The 11-3 Vikings will go up against the 8-5-1 Giants on Saturday. Minnesota clinched the NFC North and a home playoff game, but the number one seed is out of reach, as the Eagles would have to lose all three remaining games and the Vikings had to win the final three matchups.
However, the game in Week 16 is not meaningless because the Vikings try to stay above the 49ers in the NFC playoff picture to have a second home game guaranteed if the divisional round is reached. Here’s what to know about Saturday’s game.
No Garrett Bradbury
Garrett Bradbury was ruled out for the third consecutive game with a back injury. He seemed to recover nicely but suffered a car accident after last week’s Colts game. Viewed as a liability coming into the season, Bradbury improved and can be called a solid center. He even was named a Pro Bowl alternate after fans called for his departure just a few months ago.
Austin Schlottmann is his backup, a career backup center that has not been a liability in his snaps but could not play at Bradbury’s level. A big problem will be Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, as the Pro Bowler is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. It’s not ideal to have a backup center going up against him.
Big Rushing Day?
Dalvin Cook is coming off a fantastic day when he shredded the Colts’ defenses in the second half. The running back scored the game-tying touchdown with two minutes to go when he took a simple screen to the house for 64 yards. Screens haven’t worked all year, so this one was a surprise.
He finished with 190 yards from scrimmage and was a big reason for the comeback. Cook looked dynamic and ran angry. The Giants’ rushing defense is a big reason for another potentially outstanding game. EPA/Play has the Giants 30th against the run and DVOA 31st. If the Vikings can secure the lead early in the game, expect the purple team to be able to run the football with success.
His counterpart, Giants star running back Saquon Barkley, is one of the most explosive players in the game. He is leading the NFC in rushing yards and is a dangerous weapon in both running and passing game. Barkley is the offense’s focal point, designed by head coach Brain Daboll and the Vikings have to account for him on every play. If he hits a hole, it’s hard to stop him.
A Hot Streak + 4 Vikings Storylines vs. Giants
2 Young Stars Meet
The Vikings employ an elite left tackle, and the Giants selected a pass rusher with the fifth overall pick in the last draft. Christian Darrisaw, a 2021 first-rounder, became a star in the 2022 season after a solid rookie campaign. He went into the current year with high expectations and even exceeded those. PFF has him ranked as the second-best offensive tackle of the season, only behind superstar Trent Williams.
Kayvon Thibodeaux was the projected first overall pick for years but somehow dropped to the fifth pick and was also the fifth defensive player selected. His athleticism is off the charts. Thibodeaux had a slow start to his career but is coming off his best game by a mile. The defensive end recorded 12 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and forced and returned a fumble for a touchdown against the Commanders. Darrisaw will likely meet Thibodeaux in their matchup, and it’s a fun one to watch. The Viking will be favored, but the Giant is hard to stop when he’s on his A-game.
Cousins’ Hot Streak
Kirk Cousins passed for more than 400 yards in each of the last two games and recorded the most yards in two consecutive games in Vikings franchise history, in addition to six passing touchdowns. Cousins had his best game in Week 14 against Detroit and followed that by orchestrating the greatest comeback in NFL history. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week and FedEx Air Player of the Week.
Cousins certainly wants to keep his hot streak up. However, Cousins is historically struggling against the Giants. He was in the same division when he played in Washington, and his career numbers are an uncharacteristically production of 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a passer rating of 73.5.
The passer was just named to his fourth career Pro Bowl and is starting to look more comfortable in the new system provided by head coach Kevin O’Connell. Minnesota needs their quarterback to be locked in, especially in the postseason, if the team wants to sniff a Super Bowl.
Justin Jefferson needs exactly 10 yards to break the single-season receiving record of Randy Moss, something that is bound to happen unless any weird events take place. He only needed three seasons to become not just the face of the Vikings but also one of the faces of the league. The Giants have a solid passing defense but will be without cornerback Adoree Jackson.
Jefferson needs 114 yards per game to secure the single-season record in NFL history from Calvin Johnson Jr and roughly 126 yards per game to get to 2,000 yards. His career average per game is 98.7, but his average in 2022 is 115.9. The record is a real possibility, especially if the Vikings want to force it in the final games.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt