The Vikings are in Jacksonville to kick off the final quarter of the 2016 regular season. Today's game marks their third of four against the AFC South, with the fourth scheduled for next Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts. Before the Vikings can worry about the Colts, though, they must take care of the Jaguars. With kickoff fast approaching, here are a few final thoughts on today's Vikings-Jaguars game.
Focal point: Eliminating negative plays
Eliminating negative plays has been a talking point for Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer this week. By negative plays, Zimmer is referring to penalties, sacks and runs for negative yardage. Negative plays have been particularly hurtful for the Vikings in the red zone. Last week, a false start penalty on a game-tying two-point conversion backed the offense up at a critical time. Also, the Vikings are averaging 6.25 runs for negative yards or no gain per game. If the Vikings win today, it is likely a reduction in these kinds of negative plays will be an accompanying result.
Someone can step up on special teams
The names may not seem splashy, but they are substantive for the Vikings special teams. Marcus Sherels was listed as questionable on this week's final injury report with a ribs injury. The Vikings felt his absence last week when a critical mistake was made on a punt return; Sherels is also the team's best gunner on the punt team. Also, Anthony Harris is the likely starter in place of Harrison Smith. That is significant because he's the team leader in special teams tackles. Starting on defense could reduce his role on special teams. With the possible absence of Sherels and with Harris possibly seeing fewer reps, the Vikings special teams is in need of someone to step up and fill a couple of important voids.
Don't lose Lee
Blake Bortles and his ability to scramble to make plays. The absence of WR Allen Hurns and TE Julius Thomas. An impressive defense featuring S Johnathan Cyprien, DT Malik Jackson and CB Jalen Ramsey. A lot has been made about talented individual players on Jacksonville's roster. But don't forget about WR Marqise Lee. He is not talked about as often as leading receiver Allen Robinson, but Lee is more efficient and every bit as explosive. With 38 fewer targets, Lee has only seven fewer receptions and seven fewer receiving yards than Robinson and he has a higher per-catch average than Robinson. Lee also has more catches of 20 yards, more yards after the catch and he's second on the team with 34 receptions resulting in a 1st down. The Jaguars can move Lee around the formation, too, so he is someone to keep an eye on today.
Points may be at a premium
The Vikings defense enters today's game off one of its best performances in the Mike Zimmer era, holding the star-studded Cowboys offense well below its season averages last Thursday. Entering Week 14, the Vikings defense ranks fourth in points allowed per game (17.4) and in takeaways (22), third in yards allowed per game (303.4) and second in opponent passer rating (75.7). The Jaguars defense is ranked No. 2 against the pass (195.8 passing yards allowed per game) and No. 4 in yards allowed per game (311.3). Also, the Vikings have averaged only 13.3 points per game over its last four road contests. All of this means things like turnover margin, field position and the kicking game carry added importance. The team that is sharpest in those three categories will have a leg up in this game.
Vikings fans' viewer's guide to Week 14
The Vikings have lost six of seven games and they sit two games back of Detroit in the NFC North and behind three teams in the NFC wild card chase. That means Vikings fans are forced to watch the scoreboard as well as their own team when it comes to assessing the chances of making the playoffs. Aside from needing a win today, the Vikings will also be aided by victories from the following teams: Chicago (at Detroit), Dallas (at NY Giants), Los Angeles (vs. Atlanta), New Orleans (at Tampa Bay), Philadelphia (vs. Washington) and Seattle (at Green Bay).