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4 Vikings vs. Giants Storylines: Playoff Atmosphere, Jefferson's Reach & Cousins' Recognition

EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings (11-3) will close out their regular-season home slate by hosting the New York Giants (8-5-1) at noon (CT) Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The game will pit two squads led by first-year head coaches with Kevin O'Connell's NFC North Champion Vikings hosting Brian Daboll's Giants, who are currently in the No. 6 spot for the NFC Playoffs with three weeks remaining.

Minnesota is currently the No. 2 seed in the NFC. The Vikings have a slight chance for the top spot but need help. They can secure the No. 2 by winning their final three games or could land at No. 3.

O'Connell and the Vikings improved to 10-0 in one-score games by erasing a 33-point halftime lead by the Colts. New York held on for a win in the final minute at Washington to improve to 8-2-1 in one-score games under Daboll. The Vikings and Giants rank first and second in wins in close games this season.

It also will be the second Saturday game in as many weeks for Minnesota. Prior to last week's remarkable rally against Indianapolis, Minnesota had not played a Saturday game since 2017 and had not hosted one since toppling Kansas City in 2003.

This is the fourth time the Vikings have played two games on Saturdays in the same season, along with 1974, 1977 and 1981. The only other time Minnesota played on consecutive Saturdays was 1974, recording a win over Atlanta and at Kansas City.

Here is a predicted key matchup, along with four storylines for this week.

Matchup to watch: Vikings defense vs. Giants rushing attack

The Vikings will face a Giants ground attack that has been pleased to welcome Saquon Barkley for every game after three straight seasons have been shortened by injuries.

He has set a new career high with 269 rushes — already eight more than his rookie season when he totaled 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while adding 91 catches (an NFL record by a rookie RB) for 721 yards and four touchdowns through the air. That showing earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors from The Associated Press and Pro Football Writers of America, as well as a Pro Bowl.

View photos of Vikings players showcasing the all-white jerseys they will be wearing at home against the Giants on Dec. 24.

He enters today's game with 1,170 yards and nine touchdowns as a runner and 47 catches for 294 yards.

"He's the head of the monster," said Jordan Hicks, who ranks second on the Vikings with 113 tackles (trails 119 by Eric Kendricks). "He's got spin moves, jump cuts; runs physical, can do it all. He's as explosive of a player as you'll see."

Barkley incorporated a spin move multiple times on Sunday night in totaling 87 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Washington.

"The spin move is pretty new since I've known him," said Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who played for the Giants from 2017-20. "Saquon is a great running back, super talented, super gifted. You have to be gap disciplined and patient in your gap because as soon as you jump out of your gap, you can get hit in any gap at any moment. We just have to be patient in your gap and be disciplined. I know when I was there in New York, you had to be disciplined in practice because he could pop off any play at any moment."

View photos of the field at U.S. Bank Stadium being painted white for the Vikings 2022 Winter Whiteout game against the Giants on Dec. 24.

The Vikings have avoided allowing 100 rushing yards to any player and are allowing 84.9 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry to running backs this season, according to NFL Media Research. The average per carry ranks third in the NFL.

There have been several mobile quarterbacks who have damaged the Vikings this season, as well as some yardage allowed to receivers on sweeps and end arounds.

New York has been able to supplement the threat Barkley poses with quarterback Daniel Jones' ability and willingness to run.

Jones ranks fifth in the NFL among quarterbacks with 583 rushing yards and fourth with an average of 5.6 yards per rush and five touchdowns on the ground. He is tied for fourth among QBs with 47 first downs earned on rushes.

"[A mobile quarterback] always poses a challenge because you'd rather have a pocket quarterback who can't run," Tomlinson said. "A running quarterback like [Jones] can just come out and make a play with his feet when he needs to, or if he doesn't see anything, he'll just take off. We have to make sure in our rush that we have gap discipline and play off each other."

