EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — "There's no place like home" is more than a line from the *Wizard of Oz *or precursor of "for the holidays" to the Vikings this week.
Whether it's defensive Everson Griffen, quarterback Case Keenum, or any other member of the Vikings who has been on the road for three straight weeks, there's a unanimous sentiment that it will be good to have a home game.
The Vikings 2017 schedule was front-loaded with home games and equalized by a 55-day stretch with just one home game from Oct. 23 to Sunday, when Minnesota (10-3) is scheduled to host Cincinnati (5-8).
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer challenged fans to make the game against his former team "the loudest game of the year."
Zimmer noted that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton "does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage, trying to change things." The fourth-year head coach made a similar reference to Rams quarterback Jared Goff last month before Minnesota limited Los Angeles to 254 net yards and a season-low seven points.
Griffen would be happy to add to his career-best sacks total of 13 with a little bit of help from crowd noise.
"You know it's going to be rocking. I can't wait," Griffen said. "We've got the best stadium in the world, the best fans in the world. It's a fun atmosphere to be a part of. I can't wait. I love our stadium."
Keenum, who was sacked six times on Sunday at Carolina, stands to benefit from a lack of crowd noise when Minnesota's offense has the ball.
He said the Vikings tried to make the consecutive weeks on the road "as normal as possible" and he thinks Minnesota's home crowd makes a "big difference."
"Our defense plays so well all of the time, but the crowd makes a difference," Keenum said. "We need them to come out, be loud, go crazy and then shut up when we're on offense and then go crazy when we score. We're excited to be back home and feel like it's going to be a great day."
The Vikings will have an opportunity to make it a fantastic day because a win will clinch Minnesota's second NFC North title in a three-season span.
"I think guys are re-focused and re-energized," said Keenum, who is 8-3 as a starter in Purple. "We're already back at work and working hard. We're looking forward to coming back and playing at home. It feels like it's been forever since we've been at home. I know everybody in this locker room is really excited to play in front of that crowd again. It seems like it was so long ago, but you can vividly remember just how loud that place is and how excited those fans are. We're all excited. It's going to be a cool atmosphere."
On the line
The Vikings entered last week's game without two starters on the offensive line. Nick Easton slid from left guard to center in place of Pat Elflein, and Rashod Hill opened his fifth consecutive game at right tackle in place of Mike Remmers.
Hill had to shift to left tackle after an injury to Riley Reiff during the game. The second-year pro filled in for Reiff quite a bit back in training camp but had been working on the right side of the line since the injury to Remmers.
Hill said he feels like he will be more comfortable on the left side of the line, working against a talented Bengals line that Zimmer helped develop when he was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator (2008-13).
"They're long, physical guys. They have a lot of height," Hill said. "They've got two guys that are 6-6, so I need to stay low with them, move my feet and try to finish and make sure Case doesn't get hit.
"Zim' was saying they're similar to our defense," Hill added later. "They've got good guys up there, Geno Atkins, and 96 (Carlos Dunlap) and 90 (Michael Johnson), and they've got a linebacker coming down the hill. We know that we need to run the ball more and be a lot more physical and go get it."
Win streak beard?
When Keenum approached the microphone stand for his weekly media session, some may have done a double take after becoming accustomed to a beard that increased its scruff during Minnesota's eight-game win streak.
The narrow loss on Sunday in Carolina ended a run of five straight road victories, which tied a Vikings franchise record.
"That was about the only thing that came out of this past weekend," Keenum said with a laugh. "It was getting pretty bad. I appreciate you guys putting up with that."
Keenum said Sunday that he and the Vikings were ready to start a new win streak. If Minnesota can, perhaps the beard will make it back to full scruff.
Unforgettable practices in Cincy
The Vikings and Bengals have only faced each other in 12 regular-season games, but they did schedule two days of joint practices last year before opening their preseason slates in Cincinnati.
Griffen was asked about his memory from those practices.
"Oh man, that was the hardest practice of my whole entire life," Griffen said. "It was hot, it was humid. Seriously, it was the worst practice in my entire life … it was terrible. I didn't like it at all. You can ask any guy in this locker room, that was the hardest practice in my whole entire life, from college to high school to the NFL, the hardest practice ever."
Griffen said he should have known what he and the Vikings defensive linemen were in for when they noticed that their Bengals counterparts were taking it easy instead of running through position drills.
"We were over there doing our individual drills, d-linemen drills, hitting the bags, and you looked over to our left and see their d-linemen sitting in a circle, just talking to one another," Griffen said. "I'm like, 'What is going on here? They must know something we don't know,' because it was humid and hot."
View practice images from Winter Park on Wednesday, December 13.
The first injury reports of the week are up, and it's definitely Week 15. There are 14 Vikings and 12 Bengals listed.
For the Vikings: Riley Reiff (ankle), Emmanuel Lamur (foot), Kyle Rudolph (ankle), Mackensie Alexander (ribs), Xavier Rhodes (hip) and Blake Bell (shoulder) did not participate Wednesday. Jeremiah Sirles (knee), Jerick McKinnon (shoulder), Adam Thielen (knee), Mike Remmers (low back), Shamar Stephen (shoulder), Linval Joseph (knee), Pat Elfelin (shoulder) and David Morgan (concussion) were limited.
For the Bengals: Vontaze Burfict (concussion), Darqueze Dennard (knee), Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), Tyler Kroft (hamstring), Kevin Minter (hamstring), Joe Mixon (concussion) and Nick Vigil (ankle) did not participate. Giovani Bernard (knee), Carlos Dunlap (chest), Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder), Pat Sims (heel) and Shawn Williams (hamstring) were limited.