Eric Kendricks vs. James White
Minnesota’s struggles with covering backs in the passing game has been a focus of opponents since week four. Last week, the linebackers were better, making some big defensive plays when Aaron Rodgers tried to take shots with his backs. But New England uses their running back as much as anyone in football. James White is their leading receiver in targets, receptions and yards and he is first, third and third amongst NFL running backs in those respective categories. This could very well be a 12-target game for White and a significant test of Kendricks’ at times uneven coverage.
Harrison Smith vs. Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski is not the same Gronk fans know and love due to a combination of injuries and age catching up to him. That said, he is still one of the Patriots’ top threats and should figure strongly into their gameplan. The Vikings are susceptible to three things defensively: defending the running back, defending the tight end and play action. Those latter two facets point to Gronkowski getting a lot of looks. Tom Brady spreads the ball around as well as anyone, but given the Vikings’ defensive tendencies and weaknesses, expect a few more downfield passes to Gronk out of play action, and therefore a much larger focus on Harrison Smith in coverage.
Adam Thielen vs. Stephon Gilmore
As always, Thielen’s matchup is going to have a significant impact on how the Vikings’ offense goes. Last week, though there was a little switching between corners, Jaire Alexander took most snaps against Thielen, and the Vikings receiver got his in that matchup. I would expect the younger Gilmore to get more shots at Thielen than 31-year-old Jason McCourty, especially if Diggs is not healthy. Gilmore is having an excellent season in coverage, but Thielen has posed one of the toughest coverage matchups in the league in 2018.
Roger Dier: Minnesota 20, New England 17
After playing their cleanest game of the season–discounting place-kicking–the Vikings roll into New England staring at the opportunity to win a (cliché coming) Statement Game. And a win over the Patriots would serve notice that the Vikings aren’t yet conceding the NFC North division to the Bears, or anyone else.
The Patriots are wily and experienced. Against Green Bay, New England launched their offensive game by going no-huddle all the way into the end zone. That drive made a difference in New England’s 31-17 win over the Packers. To beat the Patriots, the Vikings will have to expect everything and give the Patriots a strong dose of Minnesota aggression on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota can win if they play another clean game–no turnovers, few penalties, smart sideline decisions regarding field position and down-and-distance situations. The offensive line has to protect Kirk Cousins and Cousins has to protect the ball.
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If all that happens, the Vikings’ kicking game delivers a win with a late field goal.
– Roger Dier writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @rogerdier.
Clayton Brooks: Minnesota 27, New England 17
This matchup takes place in Foxboro, a place that is difficult for even the best of teams to win at against this opponent. However, the Minnesota defensive personnel do matchup well with the Patriots offense, particularly the skill positions, and the Vikings’ defense is built to play in the environment that is typical for this field.
I’ve had this game circled as a Viking upset from the beginning of the year, and with this team needing a statement win against a playoff/Super Bowl contender, I’m sticking with the Vikings to leave Gillette Stadium with the victory.
– Clayton Brooks writes for Full Press Coverage and covers the Vikings. Follow him @ClaytonRBrooks2.
Sam Smith: New England 26, Minnesota 23
Aside from the Chicago game, Cousins has generally played better on the road than at home. Plus, given that New England’s pass rush has been a little lackluster this season, I see Cousins having a good amount of time to throw, which has really been the biggest key to the Vikings’ offensive success. The Patriots have a good secondary, but not so good that Minnesota’s receivers will not be able to find space.
The bigger question is with the defense. New England can run the ball very well, which sets up a devastating play action game. Discipline with play action and misdirection has not exactly been the Vikings’ strong suit, nor has been defending backs and tight ends. On top of that, Brady has lit it up at home this year. I like the Vikings to hang wire to wire with the defending AFC champs due largely to a nice performance from Cousins once again. But at the end of the day, I think Brady pulls this one out with a late drive.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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