With the Packers Sunday Night Dismantling by the 49ers, the Vikings are now “Tied” for First Place
Sunday Night’s NFL Game of the Week between Green Bay and San Francisco was touted as a matchup between two heavyweights in the NFC. The 49ers and Packers came into the game with three combined losses, and the game was looked at by many as a preview for the NFC Championship, or at least an opportunity to learn which of the two teams were for real. Well, we received a resounding answer, that answer being that the 49ers are for real and that they may be the team to beat in the NFC (despite a recent three-point loss to the Vikings’ next opponent, the Seattle Seahawks). So, what does this mean for the rest of the NFC? Namely the Vikings?
Well, a lot. Actually.
The Vikings now have the same record as the Packers, with both teams sitting at 8-3 after week 11. The Packers currently hold the tie-breaker over the Vikings, though, as they both beat the Vikings at home Week 2 and also beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Bears (while the Vikings beat the Eagles). The good news, though, is that the Vikings have a chance to pick up another game should they best the Los Angeles/No One Chargers in Week 14 and the Packers at home Week 16.
The Vikings can also claim first place next weekend should they best the other beast from the NFC… West and the only team to beat the 49ers this season, the Seahawks and should the Packers somehow fall to the lowly NFC Giants. That might seem like a bridge too far, but keep in mind that the Packers are 1-2 in the past three weeks and that they’re playing the Giants in New Jersey (and Rodgers is around .500 career on the road).
Regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, it is looking like the division may come down to that week 16 match-up at US Bank Stadium. A game that Vikings fans should be relatively confident about considering how well their team has been playing both at home and on the road (or at least, how well their offense has been playing) and because of how things went down when these teams last met one another Week 2.
The Packers came out blazing, putting up 21 unanswered points in the first quarter (and some change), however, the Vikings defense then tightened up and allowed zero points for the rest of the game. It was the offense, then, that faltered, namely due to the last interception that quarterback Kirk Cousins threw that was objectively his fault. While the secondary has played poorly in recent weeks they may find some respite by playing against a Packers team that they know very well and that has limited wide receiver depth. Cousins may also be looking for redemption as he had the worst game of his Vikings career in that game, with a completion percentage under 45% and a first-and-goal interception that caused even his most ardent supporters to begin to consider jumping from his band-wagon.
Considering, also, that Cousins had two of his best games in 2018 against the Packers (going 1-0-1 and nearly 767 yards, 7 touchdowns and 1 interception (with two of his better QB-ratings at 129.5 and 118.8, respectively). While the Packers defense has improved, namely in its pass rush, the Vikings powers that be on offense have found ways to get Cousins out of the pocket and throwing on the run (while also taking lethal advantage of the play-action, something that should help to stifle that pass rush).
But Week 16 seems like a lifetime away in football time, and as we’ve seen historically with Vikings teams that start the season 8-3, you can never take any games for granted. Should the Vikings beat the Seahawks at home Monday night, it’ll send a statement around the league that not only are the Vikings the best team in the NFC North, but they also deserve to be listed alongside teams like the 49ers when talking heads analyze the NFC as a whole. While that’s a big ask considering the Vikings are 0-5 against the ‘Hawks in their last five games, this Vikings team is coming off a much-needed Bye and are really just a secondary away from being really, really hard to beat.
While that also sounds like a big ask, considering who their head coach is and what this team has invested in the position, if there’s any position group that needs to be fixed this late in the season I’m glad it’s the one helmed by a head coach people have called a “cornerback whisperer” and a position that has three first-round picks and a second-round pick as it’s top four players. Either way, we will see exactly what type of team this Vikings squad is come Monday Night in Seattle and considering they’ve now got the division title in their sites and they’re relatively well-rested (by NFL standards), I fully expect to see them at their best. Whether that best is as good as a team like the Seahawks or 49ers, however, remains to be seen.