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Vikings at Bengals Game Preview

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are visiting an AFC team with playoff aspirations for a second consecutive week.

The Cincinnati Bengals host Minnesota Saturday at Paycor Stadium in a game that features two attacking defenses, a pair of unexpected starting quarterbacks, and a reunion of two game-breaking receivers from LSU.

Both the Vikings and Bengals are 7-6 and fighting for a postseason opportunity. Minnesota is currently the sixth seed in the NFC, while the Bengals are one of six AFC teams with a record one game over .500.

Kickoff is set for noon (CT).

Vikings Uniform

The Vikings will wear their traditional road uniforms with white jerseys and purple pants.

4 Storylines

  1. Enter Nick Mullens: For the first time in franchise history, the Vikings will play a fourth different starting quarterback within one season. On Tuesday, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell announced the team will start Nick Mullens.

Mullens entered last week's game versus the Raiders with 9:10 remaining. The six-year veteran completed nine of his 13 passes for 83 yards and helped the Vikings win 3-0 by pushing the team into kicker Greg Joseph's range on his second possession under center.

Minnesota acquired Mullens via trade in August 2022 to help solidify its quarterback room. He initially backed up Kirk Cousins but was on Injured Reserve with a back injury when Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8 at Green Bay.

"There's a reason we went out and got Nick when we did, to really solidify that position," O'Connell said. "Anytime we're going out to try to find a quarterback that you feel like, when he's one snap away, can win you some football games, you look for certain traits. Nick has them all."

Saturday will mark Mullens' first start since Dec. 20, 2021, when he completed 20 of 30 passes for 147 yards in a Browns loss to the Raiders.

  1. LSU reunion: In his first game back since Week 5, star receiver Justin Jefferson exited last week's 3-0 victory at the Raiders following a punishing second-quarter hit from safety Marcus Epps.

Jefferson was injured after making his second catch of the afternoon and did not return. O'Connell said he considers Jefferson day-to-day with a chest injury. But he is hopeful Jefferson will be available for Saturday.

If he plays, Jefferson will share a field with former LSU teammate and friend Ja'Marr Chase for the second time in their young careers. Minnesota faced the Bengals in Week 1 of the 2021 season. Chase, then a rookie, finished with 101 yards on five catches and one touchdown. Jefferson led all Vikings pass catchers, catching five receptions for 71 yards.

  1. Jake Browning playing like Joe Burrow, but different: Star quarterback Joe Burrow was lost for the season following a Nov. 16 wrist injury versus the Ravens. In his absence, backup quarterback (and former Viking) Jake Browning has managed to keep the Bengals playoff hopes alive. 

Browning is 2-1 in three consecutive starts. In wins against the Jaguars and Colts, he has thrown for 629 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, and completed 50 of 61 attempts. His *79.3% completion percentage in his first three starts is the highest by an NFL QB in records kept since 1950.

Browning isn't just managing games. He's winning them with his arm. Head Coach Zac Taylor has curved the offense to fit Browning's strengths better, but his numbers are similar to Burrow's.

By playing primarily under center, the Bengals have revamped their offense. Burrow preferred shotgun formations and lots of empty sets. Without Burrow, Taylor is putting Browning under center and taking advantage of traditional play-action passes.

When not pressured, he's 42-of-46 passing for 498 yards, a staggering 91-percent completion rate. Those four incompletions include two batted passes, a drop and an interception.

  1. Brian Flores' scheme flourishing: The Vikings defense is among the best in the NFL. Following a shutout versus the Raiders, Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is thriving as a scheme designer and play caller.

Since Week 6, the Vikings defense ranks first in points per drive and red zone percentage, fourth in yards per drive and second in blitz percentage.

3 Things 'Bout the Bengals

  1. A sound offensive line: *The Bengals offensive line is keeping Browning upright while also opening lanes for running back Joe Mixon. *Left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr., guard Cordell Volson, center Ted Karras, guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Jonah Williams have started all 13 games together.

