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Lunchbreak: Baldinger's 'Bold Prediction' has Vikings Upsetting Seahawks

CenturyLink Field will be a much less hostile environment than usual for the Vikings on Sunday Night Football, as the Seahawks are hosting home games without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minnesota still will have its hands full, though, particularly with QB Russell Wilson putting up career numbers for Seattle through four games.

The Seahawks are undefeated; the Vikings nabbed their first win of the season last week. There's no doubt that Minnesota is the underdog this weekend. But NFL analyst Brian Baldinger isn't counting the Vikings out.

As part of NFL.com's "Bold Predictions Heading into Week 5" roundtable, Baldinger called for an upset of Wilson and Company. He wrote:

If you wish it BOLD, I will take the one-win Minnesota Vikings over the undefeated Seattle Seahawks. Minnesota's offense hasn't been tearing it up – tied for 14thin scoring heading into Week 5 – but [Offensive Coordinator] Gary Kubiak has a proven formula that includes the league's leading rusher in Dalvin Cook and an improved offensive line. The winner of this contest, which figures to be long on points and short on punts, will likely have the ball last.

As far as the other analysts' bold predictions, Marc Ross chose the Browns to upset the Colts; Nate Burleson expects the Falcons to beat the division-rival Panthers for their first win of the season; Joe Thomas predicted a 14-plus-point win by the Cowboys over the Giants; and DeAngelo Hall picked the Washington Football Team, which will be led by newly named starting QB Kyle Allen, to upset the Rams.

ESPN's Barnwell recognizes Cook & Jefferson in quarter-season awards

The 2020 NFL season is already a quarter of the way through.

With four games from each team to analyze, ESPN's Bill Barnwell on Thursday rolled out his "quarter-season awards," which honors his top picks for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP.

Barnwell included Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson among three picks for Offensive Rookie of the Year and Vikings running back Dalvin Cook among three picks for Offensive Player of the Year. He wrote the following of Jefferson:

The LSU star got off to a slow start, but after being moved into the starting lineup in Week 3, he has produced a 175-yard performance against the Titans and followed it with four catches for 103 yards in the win over the Texans. The Vikings have more than doubled their play-action rate since Jefferson entered the starting lineup, and I think Jefferson can be the A.J. Brown for Kirk Cousins in this offense.

Four games is a small sample, and you don't want to get too carried away, but Jefferson is off to a special start. The list of guys who have racked up 300 or more yards in the first four games of their rookie season isn't long, and since the turn of the century, it's impressive: Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Marques Colston, Kelvin Benjamin, DeSean Jackson, Will Fuller, A.J. Green, Deion Branch and Marquise Brown are joined by Jefferson and [fellow rookie CeeDee] Lamb.

Barnwell also named Jaguars running back James Robinson and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow as top candidates for OROY.

For overall offensive player of the year, Barnwell highlighted a trio of running backs: Cook, Aaron Jones (Packers) and Alvin Kamara (Saints).

Cook, on the other hand, has had two huge games. After racking up 113 rushing yards and three scores across 26 combined carries between Weeks 1 and 2, the newly extended Vikings standout carried the ball 22 times for 181 yards and a score in the Week 3 loss to the Titans. Cook then followed up with 130 yards and two scores in Minnesota's first win of the season, the 31-23 win over the Texans that ended Bill O'Brien's run in Houston.

The 25-year-old comfortably leads the league in rushing yardage (424, 50 yards ahead of the second-placed Jones), rushing touchdowns (six, two more than any other player) and DYAR (124, 26 ahead of second-placed Melvin Gordon). He ranks highly in terms of rate stats such as yards per carry, DVOA and success rate. You can't really poke a hole in what Cook has done as a rusher.

Barnwell gave the upper hand at this point in the season to Kamara, who's flashed more in the passing game thus far than Cook has.

PFF spells out recipe for success for Vikings

As the saying goes, "any given Sunday."

It's nearly impossible to predict any game's outcome, and analytics site Pro Football Focus determined a recipe for success for every team that's slated to play this weekend. PFF's Ben Linsey opined that the way Minnesota can defeat Seattle is by Cousins "outdueling" Wilson against a Seahawks defense that "has some holes." Linsey wrote:

Though his best single-game grade of the season technically came in Week 1, Cousins is coming off his best game of the season against the Texans last week. He leads the NFL in average depth of target at 12.1 yards through the first four weeks of the season, and [wide receivers] Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are both having success downfield. Cousins certainly isn't the best quarterback in this matchup, but he is capable of having tremendous individual games.

The Vikings have to hope that this is one of those contests, and it isn't a situation where Cousins folds in the big moment. Seattle's defense can be beaten. They're generating pressure at the lowest rate in the NFL despite blitzing at an above-average rate, and their cornerbacks have given up some production early in the season. Minnesota's chance at winning this game stems from whether Cousins can take advantage of that matchup and keep pace with Wilson on the other side.

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