One of the biggest games on the NFL's Week 9 docket will take place in Minnesota, where the 5-2 Vikings are set to host the 4-3 St. Louis Rams. It was the Rams whom Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer defeated last year to record his first career win, and now Zimmer and Co. will look to defeat them once again this season to maintain their winning streak and place among the NFC's playoff field.
Here are five of the biggest Vikings-Rams storylines we'll be chasing in the build-up to Week 9...
1. Another piece to the playoff puzzle
Every game is important in the NFL, but Sunday's game between the Vikings and Rams will help further shape the NFC playoff picture. The Vikings are currently the sixth seed in the NFC and the Rams are in seventh position, meaning a Vikings win will only solidify them as one of the teams on the inside while a Rams win would leapfrog them ahead of the Vikings. Both teams are riding winning streaks (Vikings – 3; Rams – 2) and both teams have three wins within the NFC.
2. Adrian vs. Gurley
Sunday's game will feature two of the best RBs going right now, with Adrian Peterson ranking third in the NFL with 633 yards and Rams rookie Todd Gurley rankings fifth with 575 yards. Peterson has three 100-yard games on the season, including last week's 20-carry, 103-yard effort in Chicago, while Gurley has ripped off four consecutive 100-yard games in his first four career starts. The hot start for Gurley is conjuring up memories of Peterson's rookie season in 2007 when he ran for 1,341 yards and 12 TDs in 14 games. Through his first five games, Gurley has 575 yards and 3 TDs and he needs 95 rushing yards and 2 TDs to equal Peterson's output through his first six games played.
3. Destructive defensive lines will be on display
If Peterson and Gurley are to keep rolling, they will do so despite facing worthy challengers across the line of scrimmage. During their three-game winning streak, the Vikings haven't allowed a team to rush for 100 yards or an individual to rush for more than 46 yards, and over the past six games the Vikings have surrendered just 2 rushing TDs. The Rams have been similarly dominant versus the run, having allowed just 3 rushing TDs all season and with only one team (Arizona) topping 100 team rushing yards since Week 2. Oh, and by the way, both of these teams can rush the passer, too. The Vikings (18) and Rams (26) have combined for 44 sacks on the season.
4. Diggs, Kendricks look to stay hot
Gurley isn't the only rookie in this matchup off to a hot start. Vikings WR Stefon Diggs has 10 catches of 20 yards since Week 4, the most in the NFL in that span. Despite being active for just four games, Diggs has the second-most receiving yards (419) among all rookies and he's also found the end zone in each of the last two games. Fellow rookie Eric Kendricks is playing well, too. He is second on the team in tackles with 50, tackles for loss with 6.0 and sacks with 4.0.
5. Vikings special teams phase continues to be special
A big reason the Vikings have won five of their first seven games this season has been the play of its special teams groups. Blair Walsh has made 13 consecutive FGs, including two from 50 in Detroit and a game-winner as time expired last week in Chicago. Marcus Sherels also provided some fireworks on special teams in Chicago, returning a punt 65 yards for the Vikings first TD of the game as well as leading the team with 2 special teams tackles. And Jeff Locke and the punt team have been solid all season, having allowed a League-low 4.0 yards per punt return and 40 total punt returns yards on the season. In what is expected to be a closely-contested game between two disciplined, physical and tough teams, the special teams phases will likely play a large role in the outcome.