The team quarterbacked by Case Keenum won its seventh-consecutive game on Thanksgiving Day, defeating the Detroit Lions in a game marred by questionable officiating. The 9-2 Vikings still have plenty of tests left in the remaining five games of the regular season. Three games on the road and two home games make up the rest of the schedule for the Vikings.
The daunting schedule after the week nine bye had some fans’ teeth chattering due to the imbalance of road and home games. The post-bye victory at Washington was a flashy offensive showing for the starting quarterback Keenum, who threw for a career-high four touchdowns. The win seemed to be almost certain until Washington crept back in the fourth quarter but the Vikings’ Kai Forbath added the cushion room necessary for the win with a late field goal, 38-30.
The next two wins against the Los Angeles Rams at home and Detroit Lions in Detroit solidified Minnesota’s bid as an upper-echelon team in the NFL. 2016’s version of the Minnesota Vikings finished 28th in the NFL for total offense which is measured by yards-per-game; the 2017 Vikings are currently the fifth-best offense in the league.
The only surprise about the team’s defense this year is that the offense is performing just as well. The defense also sits at fifth-best in the NFL by allowing just 290.4 yards-per-game. The defensive mastermind, that is Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, has shown exactly what it takes to make the correct adjustments against opposing offenses this year. Minnesota also holds the best percentage when it comes to stopping players on third down; just 28 percent of the time have opponents converted on third down against the Vikings this season, which is best in the entire NFL.
Zimmer’s defense will absolutely need to be ready for the next two opponents; the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. Both games will be played on the road in the coming weeks. Atlanta’s offense is playing very similar to the Vikings this year with a lot of balance between the passing and running games. The Matt Ryan-led offense for the Falcons has put up 24.1 points-per-game this season, but the -3-turnover differential and the stellar Vikings defensive line could cause some trouble for “Matty Ice”.
Potentially the last hurdle for the Vikings to get over this season will be against Carolina, the second of back-to-back road games for Minnesota. The Panthers have quietly climbed to an 8-3 record after a nauseating Super Bowl hangover in their 2016 campaign. While the Panthers aren’t as formidable offensively as the Falcons, they still prove to be a resilient team that can also hold it down on defense. Carolina’s fifth-ranked rushing attack made up of Cam Newton, rookie Christian McCaffrey and veteran running back Jonathon Stewart could pose problems for the Vikings’ NFL-second-best rushing defense.
Things start to settle down on the schedule for the Vikings following the game against the Panthers. The only road game left after week 14 is usually the one most circled for Vikings fans; that is week 16 at the historic Lambeau Field. First, Minnesota must travel back home to face a mediocre Bengals team.
The Cincinnati Bengals should beware of their former defensive coordinator (Zimmer) when they come to US Bank Stadium. Currently, the Bengals have no statistical offensive categories in the top 25 rankings in the league. Minnesota should be able to eat up the clock and give the defense some rest throughout the game because Andy Dalton and Co. shouldn’t be seeing much of the field.
Part two of Packer week lands on the calendar in week 16. And for the first time since the days of Brett Favre, the Vikings have a legitimate chance to win both games against Green Bay (pending the return of the injured Aaron Rodgers).
“I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘if’, I think it’s a matter of ‘when’ Rodgers comes back this season,” said lifelong Packer fan Ryan Sjoberg. “He has been participating in practice in limited capacity and participating throwing drills, now he’s just waiting to get off IR [in week 15].”
The regular season will close out as it did last year with a New Year’s Eve (one day earlier) game against the Chicago Bears at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Bears have had tremendous success this season with finding out that Mike Glennon was not the answer at quarterback. The 2017 second-overall pick in the NFL Draft, Mitchell Trubisky, has taken over the reins of Chicago and hopes to lead the Bears to another high draft pick as the team sits at 3-8. One bright spot for the Bears is its eighth-ranked rushing-yards-per-game at 120.4. The Vikings have only allowed 75.5 in the same category.
The Vikings have a lot to prove in order to keep their dream season alive, starting this Sunday at Atlanta.