It's crunch time. The calendar has flipped to December and there are five games to go in the regular season. The Vikings have a hold of the NFC's No. 2 seed and they are breathing down the necks of the Philadelphia Eagles for the top seed while also trying to fend off the challenge of several other NFC contenders such as the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints. Oh, and also the Atlanta Falcons, who are the opponent today.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu represent one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. Jones is coming off a 253-yard, two-touchdown outing a week ago and Sanu is a beast who can lineup anywhere, including in the backfield to take direct snaps, and he's lethal on 3rd down. But the Vikings have a nice duo at receiver, too. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have combined for the second-most receiving yards by a wide receiver duo in the NFL this season, totaling 1,603 yards, behind only the Antonio Brown/JuJu Smith-Schuster combo (1,763). Unsurprisingly, the third combo on that list is…Jones and Sanu, with 1,491 yards.
Stat of the week
Sack duos since the start of 2015
Griffen/Hunter: MIN 54.5
Atkins/Dunlap: CIN 52.5
Kerrigan / Smith: WAS 46.5
Miller/ Ray: DEN 46.0
Addison/Short: CAR 44.0
Bennett/Avril: SEA 44.0
The Vikings have made life miserable most weeks for the opponent's quarterback, just as they did 10 days ago to Matthew Stafford. Knowing a vicious pass rush is part of the equation, opposing quarterbacks consistently shorten their delivery time when going against the Vikings defense and that can lead to either more inaccurate throws, as it did last week to Stafford, and/or to a shorter yards per attempt average and fewer explosive plays, as it did to Joe Flacco a couple months ago. This is part of the design for the Vikings defense today as they go against Matt Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP and one of the most lethal pocket passers in the NFL.
Quote of the week
*"Offense and defense did a great job and picked us up. We need to get back to playing good, clean, hard-nosed Vikings special teams football to help us win." *– Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer
In 2017 and really since 2011, the Vikings special teams group has been among the NFL's most solid. Stingy coverage groups and reliable return groups have been a great complement to a dominant defense because that combination does not make life easy on opposing offenses. Last week, though, Priefer was clearly unsettled with the Vikings special teams groups and he made no bones about that during his weekly meeting with the media. Rather than lean on the past successes his groups have had and shove aside last week's performance as an anomaly, Priefer acknowledged the other two phases of the team picked up the specials teams group, just as Priefer's phase has done so often for the defense and offense. Priefer's way of handling criticism of last week's outing is the essence of what football is all about – being accountable and being a part of a team. Expect a big bounce back from the Vikings special teams today.
Tevin Coleman – There's no doubt Devonta Freeman is one of the best backs in the NFL, and the Falcons will enjoy his return to the lineup today. But in Freeman's stead the last three weeks has been Coleman, and now there's no doubt the Falcons also have one of the best No. 2 backs in the League. Coleman is the team's leading rusher and is averaging 5.4 yards per touch on 122 rushing attempts and 18 receptions. He has great speed, can make a defender miss in the tightest of spaces and will be utilized this week even with Freeman back in the lineup.
Grady Jarrett – The Falcons had a player lead the League in sacks last season (Vic Beasley – 15.5) and they have one of the best safeties in the game (Keanu Neal), but the player on their defense who changes as many or more games is Jarrett. The former Clemson Tiger is in his third season and tips the scales at 6-0, 305 pounds. He has 8.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks on the season, and he made a name for himself in last year's Super Bowl with 3.0 sacks. The interior of the Vikings offensive line must take care of Jarrett first and foremost today.
Andre Roberts – Both stout and shifty, Roberts handles kickoff and punt return duties for a solid Falcons special teams group. He's averaging 21.5 yards per kickoff return and 8.9 yards per punt return, and the Vikings would like to hold him beneath both of those numbers today.
Going into Atlanta facing a scorching hot Falcons team, I love every matchup we have defensively. Whether it be Xavier Rhodes vs Julio Jones or Linval Joseph vs Alex Mack. What weak spot do you see in the Falcons offense that our defense can take advantage of to help us keep pace with the Eagles? -- Jake Dubla
You'd be hard-pressed to find a weakness in this Falcons offense, especially over the past three games where they're averaging nearly 32 points per game and right around 385 yards per game. The one interesting dynamic this week is the return of Freeman. The Falcons are on a roll right now, and even as good as Freeman is, it can be delicate to reintroduce a player to a unit that is on such a roll. Don't get me wrong, the offense is better with Freeman in uniform, but it will be interesting to see how the Falcons mix him back into the rotation.
Before the bye week, this stretch of games looked to be our biggest challenge of the season. Now it seems more like our biggest opportunity to solidify ourselves as one of the best teams in the NFC. Have we done enough to make a big playoff push? -- Chris Synstegaard
The Vikings have not yet clinched a playoff spot, so we can't say at this moment that they've positioned themselves to make a push in the playoffs. But with nine wins in the first 11 weeks, they are in the catbirds seat in the division and are on the brink of securing their second division title in three years. The balance with which the Vikings have won seven consecutive games would suggest they are equipped to make a run in the postseason; the Vikings have a defense and offense ranked in the top five. But as Fran Tarkenton pointed out while speaking to the team on Saturday evening in Atlanta, the focus for now needs to be on beating the Atlanta Falcons.
I know Case is playing so well right now and we really shouldn't make a move to upset that. However, do you think it's a product of Case being really good or maybe Pat Shurmur really is the QB whisperer. It would really be great to see Teddy play with this kind of coaching. -- Michael Sandarr
Football is the ultimate team game. It's cliché, but it's also true. The success Case is having this season is a testament to his hard work, preparation and ability, but he would be the first to point out that he couldn't do this without solid play from his teammates, particularly the offensive line and pass catchers. And Shurmur deserves credit, too, for the way he adjusted after Week 1 when Sam Bradford was injured and for his play design and play calling through the first 11 games.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Kevin Burkhardt
Analyst: Charles Davis
Sideline: Pam Oliver
Play-by-play: Marc Kestecher
Analyst: Bill Polian
Sideline: Jeff Darlington
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber