they fell 21-7 to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the third consecutive week the Vikings failed to reach the 20-point threshold. The Vikings also opened the NFL's Week 15 calendar with a big headline, firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and naming quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski as the interim offensive coordinator. Stefanski's task will be the same as DeFilippo's: Find a way to make the running game a more relevant component to the offense while also scoring enough points to help the team win games.
2. Vikings defense ascending to peak form down the stretch
That rough four-game stretch to open the season for the Vikings defense continues to disappear in the rear view mirror as the season enters its final month. Of late, the Vikings defense has played well and is now rounding into elite form with three games to go. The Vikings rank No. 1 in 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 29.7% of the time. The Vikings also boast the No. 5 total defense and No. 5 passing defense. There are still corrections to make, but head coach Mike Zimmer's defense remains on the ascent and has the look of a group ready to perform in the playoffs.
3. Underrated potential return: Tight end David Morgan
The Vikings have been without gritty tight end David Morgan since he left the Week 8 loss to New Orleans. There's optimism the 6-4, 265-pound versatile third-year pro will return to the lineup this Sunday against the Dolphins. Morgan's return will be an underrated boost to the Vikings offense because he is a key factor in the team's run-blocking efforts in addition to being a player who can help in the passing game and on special teams. With the Vikings continuing to focus on making the running game a more significant factor, don't think for a moment the team isn't excited to have Morgan back in the fold as soon as possible.
4. There's no place like home…and no time like a noon CT kickoff
The Vikings return home to U.S. Bank Stadium this weekend after back-to-back weeks of road games and four straight games with non-noon CT kickoffs. The Vikings will need to halt a couple of recent streaks while continuing a couple of season-long trends if they are to come out on the right side of this contest. Miami has won consecutive games for the first time since opening the season 3-0, but they've also gone just 1-5 on the road this season. The Vikings, meanwhile, have dropped consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 3-4, but they've been solid at home in generating a 4-2 mark. Suffice it to say, the Vikings are looking to use the comforts of home on Sunday to get back on track against a quality Dolphins team that is still in the AFC playoff picture with three games to play.
5. Who's in, who's out?
Training camp. The preseason. And now 13 regular season games. It's been a long grind for NFL players and almost no one is healthy at this stage. Playing through injuries is part of the deal and both the Vikings and Dolphins have players whose status bears monitoring this week.