EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Falcons will have an opportunity to sweep the NFC North.
The Vikings want to rule it.
Minnesota's next opportunity to strengthen its claim will occur on Sunday in Atlanta.
The Falcons (7-4) opened their season with three straight victories against NFC North teams, winning in Chicago and Detroit and at home against Green Bay, in the inaugural game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Minnesota (9-2) also has won at Chicago and Detroit and defeated Green Bay at home as part of a seven-game winning streak.
The Vikings respect the Falcons offensive and defensive prowess and the fact that Atlanta is the defending NFC Champion. Players see this not only as a way to further position for the playoffs but to also experience a playoff-type atmosphere a month early.
"We've got to get battle-tested, and these games are battle-testers," said defensive end Everson Griffen. "We've got Atlanta and Carolina coming up, but our main focus is Atlanta. We have to be able to go into the game and be disciplined and do our job and play together.
"Defense gets the offense more opportunities to score points, and the offense needs to score points so we can go out there and rush the passer like we love to do," Griffen continued. "We have to stop the run and be able to play together. We're all-in right now, and I think we all have laser-point focus on what's at hand, and what's at hand right now is the Atlanta Falcons."
Griffen recorded 2.0 of Minnesota's three sacks on Thanksgiving, moving his total to 12 on the season just hours after watching the early birth of his third son via FaceTime during warm-ups. The "Sack Daddy" celebrated his first sack of Matthew Stafford by displaying a message on his undershirt that solicited names that he and his wife, Tiffany, could consider.
"I got a lot of suggestions," Griffen said Wednesday when asked. "Thunderbolt … just crazy names … Mike Zimmer, Zygi Wilf. I forget how many names I went through. Me and my wife, we were going to name both our sons Sebastian, but we have Greyson and Ellis. We landed on Sebastian for this last one. He's a little Sea Bass and is doing great."
Griffen said he was impressed again by his wife, happy the baby is healthy and proud of what he and his teammates accomplished against the Lions, particularly when Detroit started making a comeback.
"It was special. We showed once again that we're a composed team, even through the adversity we faced on the field," Griffen said. "They had a late push, but we stayed together. There was a little yelling on the sideline, a little frustration, but we all take constructive criticism very well. We listen to one another and we bark at one another, but we know it's coming from a good place. We stay together as a team, and that's all you can ask for."
Only one guarantee
When the Vikings fell to 2-2 after losing to the Lions in Week 4, Kyle Rudolph coolly and calmly referenced a similar start to the 2015 season in which the Vikings finished 11-5 and won the NFC North.
That squad won five in a row before dropping three of four and rallying to win the final three.
With the Vikings riding a seven-game streak for the first time since the 2000 season, Rudolph was measured in his assessment of what that means.
"We haven't accomplished anything yet. We've set ourselves up in a great spot, but being 9-2 only guarantees us that we won't finish worse than 9-7," Rudolph said. "Yes, we've set ourselves up in a great situation, but it's easy to keep working and stay focused and stay locked in because we haven't accomplished anything yet. Everything we want to do is still in front of us, and we have to go out and work for it."
Not the MVP, but a perfect passer
The Falcons offense is led by 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan, who is having another solid season.
He is 244-of-361 for 2,884 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His passer rating of 97.2 is 10th in the NFL, even though it's nearly 20 points lower than a season ago (117.1) when he led the NFL.
In short, it's hard to take the ball out of his hands for a pass play — unless receiver Mohamed Sanu is on the roster.
Sanu, who joined Atlanta in 2016, completed a 51-yard touchdown to Julio Jones on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
The toss — his first attempt as a Falcon — made him 6-for-6 with 228 yards and three touchdowns in his career for an NFL-maximum passer rating of 158.3.
Zimmer, who was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator from 2008-13, is quite familiar with the additional talent of Sanu, who was picked by the Bengals in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
"Great kid, tough, excellent option runner, good start and stop, size, catches the ball well," Zimmer said. "Good player."
Zimmer said right tackle Mike Remmers has cleared concussion protocol and did a "little bit" during Wednesday's practice.
Remmers has missed the past three games since suffering a concussion in Week 8 against Cleveland in London. Rashod Hill filled in against the Browns and started against the Redskins, Rams and Lions.
Remmers was "limited" on Wednesday's injury report with a low back injury.
View images from the Vikings practice on Wednesday, November 29th at Winter Park.
The first injury reports for Week 13 have been issued.
For the Vikings: Eric Kendricks (hip) did not participate. Andrew Sendejo (groin) was a full participant.
For the Falcons: Matt Bryant (back), Brian Poole (back) and Desmond Trufant (concussion) did not participate Wednesday. Terron Ward (shoulder/knee), Ty Sambrailo (hamstring), Andy Levitre (knee), Julio Jones (ankle) and Justin Hardy (shoulder) were limited. Devonta Freeman (concussion) fully participated.