Minnesota currently sits alone atop the NFC North before heading into a second half of the season that features five road games, including a tough, three-game stretch from Nov. 23 through Dec. 10.
NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt recently took a look at all eight teams currently leading their divisions and ranked them "according to the likelihood that will still be in first place when the 2017 regular season comes to an end."
Brandt tabbed the Steelers (6-2, AFC North), Eagles (8-1, NFC East) and Patriots (6-2, AFC East) as "locks" in their divisions, followed by the Vikings at No. 4. Brandt said the "up-and-down Lions" will be Minnesota's only competition. He wrote:
Minnesota's fourth-ranked defense is very good, giving up just 16.9 points per game. The offense has been OK despite the absences of running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Sam Bradford, with Case Keenum playing well in Bradford's place, completing 63.9 percent of his passes and notching seven scoring tosses (I don't see Teddy Bridgewater being more than a backup this season). The upcoming schedule includes a potentially problematic five-game stretch (at Redskins, vs. Rams, at Lions, at Falcons, at Panthers). But if the Vikings win at least two of those, they should be in good shape, given that they finish with games against the Packers and Bears. Minnesota is the most consistent team in the division, and that will be rewarded with a title.
Following the Vikings – starting with No. 5 – Brandt tabbed the Chiefs (6-3, AFC West), Saints (6-2, NFC South), Rams (6-2, NFC West) and Titans (5-3, AFC South).
Minnesota is scheduled to host the Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 19.
Isidora reflects on 1st half of rookie season
The Vikings offensive line this season has proved a significant improvement from last season.
While the unit hasn't been hit with quite as many injuries as that in 2016, this year's group also holds more depth. The Vikings drafted Danny Isidora 180th overall, and he has proved a positive asset in his first pro season.
The fifth-round pick made his NFL debut against the Packers on Oct. 15 and contributed on special teams; on Oct. 22 he filled in for left guard Jeremiah Sirles, who left with an injury, and against the Browns at Twickenham Stadium in London, Isidora made his first career start.
John Holler of *Viking Update *spoke with Isidora, who said he feels he's made significant progress from training camp to now.
"I continue to work every day and improve on those things I need to improve," Isidora told Holler. "We could all improve on certain things, and I think I'm getting a little more comfortable and working now on minimizing the mistakes, and that only comes by working hard in practice."
One of the problems that rookies face in the NFL is the grind of a season that is longer than college. There is a term called the "rookie wall" that often hits young players in the second half of their first year in the NFL that is the result of playing a longer season at a higher intensity level than even the most proven college programs.
But Isidora assured that he and other rookies followed the advice of their older teammates.
"A lot of us went home, but we used the bye week just like the veterans did," Isidora told Holler. "At this time of year, you need to recharge and recover from the season so far. The most important part is to just get back to finish the season strong."
Rhodes moves up in Ike Taylor's CB rankings
Each week, former defensive back-turned-NFL analyst Ike Taylor puts out his cornerback rankings, and Xavier Rhodes has been on the rise since the beginning of the season.
As the Vikings prepare to head to Washington, Taylor moved Rhodes up from fifth to fourth on his list. Taylor wrote:
With Josh Doctson finally becoming a force in Washington's pass attack, Rhodes must stay focused on deep throws and fades.
Coming ahead of Rhodes at Nos. 1 through 3, respectively, were Josh Norman; Richard Sherman, whose season ended Thursday night when he ruptured his Achilles tendon; and Patrick Peterson. Taylor said the following of Norman, whom the Vikings will face Sunday:
Norman, who allowed just two receptions for 11 yards vs. Seattle last week, and Minnesota's Xavier Rhodes are playing for bragging rights. In this game, it's all about which player out-performs the other. Norman must be mindful of touch passes and deep balls to Stefon Diggs.