EAGAN, Minn. — Minnesota's march to a potential playoff spot continues Sunday, but the next chapter in the 2018 season is against of the NFL's top dynasties.
The Vikings and Patriots will square off at 3:25 p.m. (CT) Sunday from Foxborough, Massachusetts, as both teams look to increase their chances of making the postseason.
Minnesota is 6-4-1 and in second place in the NFC North following a 24-17 win over Green Bay on Sunday Night Football. The Vikings are currently the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture entering Sunday's action.
New England leads the AFC East with an 8-3 record and would be the second seed in the AFC playoffs if the season started today.
Both teams reached their respective conference championship games in 2017, with New England losing Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:
Make a statement | By **@EricLSmith**
It seems that every Vikings player who has talked to the media this week has been asked about the mystique of playing the Patriots.
They've been asked about the aura of playing against Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, a guy who has 258 career wins (including postseason games), which ranks third all-time behind Don Shula and George Halas. Belichick has a .718 playoff winning percentage (28-11 record), which is the best in NFL history.
And against quarterback Tom Brady, who holds the league record with four Super Bowl MVPs. Brady, who has won five total rings, ranks fourth all-time with 69,190 career passing yards and 507 passing touchdowns. He needs one more score to tie Hall of Famer Brett Favre for third.
And having the game at Gillette Stadium, where Brady is 112-19 in his career, including a 32-4 home record in December.
Not that the Vikings are thinking too much about those numbers.
"We're not going to get caught up in that whole scenario," said Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. "We're going to get caught up in us playing good football, and that's what we have to focus on.
"Everybody's going to the whole thing of New England, you know, we respect Tom, we respect the Patriots, we respect everything they've got going," Cook added. "But it's more about us at this point."
Sunday's tilt will essentially be on national television as the majority of the country will see this one on FOX. And while Minnesota can certainly make a statement with a road win, don't forget that the Patriots have to play the Vikings, too.
Minnesota is a team with Pro Bowlers and All-Pros on both sides of the ball, a veteran group that has plenty of talent and pride, and knows they still have work to do in order to secure a playoff spot.
Sunday may turn into one of the best games of the 2018 season.
Navigating New England's defense | By **@LindseyMNSports**
There's often plenty of chatter surrounding New England's offense – and rightly so – but how will the Vikings match up against the Patriots defense?
New England currently ranks 22nd in the league in yards allowed, its opponents having averaged 377.5 yards per game against the Patriots so far this season. Notably, they rank 25th in passing yards allowed per game (269.7) and 14th in rushing yards per game (107.7). They also are near the bottom (26th) in third-down percentage, allowing teams a 43.06-percent success rate on third-down conversions.
Minnesota is anticipating Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick to work on taking away the Vikings top one – or two – offensive weapons and **force them to win “left-handed.”** It will be interesting to see how Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo, **who was with the Eagles** when they defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, makes adjustments against New England's defense and how quarterback Kirk Cousins and Co. perform on the road.
Running for 100 | By **@pcraigers**
The correlation appears to be for real.
The Vikings are 3-0 when they rush for 100 or more yards and 0-4 when an opponent reaches the milestone in 2018.
The Patriots are 6-0 when they rush for 100-plus and 3-3 when an opponent does so this season.
There are multiple paths to reaching the benchmark.
Sometimes it's breaking a big one, a la Dalvin Cook's 70-yarder against Detroit. Other times, it's hitting a flow and avoiding negative plays throughout the game, and still others, it can be a heavy dose at the end of the game when playing with a lead and milking clock.
The Patriots had runs of 33, 31, 27, 24 and 16 from the combination of Sony Michel and James White last week in totaling 215 yards on 36 attempts (6.0 per carry) against the Jets.
The Vikings have allowed only four runs of 15 or more yards this season, which is the fewest in the NFL.
"It's been pretty good," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of Minnesota's run defense this week. "I think it's been good because we haven't given up really big runs, but we've given up some 4s and 5s and 6s, you know. You'd like to make them second-and-8s, second-and-9s more so than second-and-6."
New England has averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 31.4 carries per game in wins. The Patriots have been limited 3.4 yards per carry and 20.7 rush attempts per game in losses.
No disrespect to Brady and his weapons in the passing game, but a big key for Minnesota will be performing well against the run.
— The Vikings wide receivers unit leads all groups at that position with 216 total receptions. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have combined for 172 of those catches. Minnesota's wide receivers also rank second with 19 total touchdown catches.
— Minnesota's defense is tied for third in the NFL with 36 total sacks, with Danielle Hunter leading the team and tying for second in the NFL with 11.5 sacks. New England's offense has allowed just 16 sacks, which is tied for the second-fewest in the league.
— Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins posted a quarterback rating of 129.5 on Sunday against Green Bay, which was Cousins' best mark of the season. It was the fourth-best rating of his career in games when he's attempted at least 30 passes.
— The Vikings are only one of three defenses in the NFL that ranks in the top 10 in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game. Minnesota is tied for fourth with 93.6 rushing yards allowed per game and ranks fifth by allowing 221.1 passing yards per game.
"I think we play better when we're underdogs. I hope. I don't know. The thing I respect about their team the most, and I told our team this [Wednesday] – they don't care what they did last week. They just focus on this week. And then they go from there. And that's how they continue to win. We have to get that mentality where, whatever we did last week, whether we won by 50 or lost by 50, it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is this week. That's what they do, and I think they do a great job of it."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer.