The Vikings on Friday afternoon will kick off Week 16 against the Saints in New Orleans.
Minnesota needs a win – and a host of other things to fall into place – for a chance at the postseason. While Drew Brees and the Saints are picked as favorites in the NFC matchup, ESPN's Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler are expecting a Vikings upset by at least a touchdown.
Minnesota is capable of beating or losing to anyone. Just ask the Packers, who got smacked by the Vikings running game in Week 8. The Saints passing game still looks a little shaky without Michael Thomas, and the Vikings have a respectable minus-22 point differential in five games against teams with 10 or more wins. Plus, Minnesota has played with too much pride under [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer over the years to fall to 6-9.
Look back on images from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.
Graziano recalled attending last January's Wild Card game in which the Vikings scored a walk-off touchdown to knock the Saints out of the playoffs for the second time in two years.
I was there the last time these teams played in the Superdome, and Minnesota won it to advance in last season's playoffs. The Saints are the better team, but Drew Brees looked (understandably) rusty Sunday, he's playing on a short week, and Minnesota is the more desperate team and has reason to believe it can beat the Saints in New Orleans. A Christmas shocker in the Bayou.
As far as other predicted upsets around the league, ESPN's Mina Kimes picked the Titans over Packers, Seth Walder tabbed the Raiders over Dolphins and Field Yates projected the Rams to edge out a close one over the Seahawks.
Gladney's progress pointed out by PFF
This season has asked a lot of Vikings rookies, who have navigated a pandemic-altered NFL debut and been handed a bulk of responsibility.
One such rookie is cornerback Jeff Gladney, who has experienced growing pains along the way but has shown improvement over the second half of the season. That progress was recognized by analytics site Pro Football Focus, who rolled out grades for each 2020 first-round pick.
PFF's Sam Monson gave Gladney an overall season grade of 54.0 and wrote the following:
Gladney has begun to see his play slowly tick in the right direction for the Minnesota Vikings. Against Chicago, he was largely untested, with just two passes coming his way. Those passes were both intended for Allen Robinson, only one of which was caught for 24 yards.
Gladney has struggled for much of his rookie season, but the entire Vikings cornerback group has been on a steep learning curve and is showing signs of turning that corner and providing the team some plus play in the future. It still remains to be seen which player will man which position, but Gladney has at least begun to show positive play after being torched earlier in the year.
Monson also highlighted rookie receiver Justin Jefferson, who has been the real deal for Minnesota.
Jefferson has been the standout performer in an excellent crop of rookie receivers this year and set a pace that ranks with the best in NFL history through his first 15 weeks. Against the Bears, Jefferson was the go-to receiver for the Vikings, seeing 10 targets — double the next highest receiver — and catching eight of those passes for 104 yards.
Jefferson has more yards per route run this season than Julio Jones and currently ranks third in the league in that category, firmly dispelling any doubts about his ability to win against press coverage on the outside at the NFL level.
Early look at 2021 QB situations around the league
With just two weeks left of the 2020 regular season, NFL pundits are already looking at roster situations for the 2021 campaign.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora grouped teams into categories based on their quarterback status for next year. He titled his first category "Nothing to see here" (Titans, Jaguars, Texans, Dolphins, Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, Packers) followed by "mild intrigue." He did put the Vikings in this second category, but he expects Kirk Cousins to remain at the helm for Minnesota. La Canfora wrote:
This list includes the highest-drafted QBs of the 2018 draft class – Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold – for starters. All four are eligible for extensions having completed three seasons in the NFL; not all will get them. The Jets have an asterisk, and if they get locked into the second overall pick, then I suspect they stick with Darnold, rather than select a QB second overall. If they somehow get back to the top spot, then kick them down to category three and slot in Trevor Lawrence here.
The Bengals would be in the first group if not for the significant knee surgery Joe Burrow required after barely getting through half the season and taking a heavy pounding most weeks. That will be worthy of some contemplation of how best to deploy and protect him and could result in a delayed start to the season for him. That qualifies as intrigue. And while Tom Brady still has one year left on his deal – and short of winning a Super Bowl, I very much expect him to play in 2022 – that scheme ain't a fit and some serious rethinks are in order for the Bucs passing game moving forward.
La Canfora said the Cowboys will stick with Dak Prescott, and the situation in Denver is up in the air.
The Raiders have flirted with drafting QBs before. Derek Carr's second half of the season was not as good as the first half, and they did rush out and throw $7.5M at Marcus Mariota early in free agency while everyone else was spending pennies on QBs. That's noteworthy. The contracts the Rams and Vikings have with their quarterbacks – Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins – most likely preclude any real movement … But these team didn't quite fit in the top category. Teddy Bridgewater signed a bridge contract with the Panthers, and while $13M of his deal for 2021 is guaranteed, it's hardly out of the question that they explore other options with a new GM incoming.