1. Next order of business

Minnesota's enthralling comeback from a 33-point halftime deficit against Indianapolis last week gave the Vikings a victory in a contest that at one point had a win probability of 0.4 percent. It also secured the NFC North crown.

The Vikings previously snatched another improbable victory with a dramatic comeback from 17 down late in the third quarter at Buffalo in Week 10. That win was followed by a 40-3 home loss to the Cowboys in the team's only loss at U.S. Bank Stadium this season.

The next order of business is having complete focus on this game against the Giants.

Multiple Vikings, from O'Connell to players, explained how the team is continuing to be self-critical instead of celebratory over last week. Hicks said the team also must not get wrapped up in external scenarios like making a run at the No. 1 seed or looking over its shoulder as San Francisco tries to take a run at the No. 2.

"I feel like the moment we start looking outside is when we're in the wrong. We've got to focus on ourselves and this game, focus on making sure we're playing our brand of football and detailing and continuing to get better," Hicks said. "That's the name of the game. Obviously, we've earned an extra game, but we're fighting. That's not external. That's internal and what we have to focus on.

"You're never going to be perfect — personally, in your career individually, as a team, you are constantly striving for that, right? To be as good as you can possibly be," Hicks added. "That's constant learning, constant detail, so we're striving for that. Will we ever get to that perfection level? As we continue to hold ourselves to that standard, hopefully it starts to click as soon as this week.

2. More records on way for Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson will enter Saturday's game needing just 10 receiving yards to set a new franchise record. He came close to topping Randy Moss (1,632 in 2003) in the 2021 regular-season finale but just missed the mark.

With three games left to play, there's a slight chance Jefferson can catch Calvin Johnson's NFL record of 1,964, which was set during 2012 when the NFL still played 16-game seasons.

Jefferson already is just the third player in NFL history to record at least 1,600 yards in consecutive seasons, joining Johnson and Antonio Brown.

The most shocking stat this week for the third-year phenom is that he's already tied Moss for the most 100-yard games in an NFL player's first four seasons (records kept since 1950). Moss had 23 such contests from 1998-2001. Jefferson's got the remainder of this season and all of 2023 to build on his mark of 23.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, O'Connell and cornerback Patrick Peterson have been among the folks this week to point to Jefferson's toughness.

"He's a Tiger. He's from 'The Boot' (Louisiana)," Peterson said. "Those guys are tough."

Jefferson equated some of the hits other teams are trying to put on him to the approach the Detroit Pistons took to trying to stop Michael Jordan.

He credited the roughhousing from his older brothers with boosting his toughness at an early age.

3. Recognition for Kirk Cousins; Giants blitzin' on the way?

In spite of online detractors, Kirk Cousins was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week and FedEx Air Player of the Week after bouncing back from a rough first half to finish with a career-high 460 yards and tie a personal best with four passing touchdowns.

The next challenge will be a blitz-happy Giants squad.

According to NFL Media Research, the Giants lead the NFL with a 45.3 blitz rate and a 13.7-percent rate of six-man rushes.

Cousins' completion percentage has dipped from 68.9 percent when teams rush four or fewer players to 55.9 when sending five or more, but his TD-INT ratio is 12-8 with four or fewer and 12-3 when five or more.

Cousins has a passer rating of 106.3 in his past four games, which is 20 points higher than the 85.6 he totaled in Minnesota's first 10 games this season.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Giants.

4. Handfuls up front

The Vikings offensive line will face another tough defensive front this week.

Dexter Lawrence leads New York with 6.5 sacks and 24 QB hits, the most hits by an interior defensive lineman this season.

Rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux made a huge mark in Sunday's win against Washington when he became the second player since 2000 (London Fletcher with Buffalo) to record 10-plus tackles, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery touchdown in a single game.

Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick in 2022, is the fourth rookie in the past five seasons to record at least 10 QB hits, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed, joining Micah Parsons, Chase Young and Maxx Crosby.