With kickoff fast-approaching, here are a few final thoughts about today's game.
How to Take in Today's Game
Game Time: Noon CT
Radio: Vikings Radio Network; KFAN-FM 100.3/KTCN-AM 1130
Mobile: NFL Mobile (exclusively on Verizon)
Time to get out of scoreboard watching mode
The Vikings return to relevance down the stretch of a season has reinstituted a scoreboard watching mindset each week to get a handle on the playoff landscape. But Green Bay's loss on Thanksgiving night puts the Vikings in position to take a one-game lead in the division with a win today. A one-game lead in the division means you can stop scoreboard watching because you're in the driver's seat – take care of business and it doesn't matter what those teams behind you are doing.
Adrian Peterson and Harrison Smith explained the mindset earlier this week.
Vikings defense tries to get by without Harrison Smith
Harrison Smith is a do-everything safety and is one of the best players on the team. But today the Vikings will have to defend the NFL's leading receiver – Julio Jones – without Smith on the field. He didn't travel to Atlanta because of a knee injury and will miss a game for the first time since Week 14 of 2013. Robert Blanton and Antone Exum, Jr. are the next men up on the depth chart and they will be asked to fill in for Smith. The pressure isn't only on the replacements, though. Football is a team game and the rest of the defense must compensate to make up for the loss of Smith this week.
Teddy, passing game back on track?
Is this the week Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings passing game get back on track? There are reasons to believe so, and chief among them is that today's game will be played in a dome. Bridgewater has played in three games in a dome, and in those games he's completed 71% of his passes for an average of 260 yards per game and 8.3 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 96.7. On top of that, the Falcons will likely come into today's game looking to shut down the Vikings rushing attack. Atlanta has the NFL's top-rated run defense and they love the crowd the box to make it tough to run the ball. If the Vikings can protect, there could be opportunities for the Bridgewater and his pass catchers to attack.
Josh Robinson poised to return
Smith isn't the only member of the Vikings secondary who will not play today because of injury. Rookie CB Trae Waynes also didn't travel to Atlanta. That could set the stage for Josh Robinson to return to the lineup. He missed the first 8 games of the season while on the PUP list and it wouldn't be surprising to see him active today with Waynes not playing. Robinson had 3 INTs last season, including one of Ryan in Week 4.
Waynes' absence is perhaps more notable for the Vikings special teams, though. He is tied with Marcus Sherels for the team lead in special teams tackles. The Vikings lead the NFL in fewest punt return yards allowed (78) and in punt return average allowed (4.3), and Waynes is a big reason for that.