It's game day, and the Vikings are in Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers in what is their final game against the NFC South in 2017.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
Offensive line depth on display
Injuries overwhelmed the Vikings offensive line a season ago. This season, injuries have popped up along the offensive line again, but the depth built up by the Vikings personnel department and coaching staff has enabled the offense to keep moving without skipping a beat. Jeremiah Sirles and Danny Isidora combined to start three games at left guard for Nick Easton earlier this season and Rashod Hill has started the last four games plus played 79 of 85 snaps against Cleveland in place of Mike Remmers at right tackle. The Vikings have won all of those games. Today, the Vikings could be without starting center Pat Elflein, who was limited all week with a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable on the injury report. If he can't play, expect Easton to slide over to center and Sirles to play left guard. And you can also expect the offense to keep chugging along just as its done all season when relying on depth up front.
Complementary football en vogue for Vikings
There was a key stretch in last week's win over Atlanta that had the Vikings coaching staff excited about its team. Punter Ryan Quigley landed a punt at the Atlanta 2. The defense forced a three-and-out and a Falcons punt moments later. The offensive took over near midfield and promptly drove 53 yards for its first touchdown of the day to take a 7-3 lead. This was quintessential complementary football, with each phase providing a significant contribution that combined to yield a momentum-changing – and lead-changing – play in the game. It's very similar to a moment in last year's game at Carolina when a Vikings punt downed at the Carolina 7 led to a Danielle Hunter sack and safety three plays later. The Vikings have not reached their 10-2 mark on the back of one phase of the team. This streak of eight consecutive wins is the product of the entire team playing well simultaneously and of two phases picking up the extra slack on the rare occasion when one phase has a misstep. That style of play will be necessary today as the Vikings take on an 8-4 Panthers team looking to win the NFC South.
Pro Bowl voting
Fan voting for the 2018 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida is ongoing and concludes on Thursday, December 14. To vote, click here.
This year's Pro Bowl will be played on January 28, 2018 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Stat of the week
Vikings record for consecutive road wins: 6 (1974)
This is significant because the 2017 Vikings, who play on the road at Carolina this week, have won five consecutive road games. This means that a win over Carolina will match a record set by the Purple People Eaters. The last time the Vikings won that many consecutive road games, gas was $.42 per gallon. Jim "Catfish" Hunter just won the American League Cy Young Award. The Rumble in the Jungle between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali had just taken place in Kinshasa, Zaire. What an accomplishment it would be for Mike Zimmer's team. And this time, coach Zimmer wouldn't be able to say to his team that they still hadn't accomplished anything yet, as he said to his squad after last week's impressive win. This road win would clinch the NFC North for the Vikings.
Quote of the week
- "I had my pom-poms out. Any time that happens, we're excited." *– Defensive Coordinator George Edwards
That was Edwards' light-hearted response to a reporter who asked what it was like to see the Vikings offense take possession with just under five minutes to go in last week's game at Atlanta and then run out the clock to seal the victory without the defense having to take the field again. What the Vikings offense did to close out the win over Atlanta is something offenses practice every day during the offseason program and training camp, but it's unusual for an offense to be able to execute that well in a real game. The Vikings offense did last Sunday, and Edwards and the Vikings defense are better off for it.
Luke Kuechly – The Panthers middle linebacker can do it all. He's a three-down player. He leads his team in tackles, has three interceptions and a fumble recovery. He calls the plays, lines everyone up and is as instinctive as they come. There's no fooling Kuechly with scheme or design; you just have to find a way to block him.
Christian McCaffrey – A new face to this matchup, McCaffrey's dynamic ability is a headache for every part of a defense. He can run outside or inside. He can lineup as a receiver or a running back. He can break tackles and he can make you whiff. And just when you've found the perfect defender to run him down, you have to also find the perfect defender to keep an eye on Cam Newton.
Captain Munnerlyn – Having practiced against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for the past couple of years, Munnerlyn has an idea of what to expect. But this goes both ways, as Diggs and Thielen will certainly know how to anticipate Munnerlyn. But don't count Captain out when it comes to players who can make a difference in this game. Given the frequency with which the Vikings turn to Thielen, Munnerlyn will have his chances.
How much of an advantage is it that Nick Easton, Pat Elflein and Joe Berger have all played center in their careers? -- Hayden Bruck
It cannot be overstated how important this has been for the Vikings this season and it may be even more so this week if Elflein, who was limited in practice all week and is listed as questionable for the game, isn't able to go. Should Elflein be unable to play, the Vikings have two options – Berger and Easton – to use as a replacement and they can feel comfortable with either given that both have played center previous to this season. Furthermore, having two veterans such as Berger and Easton has undoubtedly been helpful for Elflein as he learns to play the position as a rookie in the NFL.
I just would like to say and give my game ball to Jarius Wright; big time props. This guy always comes through in the clutch and he never drops the ball. -- Marie Shy
Amen. Wright deserves that praise, no doubt. He has 14 receptions on the season, and 10 of them have been big ones because eight have been good for 1st downs and two for touchdowns. Wright has watched as Diggs and Thielen rose to prominence, as Laquon Treadwell was drafted and as Michael Floyd stole the show in Mankato at training camp, yet all he's done is continued to show up every day in practice and every Sunday in games.
I understand the tendency for Viking fans, myself included, to stress over this stretch of away games, Aaron Rodgers practicing, playoff seeding and all that. But I genuinely hope Viking fans are taking time to savor, relish and enjoy what a special season this is. I know it's not over. Lots of football left. But this doesn't happen all the e time. Enjoy it! Fans should continue to look at Carolina's weapons, Green Bay's QB situation and the NFC contenders in general. But enjoy this Purple Faithful. It's quite a ride. Skol! -- Jeff Kilty Sacramento, CA
Good advice. Players and coaches don't have this opportunity because the fruits we are experiencing are the product of their labor. They must labor on. While the rest of us must also work, or cheer, as the team keeps the pedal to the metal, we would also be wise to take a moment to smell the roses because what this Vikings team is doing in 2017 appears to be special.
National Television: CBS
Play-by-play: Jim Nantz
Analyst: Tony Romo
Sideline: Tracy Wolfson
Play-by-play: Adam Amin
Analyst: Bill Polian
Sideline: Ian Fitzsimmons
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber