As Head Coach Mike Zimmer described to the team in the locker room after last Thursday's win over the Lions, his team aced their three-game spring that followed the Week 9 bye, winning three games against NFC contenders over the course of 12 days. Now, with five regular season games remaining, the Vikings – who sit 9-2 and atop the NFC North – will look to finish the season strong and try to secure some form of home field advantage come playoff time, beginning with today's game in Atlanta against the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
Coming off last February's stunning Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, the Falcons got off to a little bit of an uneven start to the 2017 season. They went 3-0 to start the season by defeating all three of the Vikings NFC North counterparts, but then lose four of five as their offense – by the incredibly high standards they've set the last few years – struggled a bit, with new Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian taking over for Kyle Shanahan who departed to be head coach of the 49ers.
But the last three weeks, Sarkisian's group has averaged 31.7 points per game in a trio of wins to put the Falcons back in contention for both the NFC South crown and a wild card berth. The group now sits 7th in the NFC in total offense and 11th in points per game.
QB Matt Ryan has completed over 70 percent of his passes the last three weeks and posted an average QB rating of 110.5, with five touchdowns compared to just one interception. Most notably, he and all-world WR Julio Jones tore apart Tampa Bay's secondary last Sunday, with Jones hauling in 12 passes for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
What makes their offensive resurgence that much more impressive is that they've done it the last two weeks without Pro Bowl RB Devonta Freeman, who has missed time due to a concussion. However, he cleared the concussion protocol and returned to practice this week, and should be back in the starting lineup today.
So, once again, Zimmer's defense has a super tall task in front of it. Xavier Rhodes will likely be tasked with trying to slow down Jones, while Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks (who is questionable with a hip injury) will try, as they've done all year, to slow down the combo of Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield both through the air and on the ground.
And as always, pressuring the quarterback will be key, so the likes of Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and the other defensive linemen will need to force Ryan to get rid of the ball faster than he'd like to.
On the other side of things, the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Month, QB Case Keenum, will try to keep his magic going by going against a Falcons defense that won't be at full strength in the secondary. Their top cornerback, Desmond Trufant, was ruled out on Friday due to a concussion.
That injury could allow for the duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to again excel, assuming the offensive line and keep Keenum protected. For the most part, that duo has thrived every week regardless of who is defending them, and with the Vikings again likely needing to score 24 points to come away with a win, big games might be needed out of one or both of them.
Up front, the Falcons have a physical front four along with a very fast group of linebackers that will present a tough challenge. Vic Beasley has just 4.0 sacks this season but had 15.5 a season ago and is a giant threat to get to Keenum on very single play. Former Gopher De'Vondre Campbell is third on the team in tackles, has 2.0 sacks and has a forced fumble, so he's another player the offense will need to account for.
Minnesota's ground game was once again serviceable last week, with the group carrying the ball 41 times for 136 yards and two scores. Much of that came on the first drive of the second half, with the team running it four times for 75 yards en route to a Latavius Murray score.
For essentially the fifth week in a row, the team will be without starting RT Mike Remmers, who missed almost a month due to a concussion but now is dealing with a low back injury. Rashod Hill still start in his place.
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