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Final Thoughts: Vikings Ready for Border Battle No. 121

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings entered their bye week with a poor 1-5 record, and have had nearly two weeks to stew about a disappointing home loss to the Falcons in Week 6.

Minnesota starts off its final 10 games of the 2020 season with a familiar opponent, as the Vikings and Packers will meet Sunday for the 121st time in their history.

And Sunday's contest is the first of three straight NFC North contests, as the Vikings will host the Lions in Week 9 before traveling to Chicago in Week 10.

What's the team focused on after a week of rest and self-scouting?

"Coming off the bye week gave us a chance to study ourselves really hard and find out what we've been doing well, what we've got to do better behind the obvious," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "I think it was a productive week for us to get refreshed, and now we've got an important stretch.

"Lot of games left to play but specifically this week and the next few weeks with divisional opponents," Cousins added. "We've got a strong division, so it's going to be a great challenge for us and we're looking forward to it."

The opener of that three-game stretch is a tough one, as the Packers are 5-1 and sit atop the division.

Minnesota is also looking to snap a three-game skid against Green Bay, which is the Vikings longest losing streak to the Packers since the first three games Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer coached against Green Bay.

"Looking forward to the challenge," Zimmer said Friday. "Green Bay is a terrific team, a bunch of good rushers, good guys on the back end.

"And then obviously they're hitting on all cylinders offensively," Zimmer added. "Running the ball really well, and obviously Aaron Rodgers is playing really great."

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, as compiled by Eric Smith and Craig Peters of

A chance for the youngsters | By @Eric_L_Smith

In a perfect world, which certainly isn't the Vikings 2020 season, perhaps Minnesota's nickel defense would have looked like this:

Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo at end, with Michael Pierce and Shamar Stephen in the middle (or tagging out with interior rush specialists). Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr would be the linebackers.

The secondary would consist of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris at safety, and possibly Mike Hughes, Holton Hill and Cameron Dantzler at cornerback.

But when the Vikings line up in that package Sunday against the Packers, the Vikings will have just four(!) of those players available in Smith, Harris, Kendricks and Stephen. That means the task of facing Rodgers and Davante Adams just got even taller.

But it's also a chance for a bunch of youngsters — D.J. Wonnum, Jalyn Holmes, James Lynch, Armon Watts, Jeff Gladney, Harrison Hand, Kris Boyd and Mark Fields II — to show the coaching staff where they're at in their own development.

Zimmer said Friday that Wonnum and Watts are two players he'll have an eye on against the Packers.

"With D.J. Wonnum, there's times when, kind of like Danielle was when he was young, there's times when he's thinking too much and not really letting his full athletic ability show up," Zimmer said. "That's really about it with him.

"You talk about Watts, he needs to cut it loose," Zimmer added. "He's got the talent and ability, but he's got to cut it loose."

Lynch is among those players who could get more playing time down the stretch, too.

"I think the biggest thing we've been talking about a lot is just execution and just making sure that we're doing our part," Lynch said. "[Just] doing what we're supposed to be doing because if you look at our roster and who's on this team, we see it every day in practice how talented we are.

"If we do what we're supposed to do on Sunday and we execute, we're going to win games, and that's what we came here to do," Lynch added. "So just making sure we're doing what we're supposed to be doing and just focusing on us, and everything will fall into place."

Starting Sunday, one storyline to watch for the remainder of the Vikings 2020 season is how well the host of young players mentioned above can grow and learn.

Jefferson in, Jones out make a difference? | By @pcraigers

Vikings rookie phenom receiver Justin Jefferson got his first taste of NFL action in Week 1, catching two passes for 26 yards on three targets. He didn't crack the starting lineup until Week 3, but quickly delivered.

He's recorded 100-plus yards in three of his past four games, averaging 7.5 targets and 116.8 yards per outing since becoming a starter. He's also scored three touchdowns, including plays of 71 and 49 yards to give Minnesota a dose of explosiveness in the passing game.

Now that he's established, how will that impact the way the players cover him? They also have to worry about Adam Thielen at receiver, and Dalvin Cook appears ready to return to action after suffering a groin injury in Week 5 at Seattle.

On the other sideline, Packers running back Aaron Jones has been ruled out.

Jones totaled 270 rushing yards and three scores against Minnesota in 2019, and the Vikings opted to load the box against him in Week 1. According to Next Gen Stats, Jones faced an 8-man box on 43.75 percent of his plays, which was more than any other qualifying running back.

The focus on Jones, however, may have taken away help from defending Adams, who ripped off 14 catches for 156 yards and two scores.

With depleted status at cornerback, the Vikings are likely going to need a combination of tactics to slow down Adams, who totaled 196 yards and two scores on 13 catches last week at Houston.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.

Pivotal in the middle of the game? | By @pcraigers

So many NFL games can come down to the final quarter, or even final minute, but in order to get there Sunday, the Vikings will have to reverse their fortunes in the second and third quarters against a team that's excelled in the middle parts of games this season.

Minnesota has been outscored 120-56 in second and third quarters this season, including 26-3 by Green Bay in Week 1.

The Packers, meanwhile, have scored 122 points and allowed 77 during second and third quarters.

Zimmer and Co. will try to eliminate compound stretches of play by the offense, defense and special teams that has shown up during costly lulls in second and/or third quarters. The following runs have occurred against the Vikings: Week 1 (19 unanswered points beginning with a safety), Week 2 (18), Week 3 (13), Week 4 (13), Week 5 (21 in less than two minutes) and Week 6 (13).

Notable Number: .500

Zimmer has an even .500 record in his coaching career against the NFC North, with an 18-18-1 mark in six-plus seasons.

Here is a breakdown of Zimmer's record against division foes since 2014:

Packers: 5-7-1

Lions: 7-5

Bears: 6-6

Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur is a perfect 8-0 against division opponents in his first season-and-a-half at the helm in Green Bay.