The Vikings begin the final quarter of the season by traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. The game will be the third for Minnesota against the AFC South and it will be the first of two consecutive contests against the division, with the Indianapolis Colts scheduled to visit U.S. Bank Stadium next week.
Here are five storylines to watch in the buildup to the Vikings-Jaguars matchup on Sunday…
1. Vikings look to finish strong and get some help in playoff push
With four games to go, the Vikings are tied for second in the NFC North and they're the No. 8 seed in the NFC playoff field. That means they are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, likely needing to win their remaining games plus get a few other games to go their way. Finishing at 10-6 would not guarantee a playoff spot for the Vikings, but it would put them in good position. The three teams ahead of the Vikings in the wild card standings entering Week 14 are the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.
2. Health of Zimmer, Harrison Smith will be in focus
After missing last week's game against Dallas following emergency eye surgery, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has returned to the team and is set to be on the sidelines for Sunday's game against the Jaguars. The fluid nature of Zimmer's injury and treatment is such that it's not a guarantee Zimmer will be able to coach, so his status will bear monitoring this week. The same can be said for S Harrison Smith, who did play in last Thursday's game but who is also dealing with a leg injury. All eyes will be on this week's injury report to see what Smith's status is for this week.
3. Danielle Hunter is hot
DE Danielle Hunter is on fire in his second season. He had 2.0 sacks last week against Dallas and now has a sack in eight of 12 games this season. Hunter's 9.5 sacks are a team-high and are most in the NFL this season among players under the age of 24. Hunter also leads all players from the 2015 draft class in sacks with 15.5. Even better for the Vikings, Hunter isn't the only defensive end on the team playing well. Vikings defensive ends have combined for 21.5 sacks this season, the second-highest total in the NFL behind only Seattle (23.0). The Vikings are also the only team in the NFL to have three defensive ends with 6.0 sacks this season (Hunter – 9.5; Everson Griffen – 6.0; Brian Robison – 6.0).
4. Turnover trends favor Vikings
The Vikings have 22 takeaways this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. They had two takeaways last week against a Dallas offense that had only seven on the season entering the game. Sunday's opponent is much more turnover prone. The Jaguars are tied for the League lead in giveaways with 25 – 15 interceptions and 10 lost fumbles. With the Vikings offense struggling to sustain drives and score points, the defense creating points and/or short fields for the offense by creating turnovers is a key component for the team in the stretch run.
View photos of Pro Bowl candidate Kyle Rudolph from the 2016 season so far, and make sure to visit vikings.com/probowl to vote.
5. Rudy's record watch
Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph is in the midst of a career season and has time to add to his numbers and set a new team record. Through 12 games, Rudolph already has career highs in receptions (54) and receiving yards (513). His career-high for touchdowns in a season is nine, and he enters Week 14 with a team-high five receiving touchdowns. Rudolph's next touchdown will be the 28th of his career and will tie him with Steve Jordan for most all-time among Vikings tight ends.