The Vikings (9-2) are preparing to head down south to take on the red hot Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta has won three straight games and is coming off of a 34-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12.
Minnesota is seeking its eighth straight victory. The Vikings have a three-game lead in the NFC North and would be in line for a first-round bye and home game in the NFC Playoffs if the postseason started this weekend.
Let’s see which team the experts pick to win the matchup between the Falcons and the Vikings.
*What a matchup, in a similar vein to Saints at Rams last week. This could very well be a preview of a Divisional Round game, if the Vikings go on to win the NFC North and Atlanta captures a wild-card spot. Of course, the Falcons could still make a move for more, with two games remaining against New Orleans and one vs. the Panthers at the new palace in Atlanta. Remember, the Falcons were only 7-4 at this point in their Super Bowl season a year ago. In fact, they lost to the Kansas City Eric Berrys in Week 13. Can Vikings safety Harrison Smith play the role of Berry this year? *
- Yet another reason this is a fantastic matchup: The Falcons own the top-ranked third-down offense (48.1 percent conversions), while the Vikings field the league's best third-down defense, yielding a lowly 28.5 percent conversion rate.*
Vikings 30, Falcons 27 — Elliott Harrison, NFL.com
Minnesota has the pass rush and secondary to slow down the Falcons' newly lethal offense. If anyone can lock down Julio Jones, it's Xavier Rhodes — with safety *Harrison Smith over the top as needed. (That will be a dream wide receiver-cornerback matchup, by the way.) The Vikings should be able to run on the Falcons' defense, which has allowed 112.3 rushing yards per game during a three-game winning streak — a key part of winning a physical road game.*
Vikings *— Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com *
Atlanta is playing its best football of the season, but so is Minnesota quarterback Case Keenum. In his past three games, Keenum has completed 71.1 percent of his passes and has tossed seven touchdowns. His Total QBR during this stretch? A lofty 93.7, and given Keenum's recent run of high-level play along with that defense under Mike Zimmer, I see the Vikings holding off the Falcons in one of the most physical games we will watch all year.
Vikings *— Matt Bowen, ESPN.com*
Would you be all that surprised if this was an NFC title game preview? The Vikings have won seven in a row and under Case Keenum have outgunned, in order, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford. The Falcons have snapped out of their presumed post-Super Bowl funk with three straight wins and are lurking behind the Saints and Panthers in the NFC South. Neither team has to apologize for its defense, either ... particularly the Falcons, whose defensive resurgence has flown under the radar.
*Falcons 24, Vikings 20 — *David Steele, Sporting News
When: Noon (CT) Sunday (FOX), Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
There are some very interesting matchups in the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. The one that jumps out is Xavier Rhodes against *Julio Jones. Rhodes, to me, is the second-best corner in football behind Jalen Ramsey. Jones is obviously one of the top three receivers in the game.*
This is a Vikings defense that has not only the scheme, but the players to match up with Jones and Co. On the other side, I like the Falcons defense, but it's a speed-based unit. That's an issue because it can wear down in games. The Vikings can wear it down with the running game.
One thing that's lost on a lot of people is just how good this Minnesota offense is. It's fifth in the NFL with 375.7 yards per game. The Vikings are actually more productive on offense than the Falcons. This isn't just a matchup between the Falcons offense and the Minnesota defense.
The game is in Atlanta, and that's an advantage for the Falcons. However, the Vikings are the more balanced team, and they match up really well with the Falcons on both sides of the ball.
*Vikings 24, Falcons 21 *— Chris Simms, Bleacher Report
*This is the game of the week. The matchup between the Vikings defense and the Falcons offense will be a treat to watch, but this game will be decided by the Vikings offense against the Atlanta defense, and I think the Falcons get the best of that. Atlanta keeps on winning. *
Falcons 26, *Vikings 16 *— Pete Prisco, CBS Sports
This is a big one in the NFC playoff race, where the Falcons are fighting for a wild card berth and the Vikings are fighting for a first-round bye. I like Atlanta to win at home in what should be a very good game.
Falcons 23, Vikings 20 — Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk
The Vikings’ offense is averaging more than 30 points per game against the likes of Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, and Matthew Stafford. But please keep doubting Case Keenum.
Vikings 30, Falcons 27 — Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk
FiveThirtyEight’s 2015 NFL forecast uses an Elo-based model to calculate each team’s chances of winning each week.
Pre-game win probabilities: *Vikings 39 percent *— FiveThirtyEight.com
3 of 8 experts pick the Vikings, CBS Sports
3 of 6 experts pick the Vikings, MMQB
Atlanta hosts the *Vikings *this week. With the *Saints’ loss to the Rams *last week, the Vikings are now the second-hottest team in the NFC, riding a seven-game win streak (the *Eagles **have a nine-game streak going). *
It’s a tough call for our panel, or anyone for that matter. The *Falcons *found hope again, winning four of their last five. You can pin their success on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian finally realizing that *Julio Jones **can do more than catch 5-yard dump offs in the flat. Last week he exploded for a 253-yard, two-touchdown game against the Bucs. They’ve also been force feeding opposing defenses a steady diet of Tevin Coleman. He’s got 223 yards and four touchdowns over the last three games. *
They’ll need to score lots of points to keep up with the prodigious output of *Case Keenum, yes, Case Keenum. He’s thrown nine touchdowns, 1,154 yards and has a QB rating of 106.1 over his last four games, thanks in part to a mind meld with local-kid-done-good Adam Thielen. The former undrafted free agent has 476 yards and three touchdowns over those last four games. *
We’ve got six picks for the Falcons and just three for the Vikings. It’s a much tougher game to pick than you might think.
3 of 9 experts pick the Vikings,* SB Nation*