The Vikings return home to TCF Bank Stadium this week looking to get back on the winning track after consecutive losses to New England and New Orleans. It will be the Atlanta Falcons who make their way to Minnesota this week, doing so for the first time since 2008.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Falcons prepare to battle.
1. Vikings Battle Injuries While Falcons Come In RestedThe Vikings depth at several positions will be tested in this game. Adrian Peterson is out of the lineup, but QB Matt Cassel, RG Brandon Fusco and TE Kyle Rudolph all appear to be unavailable, too. Chad Greenway's status is in doubt, as well. These injuries do open the door of opportunity for several Vikings, many of whom are young. Teddy Bridgewater will make his first career start, TE Chase Ford may be promoted from the practice squad and LB Gerald Hodges will likely seem more reps this week.
The Falcons, meanwhile, are dealing with injuries of their own and won't be sending any sympathy the Vikings direction. They lost starting LT Sam Baker and had to slide rookie Jake Matthews to that side and their best defensive player – LB Sean Weatherspoon – is also out for the season. But the silver lining for the Falcons is they come into this game with three extra days of rest after their Thursday night home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
2. Bridgewater Prepares to Make First Career StartTouchdown Teddy will make his first career start on Sunday and try to get the Vikings back to .500 just in time for the team's first division contest – next Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Bridgewater's first start is coming earlier than planned and under unfortunate circumstances, but it still represents a momentous occasion in his career and it could be an exciting moment for the home crowd. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner tweaks his offense with Bridgewater under center and it will be interesting to see if the Falcons take the same approach to defending Bridgewater as the Saints did – blitzing constantly.
3. Falcons Bring a High-Flying Attack to TownThe Vikings defense has played well for the most part this season, not allowing a touchdown to the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 and holding the Saints to their lowest home scoring output since 2008. It doesn't get any easier for the defense, though, with QB Matt Ryan and an explosive Falcons offense ready to go. The Falcons are averaging 39.5 offensive points per game in their two victories, a figure that includes that 56-14 drubbing of the Buccaneers in which the offense scored 42 points. Atlanta can score on the ground or through the air, but they've been especially lethal while throwing the ball. Through three games, the Falcons lead the NFL in passing yards (1,001) and yards per attempt (8.9), and they rank fourth in passing touchdowns (seven) and fifth in completions (79). WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White are as good a tandem of receivers as you'll find in the NFL.
4. Vikings Continue Searching for Explosiveness on the GroundIt's been more than seven seasons since the Vikings have had concerns about being able to produce explosive gains on the ground. Peterson was charged with that task and succeeded on a weekly basis. Over the last two games without Peterson, though, the Vikings longest run each week was produced by a quarterback. Many are growing impatient on this end, but it's important to remember the Vikings have only constructed one full game plan without Peterson because two weeks ago No. 28 was declared unavailable just two days in front of the Patriots game. Another week of practice reps will likely go a long way for Matt Asiata and the Vikings offense as they search to become more productive in the running game. Perhaps this is the week Cordarrelle Patterson becomes a bit more involved in the running game, as well.
5. Hester Can Still be a HeadacheDevin Hester is no longer a member of the Chicago Bears, but that doesn't mean the Vikings don't have to contend with him anymore. He signed with the Falcons this offseason and last week made a profound impact on the game. He logged consecutive scores for Atlanta, taking an end-around 20 yards for a touchdown and just moments later fielding a punt and returning that to the house for a 62-yard touchdown. The punt return touchdown was the 20th career return touchdown of Hester's career, giving him the NFL's career return record (surpassing Deion Sanders). Hester has four return touchdowns in 15 games against the Vikings, so you can be sure he'll be a focus in practice this week for both Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer.* *