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Lunchbreak: Vikings Will Face Bevy of Playmakers in 2017

The Vikings defense ranked among the league's best in 2016, as the group held opponents to 17 points or less in nine games.

But Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and his unit will face some stuff challenges this upcoming season as the Vikings try to navigate their way to the playoffs in 2017.

Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com took a look at some of the top skill-position players the Vikings will face in 2017. It's a collection of talent that will be a fun test for Minnesota.

Coller led off his list with Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell, who was ranked as the league's top running back by Pro Football Focus in 2016 while rushing for 1,268 yards and catching 75 passes.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers have an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the shape of their offense has shifted over the past few seasons. Everything runs through Bell, who had 336 touches in just 12 games in 2016. He is the league's most patient runner, basically reinventing the way running backs wait for blocks. And Bell is a terror in the receiving game, averaging a strong 8.8 Yards Per Catch for his career. The Vikings' defensive line and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr will have their work cut out in Week 2 against Bell.

Coller said Minnesota's Week 13 matchup in Atlanta will feature a showdown between Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who was No. 2 on the list.

The league's best all-around receiver, Jones has led the NFL in receiving yards per game in each of the last two seasons, clearing 100 yards per contest in 2015 and 2016. Considering how often Jones is targeted in the deep passing game, it's impressive that he had a 64.3% completion percentage on passes thrown his way last year. Physical cornerbacks like Xavier Rhodes face quite the challenge with the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Jones. He drew six Defensive Pass Interference penalties last year for 132 yards – second most in the NFL.

Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans was third on Coller's list. Evans had 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016 and will visit U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3.

The rest of Coller's list included Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown, Washington tight end Jordan Reed, Chicago running back Jordan Howard, Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, Tampa Bay wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

1998 Vikings make list of top offenses, defenses of past 30 years

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings rolled to a 15-1 regular-season record, one of just six teams in NFL history to lose just one game before the playoffs began.

Both the Vikings offense and defense recently received high praise as the units were ranked among the 30 best over the past 30 years.

Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier ranked the Vikings 1998 offense as the seventh-best of all time. The unit featured Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith, Randy Moss and Cris Carter that averaged 34.8 points per game.

Tanier wrote:

*Cunningham is magically reborn as a pocket passer at age 35, two years after briefly retiring to the broadcast booth. Moss catches 17 touchdown passes due to pure talent; Carter a dozen more with pure technique. Smith averages 4.8 yards per rush. Role players Jake Reed and Leroy Hoard provide slot receptions and short touchdowns. *

Minnesota's defense that season finished sixth in the league by giving up just 18.5 points per game.

Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders ranked Minnesota's 1998 defense as the 14th-best unit in league history.

Schatz wrote: 

The Vikings had a fantastic pass defense in 1988, ranked fourth best since 1987. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 45.6 percent of their passes and threw 36 interceptions, a total no defense has matched since. Cornerback Carl Lee, safety Joey Browner and defensive tackle Keith Millard were all first-team All-Pros. Floyd Peters' defensive coaching staff included a young Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin as position coaches.

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