London is calling and opportunity is knocking for the Vikings.
There are inherent challenges to playing across the pond, but with those challenges come potential benefits as the Vikings reach the halfway point of the season. The Vikings capitalized last week with a good opportunity, winning a game they should've won against Baltimore while one division foe (Detroit) couldn't win because of a bye and another (Green Bay) lost its first game without its starting quarterback. The result was a fifth win and solo top standing in the division.
Today, another opportunity exists for the Vikings to create space atop the NFC North. They are favored against the Browns, the Packers can't win because they're on a bye and the Lions will be home underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football.
Of course the Vikings can't control the fate of other teams this week. But they control their own fate today against the Browns and if they take care of business they will have the opportunity to control their own destiny through the final eight games of the season, regardless of what Detroit and Green Bay do next week while the Vikings can't win because of a bye.
Here are a few final thoughts from the week that was.
Matchup to watch: Everson Griffen vs. Spencer Drango
It looks like it will be Spencer Drango who will step in for injured stalwart left tackle Joe Thomas against Everson Griffen today. There is never a good time to lose your starting left tackle, but doing so the week before you play a defender with a sack in all seven games this season is about as poorly-timed as it gets. Griffen has been brutalizing all challengers, from Pro Bowlers to first-year starters. Now he'll face a backup in his first start. It's not an automatic win for Griffen and it's likely he'll be chipped and doubled-teamed, but this matchup will be key to the game one way or the other. If the Browns throw a bunch of help toward Griffen, then it's incumbent on other defenders to win their matchups. If the Browns trust Drango against Griffen, then it's Griffen's job to win often and change the game.
5-2 one year later feels a lot different
The Vikings are 5-2 yet again, but it sure feels a lot different than last year's 5-2. In Week 8 last season, the Vikings lost on Monday Night Football to the Chicago Bears, their second consecutive loss, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner left the team the following week. The Vikings were dealing with a rash of injuries along the offensive line. They were 5-2 but the arrow was pointing down. The Vikings have that same 5-2 mark now, but the arrow is pointing up. Sure, there have been injuries, but several of them are not season ending. Plus, the 5-2 record includes a 4-1 mark at home, a 4-1 mark against conference opponents and a 2-1 mark against division opponents, all good omens for a team fighting for positioning not only in its division but also in the broader NFC playoff picture. There is still a long way to go in the season, but there's no question this 5-2 is a better-looking and better-feeling 5-2 than it was a year ago at this time.
Stat of the week
Adam Thielen is the only receiver in the NFL with 5 receptions in every game this season.
This is one of those stats that goes in one ear and out the other through three weeks, but it's a stat deserving of attention through seven games of a season. In a season in which the Vikings have lost key players on offense, all Thielen has done is go out every week and produce and help his team win five of seven games.
Quote of the week
"Run for your life." – Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson
That was the Browns head coach's response to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Media when he was asked by her what his advice was to quarterback DeShone Kizer on facing Everson Griffen. Jackson' response is likely an attempt to lighten the mood with levity, but it also represents the respect coaches around the League have for Griffen.
Jabrill Peppers – He's a versatile defender who can play all over the defense plus he's their kickoff returner and punt returner.
Duke Johnson – A dual threat at running back, Johnson is the team's second-leading rusher and has two scores on the ground while also leading the team in receptions (by 11) and receiving yards.
Jamie Collins – Another versatile defender, Collins can line up in multiple spots and can both rush the passer and drop in coverage. He was one of the New England Patriots best defenders before they traded him to Cleveland.
In the trip across the Pond, we can't have a letdown just because it's the Browns. We can't take them lightly and have a repeat of last year's Colts game. -- Michael Mills
Given Zimmer's knowledge and history with the AFC North and given some things he's said this week in press conferences, I am certain the Vikings will not overlook the winless Browns. No one in the building views this week's game as a walk in the park. Aside from Zimmer, there are many players on this year's team who were on last year's team that started 5-0 and ran into trouble after the bye week. Those memories are still fresh and they will sufficiently inspire the players to prepare diligently every week.
Does Everson Griffen have a chance to beat the NFL's single-season sack record? -- Dylan
Well, he has 9.0 sacks through seven games, putting him on pace for 20.5. The single-season record is 22.5, set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Griffen is in the ballpark right now, but he's got to increase his pace along the way to stay in the chase. Jared Allen challenged this mark in 2011 and he had 12.5 sacks through the first eight games, which means Griffen would need 3.5 sacks today to be on Allen's pace. Strahan's record has stood since 2001 and the record before that (Mark Gastineau – 22.0) stood since 1984 because it's a hard mark to reach, but that doesn't mean Griffen can't get there. He's got a lot of work to do, but I wouldn't bet against him at this point.
Listening to national broadcasts, no one is giving the Vikings any credit. Name another team that's lost its QB, RB and WR and still shows up on Sundays and competes like the Vikings. Coach Zimmer and the organization should be commended. We are 5-2 and leading the division. -- John Heil
It's true, the Vikings should be commended for their resiliency under Zimmer and particularly with regard to their efforts in 2017 to overcome what they've overcome and sit in first place in the NFC North entering Week 8. With that being said, every team is dealing with adversity so the Vikings are no different in that regard. Also, there's some value in flying under the radar and not being given love nationally. There's a motivational angle a coach can use with his players when he's pushing them to prove people wrong rather than trying to alleviate the pressure of having to prove people right.
National Television: NFL Network (CBS in the Twin Cities)
Play-by-play: Greg Gumbel
Analyst: Trent Green
Sideline: Jamie Erdahl
Play-by-play: Tom McCarthy
Analyst: Derek Rackley
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber