The Vikings return from their bye week and hit the road to face the Washington Redskins in Week 10. Sunday's game marks the second consecutive season the Vikings and Redskins have faced one another and the seventh matchup between the two clubs in the past eight seasons.
Here are five Vikings-Redskins storylines to watch this week.
1. Vikings look to reverse post-bye week fortunes from a season ago
Last year the Vikings went into their bye week undefeated and on top of the NFC North, only to come out of it with four straight losses to fall to 5-4 and eventually miss the playoffs. No one remembers it more vividly than head coach Mike Zimmer and anyone else who was on staff or on roster then and remains so now. As such, Zimmer and Co. will be quite mindful of the pitfalls as well as the advantages that come with time off over the bye week. The Vikings entered the bye week this year at 6-2 and, once again, atop the NFC North. Now they'll try to avoid a post-bye slump by coming out with a competitive and sharp effort against a Redskins team feeling rejuvenated following a statement win in Seattle last weekend.
2. Quarterback quandary continues
The Vikings have gotten excellent performances almost weekly from the quarterback position in 2017 and the team is – and should be – confident that will continue over the final eight games of the regular season. But that doesn't mean they know which quarterback will be providing that play on a weekly basis and it doesn't mean questions won't continue to surround the position. Sam Bradford is still on the mend and was placed on the Reserve/Injured list Wednesday morning, Teddy Bridgewater was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Wednesday morning and Case Keenum just keeps winning. Vikings Nation and the rest of the NFL-following has been awaiting the team's latest announcement(s) and move(s) at the position this week while internally the offense has kept its focus on preparations for a stingy Redskins defense.
3. Vikings, Redskins hopeful starters will be returning
Stefon Diggs, Nick Easton, Everson Griffen and Mike Remmers are among the Vikings who had a chance to heal injuries during last week's bye. The status of each remains largely unknown until the week's first injury report is disclosed following Wednesday's practice. For the Redskins, it's the offensive line that is trying to heal up. Washington was without three (center Spencer Long, left guard Shaun Lauvao, left tackle Trent Williams) of its starting five in Seattle and will watch as all three go through the push toward this Sunday. Other key players out last week for the Redskins included wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight ends Niles Paul and Jordan Reed.
4. Special teams remains key component to Vikings success
The backbone of the Vikings continues to be its defense, a group that ranks No. 2 on 3rd down, No. 3 in points allowed and No. 4 in yards allowed. Aiding the defense's cause has been an on-point special teams effort for the season. The Vikings enter Week 10 with a punt coverage group that ranks No. 2 in return yards allowed and No. 4 in return average allowed; punter Ryan Quigley also has zero touchbacks on 44 punts. Continuously refusing to give up hidden yardage on special teams is making it even tougher for opposing offenses to produce against the Vikings defense. Speaking of hidden yardage, punt returner Marcus Sherels is averaging 10.8 yards per return, which ranks fifth in the NFL and is providing the offense with a boost before they take the field. Kai Forbath has also been a gem for the Vikings, converting 21 of 22 field goal tries, which includes a perfect nine of nine mark on field goals of 40 yards. This consistency on the part of the field goal team is giving the defense more cushion on the scoreboard and is also helping the Vikings in the field position game.
5. Vikings to be battle-tested for looming NFC North showdown in Detroit
Cynics of the Vikings can point to a first half schedule that includes wins over mediocre and sub-par teams such as the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and the listless Browns and Buccaneers. Advocates of the Vikings would point to a rock star defense, a rejuvenated running game and offensive line and, ultimately, what matters most – the win-loss record. These next two weeks will give credence to one of those perspectives and then will, more importantly, set the stage for the final stretch of the season. The Vikings enter Week 10 with a two-game lead over the Packers and Lions in the division, but they have a tough road game against the Redskins this week and then return home for a battle against the suddenly formidable Los Angeles Rams next week. Meanwhile, Detroit has games against the Browns and Bears on tap, putting them in a good position to be within striking distance of the Vikings when the two teams meet on Thanksgiving Day. Regardless of how these next two weeks shake out, the Thanksgiving Day game looms large and both teams can see it coming from a mile away.