EAGAN, Minn. — It seems this game has been circled on the calendar for a while.
Sunday's meeting between the Vikings and Chiefs may feature teams that don't see each other often, but each believes they are legitimate playoff contenders in their respective conferences.
Plus, with each team having a winning record at the halfway point of the 2019 season, the Week 9 tilt between Minnesota (6-2) and Kansas City (5-3) feels somewhat like a heavyweight fight.
"Got some big games coming up against some good competitors. It's a challenge to see where we stand and where we fall against teams like that," said Vikings safety Anthony Harris. "Realistically, you look around the league and see how teams are doing.
"This is a very competitive team, very talented. It's an opportunity for us to see a different opponent," Harris added. "We've had a lot of division games so far, so now we can see somebody on the other side of the league and see where we fall."
Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "I think we play a lot of contenders in these next eight weeks, and they obviously are a contender. This will be a good test for us, they're a good football team. We're going to have to play good to win."
Even with three losses at home so far in 2019, Kansas City is 38-14 (.731 win percentage) in the regular season at Arrowhead Stadium under Andy Reid since 2013.
Minnesota has been red-hot of late with four consecutive wins. In order to get a fifth, the Vikings will have to play well in one of the toughest environments across the league.
But if the Vikings can get a win and get to 7-2, they will have set themselves up well with a good start for the second half of 2019.
Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
Keeping up with Kirk | By @Eric_L_Smith
Kirk Cousins was the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, as the Vikings quarterback produced one of the best statistical months of his career.
Over his past four games, Cousins completed 91 of 116 passes (78.4 percent) for 1,261 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating in October was 137.1.
The quarterback gets a chance Sunday to continue his hot streak, but it won't be easy at Arrowhead Stadium.
"A big test this week, going to play the Chiefs on the road," Cousins said. "This was a game at the start of the season that you knew was going to be a great test for us, so we're excited for that challenge.
"That's where our focus is now. It's kind of the same routine," Cousins added. "It's getting to be pretty repetitive, what we're doing … but it's important to find a way to get a win however we can."
While Sunday's game may be one of the toughest environments Cousins and the Vikings offense play in all season, the opportunity for big plays could be there.
The Chiefs are 17th with 22.6 points allowed per game, and rank 25th with 377.0 yards allowed per game.
If Minnesota can get the ground game going, that should open up play-action passes for Cousins to find an array of weapons including Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph and, if healthy, Adam Thielen, who was listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Vikings defense needs to be 'on their toes' against Chiefs | By @LindseyMNSports
As of Friday, the Vikings don't yet know which Chiefs QB will be starting at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
But whether it's Patrick Mahomes, who was listed as questionable with a knee injury, or Matt Moore, Kansas City has shown it can put points on the board. Last week against the Packers, Moore made his first start in place of the injured Mahomes and was 24-of-36 passing for 267 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 107.1.
Minnesota last week limited Washington to just three field goals after allowing a combined 50 points by opponents over the two previous games. Against a potent Andy Reid offense, it will be important for the Vikings to start out fast defensively and set a tone for the afternoon.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with media members this week and said Minnesota "hasn't done a good enough job" in red zone pass defense and needs to clean up that area. Through their first eight games, 48.2 percent of the Chiefs touchdowns have been scored from inside the red zone. But it's worth nothing that of their 18 passing touchdowns, only five have been from inside the 20.
Zimmer also emphasized the importance of limiting explosive plays by Kansas City's offense. Seven of their passing TDs this season have been plays of more than 40 yards.
"They do a lot of unorthodox things offensively, because they're trying to get big plays down the field," Zimmer said. "I think they're number one in the league in RPOs, number of RPO percentages. They're averaging … [6.6 yards per play], so it puts a lot of stress on you. They're number one in the league in yards after catch.
"So, we'll have to be on our toes, and we're going to have to play good against them and try to eliminate some big plays," he added.
View Vikings practice images from October 31 as the team prepares for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ground game disparity | By @pcraigers
Statistically speaking, there were only two teams more prolific at running the football through the first eight weeks of the 2019 season than the Vikings, who enter Sunday's contest toting a rushing average of 160.1 yards per game.
Conversely, there were only two teams more generous in defending gains on the ground than the Chiefs through their first half of the season. Kansas City has allowed 145.0 rushing yards per game.
Aside from rushing for just 40 yards in Chicago, the Vikings have had no fewer than 122 rushing yards in any outing. That was against a Philadelphia team that entered Week 6 leading the NFL in run defense. Minnesota has had 161 or more rushing yards in its other six games.
The Chiefs have allowed at least 118 rushing yards (last week against Green Bay) in six games.
This disparity could prove pivotal because success in the ground game can help slow down a pass rush, help a team win time of possession, and, in some venues, de-energize a crowd, although the Arrowhead Stadium crowd is consistently raucous.
Keep an eye on the involvement of Vikings running backs in the passing game as well. The Chiefs yielded 159 yards and two touchdown catches to Aaron Jones on seven receptions last Sunday. That included a back-breaking 67-yard catch-and-run that was essentially an extension of the run game and proved to be the final score of the game.
— The Vikings are 5-7 all-time against the Chiefs, including the postseason. Minnesota last won at Arrowhead Stadium in December of 1974 and has dropped the four other contests since.
— Mahomes is 18-6 as a starting quarterback. The Chiefs average 416.3 yards and 33.1 points per game when he starts.
— The teams are tied for 19th in the NFL with a goal-to-go percentage of 66.7, meaning they've scored touchdowns on two of every three times they've earned a goal-to-go situation. Minnesota's red zone percentage of 64.3, however, is eighth in the NFL. Kansas City's red zone percentage of 48.2 is tied for 24th.
— Of the 37 career touchdowns scored by Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (28 receiving, four rushing, four punt return, one kickoff return), 19 have been 40 yards or longer. His longest TD catch is 79 yards, and he has punt returns of 95, 91, 82 and 78. His kickoff return was 86 yards, and his longest rushing score was 68 yards.
"It's right up there with any stadium in the league, as far as noise. Our job is to focus on communication, avoid pre-snap penalties, make sure everybody in the huddle is understanding what we're doing at the line of scrimmage, understanding what we're doing — we've got to communicate, whether it's protections or in the run game, there's a lot of communication that goes on in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. We can't afford to have a single slip-up and have a wasted play."
— Cousins on playing at Arrowhead Stadium
Back in prime time
The Vikings will hit the road in Week 10 for a matchup on national television.
Minnesota will play at Dallas in a battle of current division leaders, with the game on Sunday NightFootball. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m. (CT).
The Vikings are 1-0 in prime-time games so far in 2019. Minnesota's final three road games — Cowboys on Sunday night, Seahawks on Monday night and Chargers on Sunday night — are all scheduled to be in prime time.