Without Burrow, the Bengals have reduced their empty formations and improved at protecting their quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, *the Bengals allowed just three pressures against the Colts, a season low. They also snapped a 42-game streak of allowing at least one sack.

  1. Another star pass rusher in Trey Hendrickson: Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson is one of the game's premier pass rushers. Hendrickson has accumulated 34 combined tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks (tied for third-most with Danielle Hunter), three pass deflections and two forced fumbles. According to Next Gen Stats, his 17.8-percent quarterback pressure rate is the fourth-highest in the league. 

The 29-year-old pass rusher notched two sacks last week against the Colts.

A week after allowing two sacks and eight pressures by Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, Minnesota faces another blue-chip pass rusher in Hendrickson. Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill suffered an ankle injury last week and is considered day-to-day. If he cannot play, then swing tackle David Quessenberry will likely start and compete against Hendrickson. 

  1. One-two punch at running back: Mixon is the Bengals established running back, but rookie rusher Chase Brown emerged as a big-play threat last week.

Brown, a 2023 fifth-round selection, started slowly this year. He suffered a hamstring injury during a Week 8 practice and was placed on Injured Reserve. Brown returned in Week 13 in a limited role, but his snaps doubled last week against the Colts. 

The speedster notched 95 total yards and a receiving touchdown in Week 14, with a long touchdown catch of 54 yards via a dashing quick screen.

Brown topped out at 22.05 mph in Week 14, recording the second-fastest speed by a ball carrier in 2023. Since Week 12, he has played 21.7 percent of Cincinnati's offensive snaps after playing 1.2 percent of prior snaps.

2 Trends

Injuries piling up

Just one week after their Week 13 bye, the Vikings are again dealing with a slew of injuries. Minnesota's offense suffered several at Las Vegas. Jefferson (chest), O'Neill (ankle), running back Alexander Mattison (ankle) and receiver Jalen Nailor (concussion) left and did not return due to injuries.

They also have one fewer day to recover ahead of Saturday's game at Cincinnati.

Mattison, Nailor and O'Neill did not participate in Tuesday's walk-through and did not practice Wednesday. Jefferson was limited both days.

Watch out for Bengals screen game

The Bengals newfound screen game is another example of how their offense has recently changed. Cincinnati called just one running-back screen over the first six games of this year.

Last week, however, the Bengals called six screens against Indianapolis, more than any game under Taylor. Cincinnati had three such plays combine for 124 yards and a touchdown.

Mixon is built to thrive as a pass catcher. Once all 225 pounds get moving into open space, it's been a problem. Eleven of his 34 forced missed tackles have come following a reception, according to Pro Football Focus.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bengals.

1 Talking Point

"We have a great room. We have a great group of guys. Joshua [Dobbs] has come in and been nothing but a positive influence on our team, and obviously [he did] some incredible stuff with a win in Atlanta and his other wins, as well. You never know what the NFL is going to give you. You never know what the season is going to be like, so it's important to be tight, have chemistry, good communication, and we're led by [quarterbacks coach] Chris O'Hara and obviously Kirk Cousins and [assistant quarterbacks coach] Grant [Udinski] — our whole room. Great chemistry."

— Mullens on the Vikings quarterbacks room


Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil was drafted by the Bengals in 2016 and played his first four seasons in Cincinnati. Offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji played three seasons for the Bengals after his selection in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Vikings Defensive Backs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Daronte Jones coached Cincinnati's secondary from 2018-19.

In addition to Browning, Bengals tight end Irv Smith, Jr., is a former Viking who was drafted by Minnesota in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Bengals receivers coach Troy Walters played the position for the Vikings (2000-01), and assistant special teams coach Colt Anderson was a safety with Minnesota's practice squad (2009-10).

College and Pro Connections


Series History

The Vikings and Bengals have met 14 times, with each team winning seven contests.

The home teams have dominated. Minnesota is 6-0 all-time when hosting and 1-7 when visiting. The lone road win occurred in 1992 when Rich Gannon threw four touchdowns and the Vikings intercepted Boomer Esiason four times (three by Todd Scott).