Last Sunday night the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, and it sounded an alarm in several regards. On one level, the Packers keep on winning and the Vikings, who trail them by one game in the NFC North must keep pace. On another, the Packers were lucky to play the Chiefs without the reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the game—and the Vikings won’t likely be afforded that same luck when they travel to KC this weekend. And, finally, the Chiefs are beatable (losers of three of their past four games) and a road game that looked daunting at the beginning of the season, is now one the Vikings can, and must, get.
A lot of that depends upon the availability of Mahomes, who was replaced by a serviceable Matt Moore against the Packers. If Mahomes plays, despite an injured ankle and knee already this season, he brings a completely different element to the game than Moore brought to last Sunday night. He brings mobility, an upgrade in talent and other-worldly intangibles with the various unique throws he attempts and more times than not completes. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid is not divulging yet whether or not Mahomes will play, and he kept the possibility open to the very last moment last week—expect any kind of gamesmanship to continue. For his part, Mahomes said that if it was a playoff against last Sunday, he would have suited up, so given that, I expect him to play against the non-horseshoe holding Vikings at noon.
With or without Mahomes, the Chiefs are a talented team and plenty to deal with for the Vikings. The KC receiving corps, whether Moore or Mahomes is at the helm, is formidable. Tyreek Hill has returned from an opening-game injury and resumed his dominant play of great pass catching and high speed YAC. Sammy Watkins, too, returned to the field from an injury last week and is another dynamic player the Vikings defense must pay attention to. Then there is another speed burner in Mecole Hardman, who had two catches for 55 yards and a score against the Packers.
But perhaps the biggest challenge the Vikings will face is defending all-world tight end Travis Kelce. The Vikings have done well against tight ends this season (they have given up 51 receptions on 76 targets for 459 yards—or nine yards per reception—and zero touchdowns. They are ranked first in touchdowns allowed and seventh—for what it’s worth—in fantasy points allowed), but Kelce will be a load to handle—particularly if Jayron Kearse doesn’t play. The bigger-bodied Kearse has been used in the center of the field against bigger tight ends like Kelce, but he was arrested over the weekend on DUI and firearm charges, and might just be sitting this one out. That would leave slot corner Mackensie Alexander to pick up the slack, and it will be a challenge.
At running back, the Chiefs use the two-headed monster of LeSean McCoy and Damien Williams to keep defenses honest with a rushing attack of 83.0 yards per game, but the pair also catches plenty of passes out of the backfield. To be sure, the strong suit of the Chiefs’ offense (ranked fifth in the league with 392.5 total yards per game and fourth in points with 28.3) is the passing attack—which is second in the NFL at 309.5 ypg. (Moore was no slouch last week with 267 yards, two TDs and no picks.) But if Mahomes plays, perhaps we will see more of a concerted effort by Reid to run the ball and keep pressure off of his hobbled QB.
On defense is where the Chiefs are a little vulnerable. They are ranked 24th in the league, giving up 377.0 total yards per game. That is divided up between passing yards (232.0 per game, ranked 11th) and rushing yards (145.0 per game for a rank ranking of 30th). We all know what that means: the Vikings 3rd-ranked rushing of attack of 160.0 yards per game with league leading rusher Dalvin Cook and stand-out backup Alexander Mattison will see the ball plenty on Sunday. (Packers running back Aaron Jones led his team in rushing and receiving against the Chiefs on Sunday night.) It won’t be all run, all the time, however, (even though Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer might prefer that), since the expected return of Adam Thielen should give the passing game a boost that it was missing last week against Washington.
If we learned anything last Sunday night in the Packers’ 31-24 defeat of the Chiefs, it’s that they can be scored upon and they will score points (more of a confirmation of known facts than new learning). With or without Mahomes, the Chiefs will score points, but not so many that they can’t be beaten—they are 5-3 on the season, but only 1-3 at home, where they have traditionally been tough. It’s hard to believe they will lose another home game this season, but stranger things have happened—who thought the San Francisco 49ers would be undefeated halfway through the schedule.
The Vikings will need to play better than they did last Thursday night against Washington to beat Kansas City, however. It was a short week, but the Vikings were playing a bad team and offered up an uneven performance in their 19-9 win. The Vikings defense, which has been up and down, definitely needs to be up. And the Vikings offense, which has been very good recently, has to prove they can do it against a decent team. The KC defense is gettable; the Vikings defense must make the KC offense stoppable. Contain Mahomes or Moore and they can get the win. Feed Dalvin Cook and open some holes and it can be a convincing one.
I foresee something somewhere in-between.
Minnesota—24, Kansas City—21