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Lunchbreak: The Athletic Answers 'The Vikings Win If…' Ahead of Rams Game

Will the Vikings-Rams game be another nail-biter?

Those are the types of contests Vikings fans have become accustomed to this year, and we'll see Sunday if the NFC game comes down to the wire.

The Athletic recently rolled out its preview for Sunday’s game, which is scheduled to kick off at noon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Chad Graff and Arif Hasan each finished the sentence, "The Vikings win if…," and they had differing opinions. Both, however, were offensive-focused. According to Graff, all eyes will be on Alexander Mattison after Dalvin Cook was added to the team's Reserve/COVID-19 list. Graff wrote:

The Vikings win if…

… Alexander Mattison can somehow put together a good running game against the Rams. Everything is stacked against him. Mattison has been one of the most inefficient backs in the league. The Rams have been one of the most efficient run-stopping defenses in the league, ranking fifth in EPA/play. It seems unlikely, but if the Vikings can somehow find a way to run on them, they can slow down the game, rest their defense and potentially open up some big plays in the passing game.

Hasan, meanwhile, said the Vikings will win if "they find a way to protect [Kirk] Cousins.

"Throwing against [Jalen] Ramsey is tough," Hasan noted, "but there are opportunities on that defense if a quarterback has time."

Graff, Hasan and Jon Krawczynski also highlighted what they'll be watching closest in the game, with Graff focusing on Minnesota's pass rush.

It makes little sense to me (and is a major credit to [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer) that the team lost Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen and continues to get pressure on the quarterback. The Vikings lead the league in sacks, in part because Zimmer has drawn up creative blitzes to clear rushing lanes. If the Vikings can continue to get pressure against a very good pass-blocking team, that would go a long way toward helping the defense find success.

Hasan and Krawczynski both are keeping an eye on how the Vikings interior offensive line holds up against eight-time Pro Bowler Aaron Donald. Worth noting is that Minnesota on Friday announced guard Mason Cole was added to Injured Reserve.

When it comes to score predictions, Graff gave Minnesota a leg up with a 30-28 win over the Rams.

Maybe I'm crazy and am putting too much stock in both [Adam] Thielen's potential return and the Rams tough test on a short week. But I'm picking the Minnesota offense to get things figured out with Cousins getting rid of the ball quickly, while the defense does just enough against a quarterback they know well.

Hasan predicted a 7-point game with the Rams taking the victory, and Krawczynski also went with the Rams – though he joked at his lack of success in predicting Vikings wins.

My little Christmas present to you, Vikings fans, for all of your support the whole season through. This pick guarantees a purple victory on Sunday.

ESPN tabs Eric Kendricks as Vikings 'best veteran contract'

Football Outsiders Cale Clinton and J.P. Acosta recently delved into teams around the NFL for ESPN and looked specifically at veteran players’ contracts. Clinton and Acosta wrote:

In doing this analysis, we considered present value, likely long-term value and percentage of the salary cap tied up. The length of a deal is less of a consideration than it would be in other sports because injury can end a player's career at any time, and most NFL contracts are structured so that neither side will want to see the end of them. However, if a team can get multiple good years out of a deal, obviously that is better than not.

Finally, we will not use drafted players on rookie contracts because then the entire list would be rookie contracts. A good player on a rookie contract is immensely valuable, as you have likely learned from the discourse about teams with good young quarterbacks being able to field better teams around them. However, we did consider players on UDFA (undrafted free agent) contracts because any team had a shot at them, though most teams do not have a UDFA worthy of being on our list.

For Minnesota, Clinton and Acosta spotlighted linebacker Eric Kendricks, whom the Vikings drafted in the second round in 2015.

The Vikings are a weird team because they're one of the best passing teams in the NFL – per DVOA (11th) – but none of their receivers outside of Justin Jefferson ranks in the top 20 in DYAR. Dalvin Cook would be an interesting pick here considering how many open-field yards the Vikings get on the ground, but he himself is outside the top 20 in DYAR among running backs. His backfield mate Alexander Mattison is higher in DYAR but is still on a drafted rookie contract, so that takes him out of the running here.

We settled on Eric Kendricks because he has given the Vikings high-quality play and helped them to a ranking of sixth in open-field yards allowed through Week 14 […]. The lack of help from the defensive front puts a lot of stress on Kendricks and the back group, and he has lived up to the bill. Kendricks is sixth in the NFL in tackles through Week 14 and has added four pass deflections and two interceptions as the leader of the Vikings defense.