December starts tomorrow, which means there are plenty of big NFL games slated.
This week, the Vikings (6-4-1) will make a rare trip to New England to face the 8-3 Patriots.
The NFC-AFC showdown was recently tabbed by The Ringer's Kevin Clark as one of four "must-see" Week 13 games, specifically highlighting the opponents' head coaches. He wrote:
[Patriots Head Coach] Bill Belichick and [Vikings Head Coach] Mike Zimmer are two of the best defensive minds of their generation. This week, Belichick called Zimmer one of the best coaches in football; Zimmer called Belichick the best coach ever.
Clark pointed out that the Vikings have had ups and downs throughout the season thus far but have once again shown their ability to blitz, "which happens to be the one thing the Patriots cannot handle, according to data."
He quoted Michael Renner of analytics site Pro Football Focus, who said the following:
"The biggest thing for the Vikings blitzes is the element of surprise. The Vikings 25.2 percent blitz rate is actually slightly below the league average of 27.0 percent. They're not adding an extra man regularly because they lack the ability to get home with four; they're using it as a sporadic weapon in their arsenal. Because of that, their blitz packages have generated pressure a ridiculous 48.5 percent of the time (league average is 41.8 percent). When they don't blitz, that figure is only 32.6 percent (league average is 30.0 percent)."
It is true that Tom Brady struggles against the blitz, but he also rarely faces it. He hasn't offered much of an explanation for this, but one might be that he has lacked weapons for long stretches this season, especially Rob Gronkowski, who has been battling ankle and back injuries, and is on pace for his lowest yards-per-game mark since his rookie season.
Clark said it will be "fascinating to see how the Vikings blitz Brady" at Gillette Stadium this weekend.
Boston Herald's Keegan: 'Patriots can't afford to take Vikings lightly'
Heading into this weekend's matchup, Tom Keegan of the Boston Herald delved into the two teams – and added a dash of sarcasm – to point out that the Patriots cannot write off the Vikings.
Keegan said that it's "as if winning home games has become a given in the eyes of much of Patriot Nation" and emphasized that New England is not entirely invincible. He wrote:
The Patriots seldom lose in December and at home in any month, but that speaks to seasons past. Any team that can lose on the road to the Jaguars, Lions and Titans, can lose at home to the Vikings.
Unless I'm not in on some Gillette Stadium secret along the lines of a low dose of sleeping gas seeping out the vents in the visiting locker room, just enough to make them groggy but not enough to create suspicion, I think the Vikings shape up as a scary opponent. Rob Gronkowski's name resurfacing on the injury report yesterday doesn't exactly make this game any less shaky.
"So why no love?" Keegan asked before mentioning talent across the Vikings roster.
He highlighted Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Kyle Rudolph offensively and pointed out that three of the Vikings four losses have come to the Saints, Rams and Bears, whose combined record is 28-5.
Keegan opined that the Vikings Week 3 loss to the Bills has resulted in them being "branded a loser, regardless of whether that's fair," by New England fans. He added:
Never mind that the Vikings bounced back the next game and threw a scare into the Rams in a 38-31 loss.
The desperation the Vikings bring to Gillette Stadium, caused by playoff pressure and a desire to score their first signature victory, drives them. So if they can find a way to keep Trey Flowers from harassing Cousins into a sloppy effort, the Vikings (top-ranked defense in the red zone) just might have what it takes to throw a massive roadblock in the Patriots path to toppling the Chiefs from the perch in the AFC chase for home cooking throughout the playoffs.
Jared Allen to take on Olympic gold medalists in curling
Last weekend, the gold medal-winning U.S. Men's Curling Team attended the Vikings-Packers game and sounded the Gjallarhorn before the Border Battle.
Today, they're competing in the Curl Mesabi Classic in Eveleth, Minnesota. And who are they facing? None other than former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.
Dane Mizutani of the Pioneer Press spoke with Allen and wrote about the upcoming competition:
What started as a bet between friends has former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, and a few other former NFL players, on a crash course they hope will make them the U.S. curlers in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
"My friend told me I couldn't become an Olympian," Allen told Mizutani. "It was kind of just talk, and then I started looking at some of the sports I thought I'd be capable of doing. I was actually looking at badminton at first, and then it kind of transpired into curling. That's kind of how everything got started."
Allen and former NFL quarterback Marc Bulger will team with professional Hunter Clawson and former Olympian John Benton.
"We're kind of getting thrown to the wolves here going up against the gold medalists," Allen said with a laugh. "I'm not coming in unarmed, though. We stacked our team with an Olympian, as well.
"We have nothing to lose," Allen told Mizutani. "It's like we're a Division I-AA team going up against freaking Alabama. Nobody expects us to do anything. Hopefully we leave some people pleasantly surprised."