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Lunchbreak: Rams-Vikings Could be Battle of Defenses

There's a lot of hype currently surrounding the Rams and Vikings offenses as they prepare to face off at noon (CT) Sunday.

ESPN beat reporters Courtney Cronin and Alden Gonzalez, however, said the battle of the defenses could be the more intriguing matchup. Cronin and Gonzalez weighed in on a number of topics related to their respective teams, including the defense's best player.

Both tabbed defensive tackles.

Cronin said that "there's a candidate for this recognition in just about every position group" on Minnesota's defense but chose to focus on the defensive line because of how dominant it's been against the run. She wrote:

Offensive linemen know they're in for a long day of work against the Vikings, particularly nose tackle Linval Joseph, who is nearly unblockable on the interior. While he regularly manhandles the guards and centers aiming to slow him down, eating up double-teams doesn't tell half the story of how he affects the game.

[…]

He's an absolute nightmare to prepare for, and it's the things that don't show up on the stat sheet (such as his ball disruptions, or interrupting a quarterback's throwing process) that make him elite.

Cronin quoted analyst Matt Bowen, who said Joseph can "impact everything moving forward."

"Teams realize they have to chip on him at the point of attack or double him," Bowen said. "Otherwise he's going to make a play, and it'll result in a negative gain. As an offense, it changes your run game if you have to game plan for the nose guard."

Gonzalez said that choosing the Rams best defender was an easier decision: Aaron Donald. Gonzalez wrote:

Donald is – to borrow a phrase used by basically every opposing head coach who is getting ready to face him – "a game-wrecker." He finds a way to get into the backfield on almost every snap, terrorizing quarterbacks and single-handedly shutting down running games.

[…]

No other interior defender has had more than 43 quarterback pressures this season, for one simple reason: Interior defenders aren't supposed to get to the quarterback this frequently. That's an edge rusher's job. But Donald finds a way, even while facing constant double-teams. His explosion off the snap, quick hands, raw strength and low center of gravity make him a nightmare.

Cronin and Gonzalez also discussed the defensive schemes of Minnesota and Los Angeles and a "surprising attribute" about the teams' starting cornerbacks.

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Vikings Among NFL.com's 'Most Likely 1st-Time Super Bowl Winners'

The Vikings are 7-2 entering this weekend's game at U.S. Bank Stadium, having won five straight games.

A matchup against the Rams will be a big one, as both NFC teams share the same record and sit atop of their respective divisions.

The Vikings would like nothing more than to play in Super Bowl LII – in their home stadium – and NFL.com's Adam Schein opined that they're among the "most likely first-time Super Bowl winners." Schein tabbed Minnesota the fourth-most likely team to take home a Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. He wrote:

The Vikings are 7-2. [Case] Keenum is playing well, having just thrown four touchdown passes in an inspired road win over the Redskins. [Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer should infuse the quarterback with confidence, not look to send him back to the bench. I wondered about the offense after the injury to running back Dalvin Cook, but Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have provided something in relief. And it sure doesn't hurt that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have emerged as an unstoppable receiving duo.

I haven't even mentioned Minnesota's defense yet. This is clearly the Vikings strength – a playmaking, run-stuffing, game-changing unit. It's this side of the ball that could really carry Minnesota when the season truly shifts to winter.

Coming in ahead of the Vikings on his list, Schein said the Eagles (8-1) are the most likely team to win its first Super Bowl, followed by the Jaguars and the Titans. The latter two teams are at tied at 6-3 in leading the AFC South division, and the Eagles could be a potential playoff opponent if the Vikings make the postseason.

After the Vikings, Schein listed the Panthers (7-3), Falcons (5-4), Lions (5-4), Bills (5-4) and Cardinals (4-5). Minnesota is scheduled to play consecutive games at Detroit, Atlanta after Sunday's home game against the Rams.

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