Both the Vikings and Cardinals are looking to notch a win today to improve their standing in the NFC playoff chase as the season heads towards its final stretch. The Vikings enter today's game in the midst of a four-game skid while the 4-4-1 Cardinals come to Minnesota having lost just once since Week 4 but still two games behind division-leading Seattle. Here are a few final thoughts on today's game.
Matchup of the game: Vikings left tackle vs. Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones
The latest injury along the Vikings offensive line will force the team to start another new left tackle today against a Cardinals defense that is tied for eighth with 24 sacks on the season. Oh, and almost one-third of those sacks have come from the man who will line up against that new Vikings left tackle. LB Chandler Jones has 7.0 sacks on the season, including 2.0 sacks last week against San Francisco and 1.0 sack in each of the first four games this season. Jones had 2.5 sacks and a blocked field goal against the Vikings in 2014 as a member of the New England Patriots. The Vikings have a few options as they reshuffle their offensive line once again. They could move TJ Clemmings back to the left side after the slid him to right tackle once Jake Long was inserted into the lineup. They could keep Clemmings on the right side and put Jeremiah Sirles in at left tackle. Or they could kick out left guard Alex Boone to left tackle and have Sirles play left guard. We'll see what the team elects to do today, but either way this is a key matchup in the game.
Crafty matchup in the slot
Another fun matchup to watch could come in the slot when Arizona has the ball and the Vikings are on defense. The Cardinals like to use veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. in the slot; he has 68 receptions for 686 yards and five touchdowns on the season. The Vikings have one of the NFL's best slot cornerbacks in Captain Munnerlyn, who would pose as a good matchup against the Cardinals future Hall of Fame receiver. Both players, though, were listed on this week's injury report. Munnerlyn (ankle) missed last week's game and Wednesday's practice, but he was limited on Thursday and a full participant on Friday. Fitzgerald, Jr. played last week but was listed on the injury report with knee and ankle injuries. He missed Wednesday's practice but was a full participant on Thursday and Friday. Fitzgerald, Jr. is expected to play today and Munnerlyn is listed as questionable.
Spread it around, Sam
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford may be relatively new to the offense, but he's already demonstrated a thorough understanding of it. Perhaps the best illustration of that point is the way Bradford has been able to spread the ball around to different receivers rather than leaning on one or two favorite targets. The Vikings are one of just three teams to have four players with 30 receptions and at least two touchdowns this season; the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints are the other two. Stefon Diggs (61 receptions, 2 TDs), Kyle Rudolph (37-5), Adam Thielen (32-2) and Cordarrelle Patterson (30-2) have reached those thresholds for the Vikings. Also, Bradford has not been spreading the ball to the opponent very often. He's thrown only two interceptions on the season, trailing only the Patriots, who have thrown one interception; the Cowboys also have only two interceptions this season.
Zimmer, Arians meet again
It may have taken each of them 20 years to attain head coaching positions in the NFL, but the Vikings Mike Zimmer and Arizona's Bruce Arians have coached against one another often during their careers. Their fiercest battles came during the 2008-11 seasons when Zimmer was defensive coordinator of the Bengals and Arians was offensive coordinator of AFC North rival Pittsburgh. Their teams also battled as recently as Week 14 of last year, when Zimmer's banged up Vikings visited the Cardinals in a game that came down to the final minute and saw Arizona win 23-20.
Passing defense en vogue
Moving the ball through the air today could prove to be tricky if what's happened in the first 10 weeks of the season continues today. The Cardinals enter the game ranked No. 2 in opponent's passer rating (71.2) and No. 3 in opponent completion percentage (58.3), while the Vikings rank third (74.6) and fourth (58.5), respectively, in those categories.
Today is big, but Thursday is even bigger
The NFL is a week-to-week league, with coaches and players putting everything they have into the next game regardless of what happened the week prior or what's on the docket the week following. Today's game against the Cardinals is big for the Vikings as they look to defend their home turn after losing at U.S. Bank Stadium to the Detroit Lions two weeks ago and end a four-game losing streak that turned a 5-0 start into a 5-4 record. With that being said, next week's game is even bigger. Regardless of what happens today for the Vikings and for Detroit in their game against Jacksonville, next Thursday's game in Detroit between the Vikings and Lions is for first place in the NFC North. The teams enter today with identical records overall (5-4) and in the division (1-2), which means that the winner of Thursday's game will at worst hold a tie-breaker advantage in the division standings.
Locke looks to continue career season
Vikings punter Jeff Locke, a Glendale, Arizona native, enters Sunday's game in the midst of a career season. He currently is second in the NFL with 23 punts downed inside the 20, tying his career-best mark through only nine games this season, and he also has a net average of 40.0 yards per punt, which is the second-best mark in Vikings history.