EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings will play a regular-season game at Allegiant Stadium for the first time in franchise history on Sunday when they visit the Las Vegas Raiders.
Both teams are coming off much-needed Week 13 byes. For the Vikings, winning six of their 12 games this season has come without several of their star players. But reinforcements are on the way. Star receiver Justin Jefferson will return to action after missing seven games with a hamstring injury.
With five regular-season games remaining, the Vikings (6-6) and Raiders (5-7) are each vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences. They are two of 16 NFL teams that have records between 7-5 and 5-7.
Kickoff is set for 3:05 p.m. (C.T.).
The Vikings will wear their traditional road uniforms with white jerseys and purple pants.
- Sticking with Dobbs: The Vikings spent their bye week evaluating plans at quarterback. On Wednesday, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell announced Joshua Dobbs will make his fourth start and play in his fifth game with Minnesota since joining the team through a trade.
Minnesota plans to play to Dobbs' strengths while blending his skill set with the offense it's been building since O'Connell's hire last season.
O'Connell said he spent 1-on-1 time with Dobbs rewatching the Bears game during the bye week. Together, Dobbs detailed his decision-making while O'Connell offered perspective on why he called certain plays.
"Getting into the game all the way through, four quarters against the Bears the other night," O'Connell said. "There was a lot of growth moments for him in those discussions and for me, as well."
Dobbs was electric in his first two games with Minnesota. He led a game-winning drive against Atlanta and helped generate 27 points in a home victory versus the Saints. Dobbs accounted for 536 yards (passing and rushing) and four total touchdowns across those two contests.
The Vikings, however, have scored just 33 points in the past 10 quarters with Dobbs. Despite several costly turnovers in losses to the Broncos and Bears, there is reason for optimism. The Vikings still rank 12th in point differential and are in the league's top half in most efficiency statistics (like DOVA and EPA).
Plus, a key pass catcher is set to return.
- Return of Jefferson: Star receiver Justin Jefferson is poised to return after missing the past seven games because of a hamstring injury suffered against the Chiefs in Week 5. Jefferson is expected to fully practice this week for the first time since October.
The Vikings activated Jefferson to their 53-man roster last Tuesday.
Minnesota went 5-2 and started three different quarterbacks during Jefferson's absence. But his return marks another promising shift in the Vikings offense. Though Sunday will be Jefferson's first time catching passes from Dobbs in game action, the two have connected in practices over the past few weeks while Jefferson was ramping up.
Pass catchers Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson have handled most of the Vikings receiving production since Week 6. Before the injury, Jefferson averaged 114.2 yards per game and caught 36 of 53 targets.
Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips said he expects Jefferson to return to the No. 1 role.
"Understanding the type of player J.J. is, other guys have to be a little less selfish," Phillips said. "When you get a guy like that, understandably, he's going to get a share of those targets, and we want it that way."
- O'Connell vs. QB Aidan O'Connell (no relation): There will be two quarterbacks named O'Connell inside Allegiant Stadium on Sunday. Both stand well over six feet tall and have experience backing up starting signal callers.
Only Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell, however, will throw an NFL pass on Sunday.
O'Connell was named the Raiders starter following the firing of former head coach Josh McDaniels. He spent the first six weeks of this season backing up Jimmy Garoppolo. The rookie is a fourth-round pick and one of 10 rookies to start an NFL game this season. He's won two of those five starts following McDaniels' dismissal.
O'Connell is coming off his most efficient game as a Raider. Las Vegas lost to the Chiefs 31-17, but O'Connell helped the Raiders mount a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Raiders scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. At one point, O'Connell was 10-of-11 passing for 114 yards. He finished with 248 yards, one touchdown and a season-high 101.6 passer rating.
- Five games left: The Vikings are currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC and would face the Lions in Detroit if the playoffs started today. Three of the Vikings five remaining games are against NFC North teams.
Minnesota's New Year's Eve game against the Packers is sandwiched between Week 16 and 18 games versus the Lions. Week 17 will likely carry heavy playoff implications.
First, however, Minnesota will try to avoid being swept by AFC West foes, having lost in Week 3 to the Chargers, Week 5 to the Chiefs and Week 11 at Denver.
3 Things 'Bout the Raiders
- Interim Head Coach: It's been five weeks since Antonio Pierce was named the Raiders interim head coach. Las Vegas is 2-2 since, with both victories coming in consecutive weeks against the New York Giants and Jets.
But losses to the Dolphins in Miami and at home to the Chiefs have the Raiders on the outside looking in at the AFC Playoffs.
Pierce, who played linebacker for nine NFL seasons, has injected an intensity in approach to the group.
- Running with Josh Jacobs: Running back Josh Jacobs is back to rushing like an All-Pro. Jacobs led the league with 1,653 rushing yards last season, and his 220 rushing attempts this season are a league-high.
Jacobs' per-game average of 97.2 and per-carry average of 4.9 in 2022 have dipped to 64.3 and 3.5, respectively this season, but his numbers have spiked since Pierce took the helm.
His rushing yards per game have gone from 51.0 in Weeks 1-8 to 90.8 since Week 9.
The dynamic back also ranks in the top 10 in rushing yards (771) and touchdowns (six).
- Maxx Crosby Influence: The Vikings offensive line is preparing for another Pro Bowl talent this week. Defensive end Maxx Crosby leads the Raiders in sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (15), quarterback pressures (33) and quarterback hits (18). His high-motor style causes pass-protection disruption and run-game chaos.
According to Pro Football Focus, Crosby has the highest run defense grade (91.5) of all edge rushers. He also leads the league in solo tackles among edge rushers (39).
Latest Bye Week in Team History
In their franchise history, the Vikings have just one instance of their bye falling later than it did this season (Week 14 in 1991). But that season started on Sept.1, so the Sunday of that bye week was Dec. 1.
Thus, this was the latest calendar Sunday (Dec. 3) on which a Vikings bye has ever fallen.
Davante Adams heating up?
Vikings fans are familiar with Raiders receiver Davante Adams. No player has caught more touchdowns against Minnesota than Adams, who recorded 13 while with the Packers.
This year, Adams has totaled 814 yards on 69 catches, on pace for 1,152 yards, which would be his lowest total since 2017 when he missed two games due to injury.
He has at least 70 receiving yards in each of his past three games after having just three such games in the first nine of the season.
1 Talking Point
"We've been in a process of trying to provide him with clarity on what we're doing offensively and then we're learning a lot about each other as we go," O'Connell said. "That's why I love having him here — his work ethic, spending a lot of time with him, getting to know him, and continuing to dive deeper into what helps him be the best version of himself. That's what I know that we pride ourselves on around here, is helping our players do that. So whether it's schematically, fundamentally, what are we asking him to do in what situation or phase of the game? That's where we can continue to all elevate our ability to help each other but, more importantly, elevate Josh's ability to sustain success."
– O'Connell on the decision to start Dobbs
Mullens (2022) and Vikings long snapper Andrew DePaola (2018) are former Raiders.
Raiders running back Ameer Abdullah (2018-21), kicker Daniel Carlson (2018) and Marcus Epps (2019).
Las Vegas running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu and passing game coordinator Scott Turner are former assistants with Minnesota.
College and Pro Connections
*This will be the 17th meeting between the franchises. The Raiders are 10-6, including their win in Super Bowl XI, when playing the Vikings but have lost the past two contests (30-14 in 2015 and 34-14 in 2019). *