The Minnesota Vikings’ season has been defined by dramatic wins and skeptics saying they weren’t as good as a 13-4 record and NFC North championship suggests.
Now comes their chance to prove the doubters wrong, starting with Sunday’s NFC wild-card round matchup at home against the New York Giants. They know all too well what Minnesota magic was about this season.
When the teams met on Christmas Eve in Minneapolis, the Vikings pulled out a 27-24 win when kicker Greg Joseph boomed a 61-yard field goal as time expired. It was one of a whopping 11 one-score wins for them. Only the season opener against Green Bay (23-7) and last week’s 29-13 victory over Chicago could be classified as comfortable wins.
Can Minnesota get it done under the postseason glare? Part of the answer lies in how its offensive line plays. It might be without center Garrett Bradbury (back) and right tackle Brian O’Neill, who was hurt in a Week 17 loss at Green Bay.
“It’s not defined in terms of who’s going to be there Sunday,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins. “You’re not sure yet because it’s only Wednesday. It’ll be important to get out there the next couple of days and be able to practice hard and get some good, quality reps with the group together.”
Regardless of who lines up in front of him, one advantage Cousins has over any quarterback is the ability to throw to Justin Jefferson. Aside from a one-catch output at Green Bay, Jefferson has been virtually unstoppable this year.
In the Week 16 victory over the Giants, Jefferson torched their secondary for 12 catches on 16 targets, good for 133 yards and a touchdown. He finished the year with 128 grabs for 1,809 yards and eight scores.
Jefferson’s first three years in the league are as good as any receiver ever. He has a whopping 324 catches for 4,825 yards and 25 scores. His average game is good for nearly 100 yards.
Yet New York vows to be ready for the considerable challenge he presents.
“I think for us, we just try to control what we can control,” said Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. “That’s our line assignment, technique and just doing our job. You do your job. You know the other guys are doing a good job next to him. Fly as a collective.”
Another good way for New York (9-7-1) to minimize Jefferson’s overall impact on the game is to control the ball offensively and keep him on the sideline. The Giants are equipped to do that with Saquon Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones.
Barkley bounced back from a pair of subpar, injury-plagued seasons to rush for a career-high 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns this year while catching 57 passes. A good game Sunday should allow New York to chew up clock, not to mention yardage.
And Jones enjoyed the best of his four NFL seasons under first-year coach Brian Daboll, throwing for 3,205 yards with a 15-5 touchdown-interception ratio while rushing for 708 yards and seven scores.
–Field Level Media