The NFL has morphed into a pass-first league over the past decade or so, and the numbers appear to back that up.
Entering this weekend, every team in the league has a higher pass percentage than run percentage on offense. Tampa Bay leads the group at 66.3 percent, while Philadelphia ranks 32nd at 50.3 percent.
Minnesota is tied for 17th in pass percentage at 58.7, but the Vikings have a unique strength that other teams can't rely on.
Nick Shook of NFL.com recently ranked the league’s most reliable NFL pass-catchers, and the Vikings were the only team with multiple players included.
Shook explained his reasoning for constructing the list:
There are few better feelings for a QB than being able to drop back to pass and know he can trust at least one of his receivers to help him out. The NFL's pass-catchers, as a whole, are a collection of premier talent. But who stands out from the pack when it comes to proving themselves trustworthy, in good times and bad?
Justin Jefferson made Shook's list in the No. 5 spot, and was praised for his ability to haul in the deep ball, especially long passes down the sideline.
Jefferson's rookie season might have been seen as a flash in the pan by the haters entering 2021, but they've quickly learned it was no fluke. Jefferson is a legitimate weapon and one of the league's best receivers in only his second season, and though his catch rate falls slightly below his teammate Adam Thielen's, he's been spectacular enough (especially in key moments) to leap past his fellow Viking on this list. Jefferson owns the league's best catch rate over expected on targets of 10-plus air yards (+13.4 percent) and the best catch rate over expected on targets outside the numbers (+14.5 percent) among receivers with at least 35 such targets.
When considering the latter, a key third-down reception in a recent win over the Chargers immediately comes to mind. Jefferson fought through tight coverage, leapt to catch a pass from Kirk Cousins and tapped both feet in bounds to move the chains and help the Vikings hang on for the win with a highlight grab. He's done that plenty and is certainly deserving of a place on this list.
Adam Thielen came in at just two spots behind Jefferson, as he was seventh on Shook's list of 10 players.
Thielen's skills on third downs were highlighted by Shook, who wrote:
The second Viking on this list, Thielen has taken a backseat in notoriety to his younger counterpart, but that hasn't diminished his value as a reliable pass catcher — especially in key moments. Thielen has made catches at a rate of +9.3 percent over expected on third down, the third-best rate in the league (min. 20 targets). He's been a great option opposite Jefferson, finding success aligned wide and inside, posting a +7 percent catch rate over expected on targets down the seams (fourth-best in the NFL). Thielen has caught 70 percent of his 90 total targets, posting a total catch rate over expected of +5.2 percent, and he's continued to be the trusty receiver who serves as the perfect complement to the rising Jefferson.
Jefferson ranks third in the NFL with 1,027 receiving yards, while Thielen is tied for the league lead with 10 touchdown catches.
The Athletic highlights keys to Vikings victory over Lions
Kickoff between the Vikings and Lions is roughly 48 hours away, as the NFC North foes will meet in Week 13.
Minnesota is 5-6 and looking to stay in the NFC playoff race, while Detroit is 0-10-1 and looking for its first win.
Chad Graff, Arif Hasan and Jon Krawczynski posted their weekly preview for The Athletic, and dove into key areas on how the Vikings can get a victory against the Lions.
Graff will be watching Jefferson, who has posted 321 receiving yards in three career games against Detroit.
The second-year wide receiver proudly noted this week that he had 133 yards at Ford Field last season, where he broke Randy Moss' rookie receiving record. The Lions have the worst pass defense in the league by expected points added, and Jefferson should be able to have a huge day in Detroit.
Hasan and Krawczynski, meanwhile, believe Minnesota can't take Detroit lightly.
Hasan said the Vikings can win if "they keep their heads on straight. They're undermanned and have some issues to sort out with how they want to play football without [Dalvin] Cook, but they have something Detroit really doesn't: great players. Just don't screw it up."
Krawczynski noted the Vikings will be victorious if "they don't take the Lions for granted" in Week 13.
Mike Zimmer has done well in the past making sure his team never looks past what is believed to be an inferior opponent. That will be key again this week because the Lions have had some close calls this year. They're not getting blown out EVERY week. They will put up a fight early.
Graff, Hasan and Krawczynski each projected a Vikings win.
Graff went with a 21-20 Minnesota victory, which was the closest of the three predictions.
Until the Vikings show they're capable of blowing teams out, I'm picking every game to be a nail-biter. Even one against the lowly Lions.
Hasan projected a 29-20 win, while Krawczynski predicted a 27-20 victory.
The Vikings are the better team by a good amount, but I can't see myself predicting a multiple-score game anytime soon. So we'll go with the closest thing to it. The Vikings have a quarterback, the Lions don't.
I really don't have a great feeling about this game. But in the end, I think Jefferson and Thielen are just way too good for the Lions to handle.
The Vikings have won eight straight games against the Lions.