AFC East

CK’s Vikings@Patriots – A Highly Biased Game Preview

CK’s Vikings@Patriots – A Highly Biased Game Preview
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Huge playoff implications are on the line Sunday afternoon as the Minnesota Vikings travel east to take on the New England Patriots.  While both franchises have been in existence since the 1960’s, this will be only the 13th time these teams have met with New England leading the all-time series 8-4.  
The most memorable of these matchups occurred back in 1994 when the Vikings visited Foxboro and took a commanding 20-3 half time lead over the Patriots.  While the season seemed lost at that point, a young Drew Bledsoe led the Patriots back in the second half and threw a 14 yard touchdown pass to FB Kevin Turner to beat Minnesota 26-20 in overtime.  That game was the beginning of a 7 game winning streak for the Patriots which led them back to the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Of course, that was a long time ago.
The Vikings (6-4-1) enter this game having beaten their division rival Green Bay Packers last Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive.  While there was much preseason hype on what a powerhouse the Vikings would be this year, they have been plagued with inconsistency on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots (8-3), having won 7 of their last 8 games, find themselves in their usual spot at the top of the AFC East and, thanks to the Steelers awful play calling, find themselves sitting in the #2 playoff spot in the AFC.  Though New England seems poised to make the playoffs for a 10th consecutive year, this team clearly hasn’t looked like the dominant version of the Patriots that we have seen in years past.
Both teams look to build on big Week 11 victories so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – PUSH:  Yes…You read that right.  While it’s easy to give Tom Brady the edge every week, no one can deny that Kirk Cousins is having an excellent season.  
Running Backs – PATRIOTS:  The Patriots running backs have produced almost 600 more yards from scrimmage and 11 more touchdowns than their Vikings’ counterparts. 
Wide Receivers – VIKINGS:  As wide receiver combos go in the NFL, the Vikings may have the best all-around duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs this season.
Tight Ends – PATRIOTS:  Even with missing several games this season, Rob Gronkowski has over 100 more receiving yards than all of the Vikings’ tight ends combine.  While it’s still a week to week waiting game to see if Gronkowski is healthy, when he has been on the field he has been productive.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS:  Even though the Patriots offensive line will have the tougher job on Sunday, to this point in the season they are run blocking and protecting the passer much better than their Vikings counterparts
Defensive Front Seven – VIKINGS:  Strangely enough, the really isn’t that much difference in both front seven groups in regards to stopping the run.  However, the real separation is with Minnesota’s ability to get to the passer.  They are currently tied for 3rd in the NFL with 36 sacks this season.
Secondary – VIKINGS:  Surprisingly, New England’s secondary is performing better in several key areas than the Vikings including:  Allowed Completion Percentage, Allowed Quarterback Rating, and Interceptions.  Where the Vikings really separate themselves is in the yards allowed and touchdowns allowed.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS:  Overall the Patriots return yards, both kickoff and punt return, are significantly higher than the Vikings.  Additionally Minnesota has struggled this season converting field goals. This would be a great time for Cordarrelle Patterson to have a big game versus the team that drafted him.
Coaching – PATRIOTS:  Now in his 5th season as Vikings Head Coach, Mike Zimmer has built one of the top defenses in the NFL.  Entering this season, Minnesota was considered to be one of the top teams in the NFC and certainly a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  However the Vikings have been wildly inconsistent this year starting off 1-2-1 including an awful home loss to the Buffalo Bills.  While they have rebounded pulling themselves above .500, they have been alternating wins and losses since the end of October.  For Patriots, Bill Belichick does what he normally does and figures out ways to mask the deficiencies that his roster may have. 
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line:  Patriots -4.5  
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Force the Vikings to Run the Ball:  While the Vikings have one of the most potent passing games in the NFL, they are currently ranked 30th in the NFL in running the ball.  New England needs to show 5, 6, or even 7 defensive back looks and see if Minnesota has the patience to stick to their running game which they have not demonstrated so far this year. 
2) Find a Pass Rush:  The Patriots pass rush has been almost non-existent this season.  This week they are facing an offensive line that has been erratic at best at both run and pass blocking.  New England needs to mix up their blitz packages in passing situations to try and exploit that weakness.
3) Use the Short Passing Game:  While running the ball is always the best way to slow down a pass rush, the Patriots shouldn’t shy away from using a short, quick passing attack against the Vikings.  This will not only keep the defense off balance but may even give the Patriots pass catchers the opportunity to break a long gain.
While at the beginning of the Season this looked like a Super Bowl preview, inconsistent play by both teams certainly has taken the luster off this match up.  However, playoff stakes are high for both teams so there is certainly a lot of importance riding on the outcome of this game.
With a strong possibility of rain on Sunday, look for a relatively slow game where field position or a key special teams play weighs significantly on the outcome. 
The Knuckles Prediction:  Patriots 24 – Vikings 21

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