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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Ranking the Vikings’ potential playoff opponents

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings are one win away from locking up the No. 2 seed and at least one home playoff game. Heading into Sunday’s action, the NFC has one spot yet to be determined and plenty of possibilities for the Vikings’ divisional round and potential conference championship opponents. Who would the Vikings be most concerned about? Who would they most like to match up with in either round during the playoffs? Let’s have a look… (ranked strongest to weakest opponents, x=playoff spot locked up).

New Orleans Saints (11-4x)

The Vikings took apart the Saints in Week 1 as quarterback Sam Bradford had the best game of his NFL career. At that time, it appeared New Orleans was in for same-old, same-old with a good offense and very bad defense. Plus the culture-crushing presence of Adrian Peterson was bound to drag them down.

Well, things have changed quite a bit since Week 1. Peterson was sent to Arizona and the Saints’ defense has come around. They are 15th in yards, eighth in points and 10th in opposing quarterback rating.

And the Saints’ offense has discovered a game-changer in Alvin Kamara, who has 684 yards rushing and 75 receptions. Drew Brees’s club ranks No. 2 in yards, fourth in points and No. 1 (tied) in Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt.

Last season, the top two offenses in ANY/A ended up in the Super Bowl.

The combination of a solid defense with an elite passing game is scary come playoff time. Considering how much has changed since Week 1, it’s hard to see the Vikings’ win to open the season as a factor.

Los Angeles Rams (11-4x)

The Rams’ more recent loss to the Vikings puts them behind New Orleans in this equation. Mike Zimmer’s defense suffocated Jared Goff’s short passing game and caused a key takeaway at the goal line, while the Vikings’ offense took the air out of the ball by controlling possession.

Still the Rams have only gotten stronger since their loss at US Bank Stadium. They have only one loss since then and impressive wins over the Saints and Seattle Seahawks.

On offense, Todd Gurley is making an argument for league MVP with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and an outstanding 12.3 yards per reception. The Rams are tied in ANY/A with the Saints and Patriots for the No. 1 spot as Goff has made the most of weapons like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.

Sean McVay, who should be a Coach of the Year candidate, will have a second crack at Zimmer’s defense, which could allow for him to make the type of offensive adjustments that landed him a head coaching job at 31 years old.

On defense, the league’s best defensive player Aaron Donald will now be matching up with the Vikings’ backup left guard. The Rams rank eighth in points allowed and fifth in ANY/A allowed.

Atlanta Falcons (9-6) or Seattle Seahawks (9-6)

Sunday’s results will determine whether the Falcons or Seahawks will earn a wild card spot. Atlanta gets in with a victory, while Seattle makes it with a win and Falcons loss. While both teams are flawed, either could be dangerous to the Vikings.

Minnesota won in Atlanta, keeping Matt Ryan and Co. to just nine points. That would be hard to repeat – even at home – considering Atlanta is the No. 1 team in the NFL on third down and is tied for eighth in ANY/A.

They also have a speedy defense that forces opponents to win with underneath throws. The Vikings were able to control the ball, but struggled during the first half to create anything in the intermediate passing game.

Still, unlike the Saints and Rams whose rosters are close to Minnesota’s in strength, the Falcons have a lot of holes they would have to cover in order to beat the Vikings.

Seattle is – for lack of a better term – a wild card. They have received an MVP-caliber performance this year from Russell Wilson, who leads his team in rushing by a wide margin and has thrown 32 touchdowns and is likely to clear the 4,000 yard mark this weekend.

The Seahawks also have a top-notch defensive line and a pass defense that has only allowed an 80.7 rating against. Linebacker Bobby Wagner could make life difficult on the Vikings’ short passing game.

However, Seattle’s offensive line is a mess and their defensive backfield is without two of its stars. There are elements of their game that would concern the Vikings, but weaknesses abound.

Carolina Panthers (11-4x)

While the Panthers defeated the Vikings in Charlotte, they are not an overly impressive top-to-bottom team. On defense, the Panthers rank 20th in quarterback rating against and 17th in ANY/A against. On the offensive side, they sit 17th in yards, 18th in ANY/A and 11th in points.

Cam Newton has been asked to do everything as he’s rushed for 695 yards and thrown for 3,122. The Panthers’ MVP quarterback has very little in terms of weapons outside of Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen and has backside is protected by sub-par left tackle Matt Kalil.

And a closer examination of Carolina’s win would tell you that the Vikings won’t usually drop passes, allow 60-yard runs or have multiple facemask calls on one drive.

If these teams matched up in the playoffs, the Vikings would feel confident in their second try.

Philadelphia Eagles (13-2x)

A season-ending injury to Carson Wentz sinks the Eagles to the bottom of the list. The Vikings would now rather go to Philadelphia for the NFC title game than play teams with their starting QBs at home. While Nick Foles has occasionally hit his stride in the past, he’s easily the weakest quarterback in the playoffs. With him under center, you throw out all the positive statistics about the Eagles’ offense. They can still run the ball, but it won’t mean much if the passing game isn’t dangerous.

On defense, the Eagles have good numbers, ranking sixth in points allowed and fifth in yards against, but lately they have been less impressive. They are allowing 24.5 points per game over the last four weeks and have shown serious weakness at cornerback.

It’s hard to imagine the Vikings’ defense allowing anything to Foles and the struggling corners would have a great deal of trouble keeping up with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

The post Ranking the Vikings’ potential playoff opponents appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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