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Lunchbreak: Nwangwu Nominated for Pepsi Rookie of the Week Award

Kene Nwangwu knew Sunday would be just his second NFL game, and he was hoping for his first opportunity to return a kickoff.

The Vikings rookie made quite the splash against the Ravens, and he has been nominated for the Pepsi Zero Sugar NFL Rookie of Week Award for Week 9.

Fans can vote here for Nwangwu between now and 11 a.m. (CT) Thursday.

Nwangwu had a 23-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, which marked his first career touch.

The fourth-round pick later made perhaps the play of the day when he returned the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards for a score.

Nwangwu's touchdown was the first for the Vikings since Cordarrelle Patterson had a kickoff return for a score against the Cardinals in 2016. He is the first Vikings rookie to return a kickoff for a score since Patterson against Green Bay in 2013. The one was Patterson's second of his rookie season.

"That's why we drafted [Nwangwu]," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "It was nice to see, and it looked like it was good blocking."

Nwangwu made another big play in the third quarter when he took a fake punt and veered past defenders for a gain of 9 to move the chains.

The 23-year-old was the 119th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Athletic previews Vikings offense for 2nd half of season

The Vikings offense is facing a dilemma, a term Zimmer used Monday afternoon to describe that unit.

Minnesota was on fire early against Baltimore, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives Sunday as the Vikings tallied 172 yards on 16 plays with seven first downs.

The offense then went cold, however, compiling 70 total yards on the next seven drives. Minnesota managed just two first downs on its next 24 plays.

And while the Vikings managed to tie the game late in regulation, Minnesota's lone offensive possession in overtime went nowhere.

The Week 9 performance was one of numerous games this season where the offense was defined by inconsistency.

"It's getting old, the talk about that," Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said Monday.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Chargers.

Where does Minnesota go from here?

Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic recently took a look at each offense in the NFL, and projected how each unit will fare in the second half of the 2021 season.

Kapadia ranked the Vikings as the 17th-most trustworthy offense for the rest of the year. He wrote:

They're not terrible, but they're not that good. It's the ongoing story of Kirk Cousins, Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings. In terms of EPA per drive, the Vikings are on pace to have their worst offense since 2018. And though anything is possible because they are one of the weirdest teams in the league, it seems unlikely that things suddenly flip for this group.

Just 5.3 percent of the Vikings' drives have ended in turnovers. That's second best in the NFL, which is great. But they could experience worse turnover luck the rest of the way. They continue to employ a run-heavy approach, even though going into Week 9 Minnesota ranked 28th in rushing DVOA. Overall, 36.2 percent of drives have resulted in three-and-outs, which is fifth worst. They rank 27th in success rate. And Cousins' average pass has traveled 6.8 yards, which ranks 34th out of 37 starters.

This is a mediocre group that will have some great games, some terrible games, and many, many frustrating moments the rest of the way.

The Vikings have scored 51 points in the first quarter this season, a total that is tied for fifth among all NFL teams. But Minnesota has scored just 38 fourth-quarter points in 2021, which is tied for the second-fewest around the league.

Kapadia ranked Green Bay's offense sixth in his rankings, while Chicago was 23rd and Detroit was listed at No. 32.

Kapadia's full rankings can be found here.

Pundits evaluate Vikings playoff chances ahead of Week 10

The Vikings are 3-5 as they head into Week 10, with Minnesota being one nine teams in the NFC (and 14 across the league) that are under .500 at this point in the season.

Parity has seemingly ruled the league thus far, as ESPN NFL writer Jeremy Fowler noted this week.

Fowler wrote:

And per ESPN Stats & Information research, there have been 28 games with the game-winning score coming in the final minute of regulation or in overtime, the second most through nine weeks since the 1970 merger -- and 21 of those have been decided on the final play.

With playoff races beginning to heat up, what chances do the Vikings currently have to get into the dance?

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.

According to ESPN's Football Power Index, Minnesota currently has a 31.8 percent chance. The analytics website has the Vikings with a 27-percent chance to make the postseason.

The top seven teams in each conference (four division winners and three Wild Cards) will make the playoffs. The Vikings are currently the No. 9 team in the NFC.

Atlanta holds the No. 7 seed right now at 4-4, while Carolina is eighth at 4-5. Seattle and San Francisco are also 3-5 like Minnesota.

The Vikings already have head-to-head wins over the Panthers and Seahawks and face the 49ers on the road in Week 12.