Skol Scale Vol. 14: Seizing the NFC North Next for Vikings

Drew Mahowald presents the 14th edition of the Skol Scale following the Minnesota Vikings’ impressive win over the Los Angeles Rams and discusses the Thanksgiving matchup with the Detroit Lions.

This Minnesota Vikings team is for real — especially when playing inside the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium.

Mike Zimmer and his defensive unit completely shut down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, allowing exactly zero points after the game’s first drive. The 19-year-old head coach for Los Angeles scripted a beautiful first drive for the Rams, but Zimmer delivered knockout punch after knockout punch of in-game adjustments in the remaining 55 minutes of the game.

The deafening stadium full of over 66,000 fans rattled sophomore sensation Jared Goff and the Rams. There were delay-of-game penalties, false starts and unnecessary timeouts used by the visiting team on what seemed like every drive. Los Angeles, which averaged over 32 points per game, scored just seven in U.S. Bank Stadium.

In five home wins this season, the Vikings are outscoring their opponents by 12.8 points and have yet to allow 20 in a single game — and if it weren’t for garbage time touchdowns, the Vikings would be outscoring opponents by 17.2 points per game and would not have allowed more than 14 points in any home game this season.

Clearly, U.S. Bank Stadium is a powerful home-field advantage. Earning as many home playoff games as possible will help the Vikings’ chances of playoff success in a big way.

Alas, one outlier stands out on Minnesota’s schedule — the Week 4 loss to Detroit.

Yes, Dalvin Cook’s injury essentially removed any momentum the Vikings had and handed it over to the Lions on a silver platter. But that’s a game the Vikings should have won. Uncharacteristic mistakes on both sides of the ball cost the Vikings one of the most important games on the 2017 slate.

The Vikings would own the No. 1 seed in the NFC at 9-1 (owning the tiebreaker with Philadelphia) if they had beaten the Lions at home. Additionally, Detroit would be a whopping three games back in the NFC North AND the Vikings would have the head-to-head tiebreaker. The division would be wrapped up already, and the Vikings would have practically guaranteed themselves at least one home playoff game.

Instead, Minnesota sits at 8-2 — which isn’t shabby by any means. In fact, it’s freaking awesome. But the Thanksgiving matchup at Ford Field looms larger than maybe it should. A loss narrows the Vikings’ NFC North lead to one game and hands the head-to-head tiebreaker over to the Lions.

The thought should strike fear in Minnesota fans, especially considering the remaining schedules of each team. Following Thanksgiving, Detroit has road games against Baltimore (5-5), Tampa Bay (4-6) and Cincinnati (4-6) with home games against Chicago (3-7) and Green Bay (5-5). Meanwhile, the Vikings will have three road games against current wild-card contenders in Atlanta (6-4), Carolina (7-3) and Green Bay (5-5) with home games against Cincinnati (4-6) and Chicago (3-7).

Thanksgiving’s Vikings-Lions battle could very well determine the NFC North winner, and the matchup should be treated that way.

Lots of talk has surfaced on the social media internets about the possibility of Minnesota earning a first-round bye or even home-field advantage in the magnificently powerful U.S. Bank Stadium.

But you can’t get home playoff games without winning the division. The NFC North race is far from over — both teams have a large mass of divisional control riding on Thursday’s game.

Let’s hope the Vikings seize control.

Now onto this week’s Skol Scale.

Be sure to check out BetOnline before placing a wager on Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Lions.

The Good

Anthony Harris: I interviewed Anthony Harris during 2016 training camp and I’d just like to bring back this definitely real scene from that interview, if I may.

ME: Anthony, you are buried behind Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo on the depth chart. Do you plan on taking advantage of any opportunity to start if it’s given?

HARRIS: Absolutely. Whatever it takes to help the team win.

ME: So, for instance, if you were plugged in to start for Sendejo in say, Week 11 of 2017, against the highest-scoring offense in the NFL and could force and recover a fumble at the goal line to completely shift momentum toward the Vikings, you’d do that?

HARRIS: I mean, um, yeah I guess. That’s oddly specific. Wait, do you know something?

ME: I’m just asking the important questions here, Anthony.

