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Lunchbreak: ESPN Tabs Vikings as 'Favorite' of NFC North

After getting through the first quarter of the season 2-2, the Vikings have won their past three games, including back-to-back divisional matchups.

ESPN's Dan Graziano posted a "What We Learned" from Week 7 performances article and listed Minnesota in the "Winning Streaks" column, highlighting the Vikings 5-2 record heading into Week 8. He pointed out that Minnesota has gone through the loss of Teddy Bridgewater in August 2016 and also has been without Sam Bradford for a majority of the 2017 season but is continuing to find success behind quarterback Case Keenum. Graziano wrote:

This is a team that knows how to win with defense and a slow-down, don't-mess-it-up offensive game plan. They beat out the Packers for the division title two years ago when Aaron Rodgers was healthy, and he's out for at least the next six weeks. Make this team the clear favorite in the NFC North from here on out.

Joining the Vikings in win streaks are the Eagles (won five), and the Seahawks, Chargers, Patriots and Dolphins, all of whom have won three in a row. The Chargers streak came after an 0-4 start to the season.

Graziano also highlighted teams stuck in a losing streak, including the Falcons and Buccaneers with three straight losses apiece and the 49ers and Browns, who remain winless. Minnesota will face Cleveland in London on Sunday and hope to push the AFC North team to 0-8 before the bye. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. (CT).

Minnesota poised for 'complimentary football'

After their third consecutive win, the Vikings have been careful to avoid making more of their 5-2 schedule than it is.

Minnesota started out 5-0 last season before sliding after the bye week and ultimately finishing 8-8. This team and its circumstances, however, feel different.

Brian Murphy of the *Pioneer Press *wrote recently about the Vikings current situation as they prepare to face an 0-7 Browns squad across the pond. He quoted Keenum, who said this week, "Anybody can beat anybody. You have to come out and be your best."

Murphy said it's wise for the Vikings to be on their toes against a team still searching for its first win, but he also added that "this year's team has proven to be much more balanced" than that of last season. Murphy wrote:

Steeled by injuries instead of crippled by them, the Vikings have weathered the season-ending demise of running back Dalvin Cook, the uncertain future of [Sam] Bradford and two games without playmaking receiver Stefon Diggs.

The offensive line is nicked up but not decimated, and there is enough depth and experience to keep the unit from crumbling. The front office does not need to scour the bone yard for another Jake Long to spackle together a left tackle.

Murphy pointed out that Minnesota has been able to keep its run game rolling with Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray and called the Vikings passing game behind Keenum "modest but productive." He also praised Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's play calling and plan for success.

*Meanwhile, we are scrambling for superlatives to describe the defense, which should be salivating at the prospect of bull-rushing oft-benched rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. *

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As long as Keenum, et al, can sustain scoring drives and the defense remains stingy on third down, the Vikings are positioned well to ride complimentary football into January.

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O-Line improvement 'staggering' for Vikings

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer guaranteed the offensive line would be a focus during the offseason.

Thus far, the free agency signings of tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have proven well-worth the investment, and the unit's depth has also shown.

The *Associated Press *homed in on the revamped unit and its effect on the 2017 Vikings thus far.

The improvement has been almost staggering, though with an entirely new lineup it's hardly fair to compare this season with the debacle in 2016 that included eight starting combinations. The quarterbacks have been sacked nine times, the fourth-lowest total in the league. The Vikings are also tied for the NFL lead with 33 plays that gained 20 or more yards. Nine of those were runs, which ranks second in the league.

"Great guys. Great room," Keenum, who has gone two-plus games without being sacked, told Twin Cities media members. "They're all really invested in what we're doing, which is really cool."

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