EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The stretch run is in sight.
The Vikings return home Sunday for a noon (CT) matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals as Minnesota once again tries to clinch the NFC North.
The Vikings are 10-3 overall and have a three-game cushion in the division with three games to go.
Although Minnesota saw its eight-game win streak snapped against the Panthers, the Vikings currently sit as the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Cincinnati is 5-8 on the season and has lost four of its past six games. The Bengals fell 33-7 at home to Chicago last weekend and are in third place in the NFC North.
Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
Starting fast | By@EricLSmith
The Vikings played their worst game in two months on Sunday in Carolina, and still managed to find themselves tied late in the fourth quarter against a tough team in a hostile environment.
While U.S. Bank Stadium should be rocking this weekend, it's also a chance for Minnesota to establish a winning formula early on against the Bengals.
Cincinnati holds an under-.500 record and is a longshot for anAFC Wild Card spot, so a fast start and early lead would be an ideal recipe for success for the Vikings. Of the Bengals eight losses, four have come by four points or less.
Minnesota's offense has struggled at times in the first quarter, scoring 46 total points in 13 games. The Vikings scored 23 total points in the opening period in the first 10 games of the season, but have put up 20 first-quarter points in the past three games.
If the Vikings can pounce on Cincinnati quickly, Minnesota will improve its chances to will leave U.S. Bank Stadium with a division title in hand.
Going against Green | By@LindseyMNSports
Xavier Rhodes will face another tough receiver in A.J. Green, who will take the field at U.S. Bank Stadium for his 100th NFL game on Sunday.
Green has recorded five or more catches in 65.7 percent of the games he's played over six-plus regular seasons, and he has 31 games of 100 or more receiving yards on his resume. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Green has caught at least one touchdown pass in 51 games and has had six games with two scores.
Green is a six-time Pro Bowler, but he will be up against a tough challenge in Rhodes. The cornerback has helped contain a number of big-time receivers this season, including Michael Thomas (45 yards), Antonio Brown (62 yards), Mike Evans (67 yards), Sammy Watkins (36 yards), Golden Tate (29 yards in two meetings), Julio Jones (24 yards) and Mohamed Sanu (43 yards).
The Vikings have allowed only one 100-yard receiver this season (Detroit's Marvin Jones), and Rhodes will look to continue that pattern Sunday when he likely matches up against a talented Green.
Run-game renaissance | By@pcraigers
The run game — on offense and defense — was a departure for what has become the Vikings "normal" in 2017.
Yes, Minnesota totaled 100 yards on 21 carries in Carolina, but quarterback Case Keenum accounted for 40 of those yards on five scrambles.
The Vikings had some negative runs that created unfavorable down-and-distance situations, and falling behind forced Minnesota to rely more heavily on the passing game in the second half.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings allowed a season-high 216 rushing yards to the Panthers on 36 carries, which included runs of 60 yards by Jonathan Stewart and 62 by Cam Newton for the longest two plays (run or pass) allowed by Minnesota this season.
Stewart also scored three touchdowns on the ground after the Vikings had limited their first 12 opponents to six combined rushing scores.
Minnesota is 5-1 so far in U.S. Bank Stadium and has had extremely favorable run stats at home.
The Vikings have averaged 132.2 rushing yards per game and allowed an average of 60.7 rushing yards per game this season.
Detroit had 97 rushing yards, and Minnesota had 87 in the Vikings only loss at home this season, which also was the only time that Minnesota has rushed for less than 100 in the stadium's second season.
The Bengals have averaged 79.4 rushing yards per game this season.
— Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has recorded a passer rating of at least 100.0 six different times this season. He has five such games in his career before this season.
— Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has 13 sacks this season, which is a career high for the former fourth-round pick. Griffen has 61 career sacks, good for seventh all-time in franchise history.
— The Vikings have won 19 division titles in their 57-year history. Minnesota can make it No. 20 with a victory Sunday against the Bengals.
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spent six seasons (2008-2013) as the Bengals defensive coordinator before being named Minnesota's head coach in January of 2014. This will be Zimmer's first regular-season meeting against Cincinnati as a head coach.
"[Let's] get that Skol chant going, and hopefully we play good football." — Zimmer on Sunday's home game.