The Vikings and Falcons are both playoff-hopefuls in the NFC and they're both looking to rebound from losses last week. Only one of them will get the job done because they will meet on Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
Here are five Vikings-Falcons storylines we'll be chasing this week in the buildup to Week 12...
1. The playoff push continues
The NFL calendar has reached a point in the season where a lot of games have some kind of playoff implications at stake, but Sunday's Vikings-Falcons game is one of just two on the Week 12 slate between two teams who are both currently in the would-be playoff field. The Vikings will be keeping one eye on the Packers in a race for the NFC North title, but if the wild card winds up being the Vikings ticket to the postseason then the Falcons will be one of the main competitors for positioning. The Vikings enter this week at 7-3 and in the NFC's No. 5 spot while the Falcons enter 6-4 and on a 3-game losing streak – but still in the NFC's No. 6 spot. The Vikings cannot fall out of playoff position this week, but they have games coming up in the next two weeks against playoff-hopeful Seattle and NFC West-leading Arizona.
2. NFL's leading rusher goes against NFL's best rushing defense
No RB has been better this season than Adrian Peterson. No defense has been better at stopping the run this season than Atlanta. Something's got to give. Peterson leads the League in rushing yards with 1,006 and he is also tops in the NFL with 5 games of 100 rushing yards. The Falcons are allowing only 87.4 yards per game and no RB has rushed for 100 yards against them this season.
3. Keeping up with the Jones – Julio Jones
While the Vikings have featured a pounding and productive ground attack, the Falcons preferred method of moving the ball down the field is through the air. And Julio Jones is at the center of it all. QB Matt Ryan is the trigger man and a prolific one at that, ranking 4th in completions and 6th in yards. But Jones is the one to watch. He leads the Falcons in targets (135), receptions (89), receiving yards (1,189) and receiving TDs (6). Jones' targets are more than double the next-highest on the team (RB Devonta Freeman – 62), he has 41 more receptions than anyone else and he has 743 yards more than any of his teammates. The Vikings did a sound job against Jones in Week 4 last year, holding him to 6 receptions for 82 yards and 0 TDs on 8 targets.
4. Can the Vikings turn into road warriors?
The Vikings won two road games last season. This season, they've already won three. In fact, the Vikings have won three consecutive road games (at Detroit, at Chicago, at Oakland) and they'll look to make it four straight on Sunday in Atlanta. One key to the Vikings success on the road this season has been the play of Bridgewater, who has a 5-1 TD-INT ratio and a passer rating of 95.6 in his last 4 road games. Mike Zimmer wants a tough team, and road wins are one indicator of toughness. After dropping a home game to division rival Green Bay last week, a road win over a 6-4 Falcons team would be a big first step toward rebuilding momentum for a late-season run.
A couple key players in this matchup sustained injuries a week ago and therefore will likely be listed on the injury report this week. For the Falcons, Freeman left last week's contest to undergo evaluation for a concussion. For the Vikings, QB Teddy Bridgewater had to leave the game briefly because of a shoulder injury. Bridgewater eventually returned and finished the game.