A pair of NFC contenders meet this week in Atlanta, as the Vikings take on the Falcons in one of the marquee games in Week 13. Here are five Vikings-Falcons storylines to watch this week.
1. NFC heavy hitters collide in Week 13
There are still five games to go in the regular season, but a few stadiums in the NFC will experience something close to a playoff atmosphere in Week 13. The Vikings-Falcons matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of them, with both squads in the NFC's top six at the moment. The Carolina Panthers visit the New Orleans Saints in a huge NFC South showdown this week, with that game helping shape not only their divisional race but the entire NFC playoff picture. To cap Sunday's action, the NFC's top team – Philadelphia – visits one of the NFC's powers in recent seasons – Seattle. The Eagles look to maintain their hold on the conference's top seed while the Seahawks try to battle to get back into the playoff picture.
2. The Reigning NFC champs, MVP are on fire
The Vikings are 9-2 with a three-game lead in the NFC North and a hold on the NFC's No. 2 seed. The defense looks to be in its dominant form, the offense has come alive and the winning streak has progressed to seven games. There is lots of Vikings love to be found. Inside Winter Park, though, the focus is on Atlanta, not accolades. The Vikings are well aware that this week's opponent is the reigning conference champion and that its leader on offense, Matt Ryan, is the reigning NFL MVP. And the Vikings understand this group is on fire. Atlanta has won three straight, with impressive wins against the Cowboys, on the road in Seattle and last week against Tampa Bay. The Falcons have scored 10 touchdowns in their last three games and are averaging 31.7 points and 382.3 yards per game during the winning streak.
3. Money Down matchup
They call 3rd down the money down in the NFL, and there is a mighty matchup on the NFL's money down in Atlanta this week. The Vikings enter Week 13 as the NFL's No. 1 3rd-down defense, holding opponents to a conversion rate of 28.5%. The Falcons offense is great on this down, too. Atlanta has the NFL's top 3rd-down offense, converting 48.1% of the time. They've been particularly on fire during their current three-game winning streak, converting 65.9% of the time and registering an 11 of 14 (78.6%) performance in last week's triumph over Tampa Bay.
4. Xavier Rhodes vs. Julio Jones
Ask someone to rank the top five cornerbacks and wide receivers in the NFL and you are likely to see the names of both Xavier Rhodes and Julio Jones. You may even see both names listed in the top spot in their respective position groups. You will definitely see both players this Sunday and you will likely see them lined up across from one another often. Jones has been limited in his production versus Rhodes and the Vikings in two career games, with 11 catches on 15 targets for 138 yards and no touchdowns. But that's in the past and Jones is coming off a game in which he was not limited AT ALL, totaling 12 receptions on 15 targets for 253 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay.
5. Tough road tests can yield home playoff game(s)
The Vikings are in the midst of a three-game road stretch. The first challenge was conquered last week when the Vikings went into Ford Field on Thanksgiving and put three games of separation between themselves and the Lions. Next is this week's battle with the reigning NFC champs on their turf and that will be followed by a visit to the Carolina Panthers, who are contending for NFC South supremacy. Tough road wins now will help the Vikings achieve the right to play at home in January and February during the playoffs.