Both coming off division losses on the road, the Vikings and Dolphins will meet in Miami this Sunday in the penultimate game of the 2014 regular season. Sunday marks the Vikings first visit to Miami since 2006, the team's second consecutive road game and the final road game of the season.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Dolphins prepare to battle.
1. Dolphins Pass Rusher Leaving QBs in His WakeThe Vikings defense has been one of the NFL's best at rushing the quarterback, tallying 38 sacks on the season and ranking sixth in that category despite putting up zero last week in Detroit. In the build up to this week's Vikings-Dolphins matchup, though, the focus on pass rushing should be split between the Vikings and a member of the opposition's defense – DE Cameron Wake. In his sixth NFL season after spending two seasons with the CFL's BC Lions, Wake is playing at a high level. He has 9.5 sacks on the season, giving him 61.0 in his Dolphins career, and this season he's forced fumbles on four of his sacks. Wake plays nearly exclusively as the Dolphins right defensive end, meaning he'll be matchup against Vikings RT Mike Harris for much of the afternoon.
2. Homecoming for Miami Natives Bridgewater, Rhodes
Much like going against a former team, returning to your home town to play can provide players with some extra motivation. Such will be the case this week for two Vikings who've been playing well anyways, as both QB Teddy Bridgewater and CB Xavier Rhodes will suit up in their native Miami on Sunday. Bridgewater attended Northwestern High School in Miami and Rhodes attended Norland High School, also in Miami. The Vikings have six Florida natives on their active roster (Bridgewater, Rhodes, Linval Joseph, Jabari Price, Josh Robinson and Blair Walsh) and the Vikings also have six players who attended college in Florida (Sharrif Floyd, Chase Ford, Christian Ponder, Rhodes, Robinson and Justin Trattou).
3. Vikings Close-Game Education to Continue this Week?Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer discussed on Monday his desire for the Vikings to learn from their experiences in close games so that in time his team will develop the ability to play well in clutch moments and close out tight victories. The next opportunity to do just that may happen this Sunday. The Vikings and Dolphins have combined to play in 11 games this season that have been decided by one possession or less. The Dolphins have three losses this season by four points or fewer and the Vikings have won three times by six points or fewer and have lost three times by three points or fewer.
4. Walsh, Field Goal Team Look to Clean Up MiscuesVikings K Blair Walsh has been among the League's best both in kickoffs and field goals during his two-plus seasons in the NFL, but he and the field goal team have seen miscues of late. Most notable is last week's blocked field goal attempt of 26 yards in the 4th quarter, a costly mistake by the field goal team in a game that was decided by two points. Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer has been adept at identifying issues and correcting them quickly during his time on the job in Minnesota, so it's fair to expect Walsh and the field goal team to be sharp over the final two games of the season, beginning this week in Miami.
5. Bridgewater to Set New Vikings Rookie QB RecordAssuming he remains healthy this week and makes the start in Miami on Sunday, the Bridgewater will set a new team record for starts by a rookie quarterback. Sunday will be Bridgewater's 11 start, surpassing the previous mark of 10 that was held by Fran Tarkenton (1961) and Christian Ponder (2011). A win by the Vikings over Miami on Sunday would improve Bridgewater's record as a starter to 6-5 in 2014.