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The Skinny Post: Vikings Face Falcons Looking for 8th Straight Victory

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings are on the hunt for double-digit wins. 

They'll have to get past the defending NFC champions to do so. 

Minnesota currently sits at 9-2 and has a three-game lead in the NFC North thanks to a seven-game win streak, the franchise's longest since 2000.

Atlanta is 7-4 after getting a 34-20 win over Tampa Bay last weekend. The Falcons have won three straight games.

The Vikings have won the past two meetings between the teams.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Defending Matt Ryan | By@pcraigers

Disclaimer: Passer rating isn't the only measure of quarterback play, it does lend itself to some comparisons.

The Vikings defense opened the season by facing offenses led by almost absolutely certain Hall of Fame quarterbacks Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. 

Brees had a passer rating of 104.7, but his Saints squad was held to its lowest points total of the season. Roethlisberger followed with a rating of 104.8, helping the Steelers score the second-most points against Minnesota this season.

Since those first two weeks, all quarterbacks have combined for a rating of 76.0, completing 194 of 324 passes for 2,045 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.

On Sunday, they'll face reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan, whose numbers haven't reached the rare air of 2016. Ryan does, however, rank in the top 10 in the NFL with a season-long passer rating of 97.2, is fourth in completion percentage and sixth in average gain.

In two games against Vikings defenses since Mike Zimmer became the Vikings head coach, Ryan is 47-of-72 for 528 yards with four touchdown passes and four interceptions for a rating of 82.4. His career rating in 10 seasons is 93.9, and in two other meetings with the Vikings, it was 111.0.

Ryan has numerous weapons on the outside, a strong running game and good protection from the offensive line, so the Vikings defense will face a tough challenge.

Special teams spotlight | By@EricLSmith

Sunday's matchup between the Vikings and Falcons could be considered a measuring stick game for each team.

Both Minnesota and Atlanta have positioned themselves for possible playoff success, so Sunday's tilt could come down to whoever makes the fewest mistakes.

For the Vikings, that means cleaning up some areas on special teams. 

Minnesota had both a field goal and extra point blocked against the Lions, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he wants to see more solid punts and kick coverage.

"We have to get better in that area," Zimmer said about Minnesota's overall special teams game. "I don't think it was really the kicker. He didn't really get an opportunity. Like I said, the one we didn't get the ball caught and put on the ground good enough and the other one got blocked. I don't really think it was him.

"We had a couple poor punts. We had a couple good punts. We didn't cover very well — well enough anyways," Zimmer added. "In general, we have to be better on special teams."

The Vikings will need to be at their best to pass a tough road test in Atlanta. Getting a strong effort in every special teams aspect could help them get the job done.

#RhodesClosed versus Julio | By@LindseyMNSports

Both Vikings fans and Falcons fans alike are anticipating what will be a likely matchup between receiver Julio Jones and cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Sunday.

Jones is fresh off a 253-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers last week, and Rhodes knows he will have his hands full with the four-time Pro Bowler.

"Julio is Julio," Rhodes told Twin Cities media members this week. "Big, fast, physical, can get the ball once it's in the air. I don't think he has a weakness. He's focused, doesn't talk much on the field, so it's hard to get in his head. It's Julio."

But Rhodes also told reporters that he's confident heading into the game and that it's important to avoid buying into the hype or "being afraid of the name." Sunday will mark the third time in Rhodes' career that he's faced Jones, as the two teams played each other in 2014 and again in 2015.

In the most recent matchup, Rhodes shadowed Jones throughout much of the game at the Georgia Dome and allowed just two catches for 18 yards. Overall, Minnesota's defense held Jones to 56 receiving yards on the day.

As the Vikings prepare for their second of three straight road games and are in pursuit of an eighth consecutive win, containment of Jones will be a key factor.

Substantial Stats

— There are seven teams in the NFC who currently have seven or more wins this season. Six of them square off this weekend as the Vikings face the Falcons, the Seahawks (7-4) host the Eagles (10-1) and the Saints and Panthers meet in a battle of 8-3 teams. 

— The Vikings are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top five in both total offensive yards per game (375.7) and defensive yards allowed per game (290.4). Atlanta is sixth in yards per game (373.4) and is 10th is yards allowed per game (321.8).

— The Vikings defense ranks first in the NFL in third-down percentage; Opponents have converted on 39 of 137 attempts (28.5 percent). Atlanta's offense ranks first at 48.1 percent (63 of 131 attempts).

— Julio Jones recorded 253 receiving yards in Week 12, his third career game of 250-plus yards. The Falcons wide receiver has 38 career 100-yard games. The Vikings defense has allowed just one 100-yard receiver all season (Detroit's Marvin Jones in Week 12).

Quotable 

"Getting ready for a good road test. These guys are very good – offense, defense, special teams. Should be a heck of a ballgame." — Zimmer on Sunday's game in Atlanta.

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