After a tough loss against the Panthers in which the Vikings made a number of mistakes and still found themselves in a close game, they head back home to take on the 5-8 Cincinnati Bengals. With only three games remaining, each are must wins to help further their playoff seed.
Let’s take a look and see how the rosters compare.
Case Keenum versus Andy Dalton. We saw last week that Keenum struggled without the majority of his starting offensive line, as the Panthers sent pressure his way all game. Dalton has played mostly mistake-free football, posting only five turnovers since Week 7 as he’s tried to keep the Bengals in playoff contention.
Edge: Vikings. I foresee Keenum bouncing back strongly this week at home. Dalton has been good lately, but I expect the Vikings to send a lot of pressure his way all game.
Last week, we saw Minnesota’s running game really struggle against the aggressive front seven of the Panthers. Latavius Murray was ineffective all game and Jerrick McKinnon was not used much in the second half after a solid first half of the game. For the Bengals, Joe Mixon is coming off of a concussion and still has not cleared protocol yet, meaning Giovani Bernard is the other option at running back.
Edge: Vikings. The Vikings run defense is top-three in the NFL and with Mixon not looking like he is 100 percent healthy, the safe bet is with the Vikings here.
Despite the drops last week, Adam Thielen still had a impactful game for the Vikings hauling in six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs also did his part, catching six passes for 64 yards. On the other side, the Bengals feature their star receiver, A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell as their 1-2 punch.
Edge: Vikings. I think Green is the most talented of these receivers, but the combination of Thielen and Diggs is better than what the Bengals have.
Kyle Rudolph has been finding his groove lately, scoring his fourth touchdown in the last three weeks on Sunday. He’s been reliable all season and I don’t expect that to change come Sunday. For the Bengals, Tyler Kroft has struggled lately, dropping 9.1 percent of his targets since Week 11.
Edge: Vikings. Rudolph is the better player. With Kroft’s drops and the Vikings ability to shut down opposing tight ends, the answer is clear here.
Minnesota’s offensive line struggled last week without three-fifths of their starting offensive line. They are hopeful to get back both Pat Elflein and Mike Remmers this week, but it looks like Riley Reiff will be out for a few weeks. The Bengals offensive line has given 33 sacks and ranks towards the bottom in many offensive categories.
Edge: Vikings. I know the Vikings line is still battling some health issues, but the Bengal offensive line has not been good at all. This is a game where Everson Griffin and Danielle Hunter could have big games.
The defensive line was able to bring pressure to Cam Newton last week, but were not able to bring him down enough to really impact the game. Griffin has 13 sacks on the season and Hunter has six, creating a very tough combination off the edge for the Bengals offensive line to prepare against. For the Bengals defensive line, they feature impact players like Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap who have combined for 17.5 sacks on the season.
Edge: Vikings. The Bengals feature a very good defensive line and I think Atkins is somebody that can cause the Vikings serious trouble. However, the Bengals offensive line has been shaky at best, and I expect Griffin and Hunter to take over this game.
The combination of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks is one of the best linebacking duos in the NFL. They appear ready to have another big game against the Bengals. With a struggling offensive line, I expect Zimmer to be calling Barr and Kendricks name on some exotic blitzes. For the Bengals, they are lead by their heart and soul, Vontaze Burfict. Burfict has the ability to ruin opponents’ drives, so the Vikings will have to account for him on every snap.
Edge: Vikings. Burfict is a very good player, but outside of him, the Bengals linebacker crew is not much to fear.
The Bengals feature a talented, yet sometimes undisciplined defensive back squad with Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka and Darqueze Dennard. While the talent is there, they have been prone to some silly penalties over the season that has negatively affected games. A big matchup here will be who Jones covers between Diggs and Thielen. Look for whoever does nothave Pacman on him to get a lot of looks.
For Minnesota, expect to see Xavier Rhodes shadow Green all game with some potential safety help over the top. Green will be the top priority for the Viking secondary. Look for them to also try to confuse Dalton with coverage schemes.
Edge: Vikings. It is tough to pick against a defensive back crew that has Rhodes and Harrison Smith.
Randy Bullock has not been used much lately for the Bengals, but when they have called his number, he has been pretty reliable. On the other side, Kai Forbath and the Minnesota kicking game has not been good lately. Forbath’s low kicking angle and the Vikings interior blocking struggle has resulted in a lot of blocked and shanked kicks.
Edge: Bengals. It is very hard to go with the Vikings kicking game the way this unit has performed lately.
After a game in which you knew Zimmer was livid with his team, the Vikings seem primed to take that emotion out on the Bengals with the home crowd behind them. I have Minnesota in a game where they dominate all the way through to clinch the NFC North Division.
Prediction: Vikings 30, Bengals 14
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– Anthony Talanca writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @atalanca.