*end scene*

Good Thielen: Adam Thielen is making a very happy man. Not only has he scored 60 points over the past two weeks for my PPR fantasy team, he has also vaulted himself into elite company among current and former wide receivers. He’s second in the NFL this season with 916 yards and fifth in receptions with 62. Additionally, Thielen became the first Viking since Randy freaking Moss to catch 60 balls for 900 yards in a season’s first 10 games with his six-catch, 123-yard performance on Sunday.

This man isn’t underrated. He’s no longer just some feel-good story. He’s elite.

Mike Zimmer: I haven’t given Zimmer enough credit in my Skol Scale articles throughout the season, but he deserves a bunch of it after the way he shut off the best offense in the NFL on Sunday. The Rams couldn’t move the ball all game, with the exception of the game’s first drive (scripted) and final drive (garbage time). Zimmer had a counter attack for every jab Sean McVay attempted. Todd Gurley was held to 56 total yards after averaging over 100 total yards per game going in. Goff was flustered all day trying to figure out A) what coverage Minnesota was in and B) who in the heck was blitzing and who was dropping into coverage. Bravo, Mike Zimmer.

Minnesota Moving Company: I’m not quite sure if I like that name for the offensive line, but the unit is nonetheless playing some phenomenal ball. Case Keenum once again wasn’t sacked the entire game for the *fifth* time this season. Meanwhile, the Vikings once again established the rushing attack with relative ease. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 143 rushing yards on 29 carries — an average of 4.9 yards per attempt. As long as the offensive line stays within the realm of this level of play, the Vikings can compete with anyone.

Case Closed: Yeah, okay. I’ve expressed my desire for the Vikings to take a chance on Teddy Bridgewater just to see how good he could be in this offense. But Keenum keeps shutting me up. The offense is humming both on the ground and through the air. The Vikings rank:

  • second in explosive plays
  • fifth in first downs
  • fifth in net yards per pass attempt
  • fifth in total yards
  • fifth in fewest turnovers

At some point, you have to give Keenum some credit for this success. I am 100% satisfied if the Vikings roll with Keenum the rest of the season, and you should be too.

The Bad

Short week: I don’t like Thursday football games because it generally means sloppy football and more injured players than normal. I also couldn’t find anything else bad enough to put in the bad section so I kind of just made something up.

New Skol Scale Figure: 9

We’re basically drinking a full pitcher of purple kool-aid at this point. The Vikings just handled one of the NFL’s best teams with ease and proved that, at least at U.S. Bank Stadium, they can beat any team in the NFL. Coincidentally, the S____ B___ is at U.S. Bank Stadium this year. INTERESTING.

(You can fill in the blanks. I’m too superstitious to actually write it out.)

Minnesota’s next three weeks will reveal just how good this team is. It’s one thing to dominate really good teams at home in front of a blistering crowd. It’s another thing to do the same thing on the road in front of a different crowd.

The Vikings have three difficult road games coming up, with the most important this Thursday against Detroit. Minnesota let a bunch of uncharacteristic mistakes derail a should-have-been win in the last matchup with the Lions.

The defense hasn’t had an issue with the Lions or Matthew Stafford. Despite losing the past three meetings, the Vikings have allowed just 16, 16 and 14 points in regulation in those losses. Pat Shurmur’s offense will be the difference. If it continues to hum the way it has the past few games, the Vikings will win on Thanksgiving.

Let’s hope that’s the “Case,” pun clearly intended, and that the Vikings officially seize control of the NFC North.

More Skol Scale Figures

Be sure to tune in to Episode 134 of the About the Labor podcast for an in-depth look at the Vikings’ win over the Rams. 

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Drew Mahowald

Drew Mahowald is the No. 1 Jim Kleinsasser fan and No. 1 Little Caesars pizza enthusiast on planet Earth. That about sums it up.

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  1. Lets face it, we’re all tense about this game. We all want it bad. I feel great about our chances, though Detroit’s recent 3 game success has caused doubt to creep into our minds. I don’t think the players or coaches are worried. So why should we. Lets just play our game and see who’s standing when the dust settles. Win or lose, I’m still going to be a die hard Vikings fan when its over. SKOL

  2. 8, for the win over the Rams, tempered with caution over three road games against contenders in a row.