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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Who should Vikings fans be rooting for in the Wild Card round?

By Matthew Coller

The only team playing in the Wild Card round that the Minnesota Vikings cannot match up against is the Atlanta Falcons. That leaves the Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints as potential Divisional Round opponents.

If the Rams beat the Falcons, the Vikings will get a rematch with Los Angeles at US Bank Stadium. But if the Falcons upset the Rams, the Vikings will see the winner of the the Saints-Panthers game.

Should the Vikings welcome another game against the Rams? Or would they rather seek revenge against Carolina? Or see a Saints team they dismantled in Week 1?

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each matchup…

Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

Pros:

The Vikings’ No. 1 ranked defense confused and frustrated Rams quarterback Jared Goff back in November. He went 23-for-37 for 225 yards and a 79.2 rating. The Rams’ no huddle offense was ineffective because the Vikings’ experienced defense adapted on the fly, giving the second-year quarterback by giving different looks from his first read. Zimmer’s defense also held Todd Gurley to the worst game of his season. The MVP candidate gained just 37 yards rushing and caught three passes for 19 yards.

While the Rams’ defense limited the Vikings at times, Case Keenum and Co. dominated Time of Possession through short passess and a successful rushing attack despite the presence of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Latavius Murray gained 95 yards on just 15 carries and Jerick McKinnon added another 48 on 14 runs. Of Case Keenum’s 27 completions, 23 were under 10 yards, including one that Adam Thielen took to the house for a game-sealing touchdown.

The Vikings showed that their all-world defense can be too much even for the NFL’s top scoring team – especially at home – and the Rams’ 12th ranked scoring defense isn’t good enough to keep the Vikings off the board. They have given up the third most yards per carry and seventh most plays of 20 or more yards.

Cons:

As an offensive coordinator last season in Washington, current Rams head coach Sean McVay beat Zimmer’s defense by putting up 26 points. In that game, Kirk Cousins finished with a 110.9 rating. McVay’s ability to adapt is the biggest concern about a Round 2. His offensive prowess has taken the Rams from inept to the top scoring offense in the league through a creative offense that gets the ball in the hands of playmakers like Gurley, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. The Rams also have a future Hall of Fame left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has the capability of slowing down Everson Griffen.

And while the Rams’ defense has given up a high number of explosive plays, they have the fourth most sacks in the NFL and allow just a 78.1 QB rating against.

Bottom line:

For football fans, a matchup of the No. 1 scoring offense vs. the No. 1 scoring defense would be tremendous. From the Vikings’ perspective, the Rams’ strength on both sides of the ball would make them a tough matchup. But not the most difficult…

New Orleans Saints (11-5)

Pros:

The Vikings’ offense threw all over the Saints in Week 1. Sam Bradford went 25-for-32 with 346 yards and three touchdowns. The final score of 29-19 was much closer than the actual game as the Vikings were up 29-12 with 4:00 remaining. Minnesota ran for over 100 yards and both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were unstoppable.

On the defensive side, the Vikings gave up 291 yards passing, but the majority came late in the game with the Saints down. Zimmer’s defense completely shut down running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, who make up a huge part of New Orleans’ passing game. Between Harrison Smith and linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, opposing teams’ short passing games to running backs have been almost completely eliminated. This year, Brees has relied much more on throws to the backfield as Kamara finished his rookie year with 81 catches and Ingram added 58 more.

Simply put: The Vikings have been excellent against what the Saints do best.

Cons:

Drew Brees. Drew Brees. Drew Brees.

Over the last 10 years, the quarterbacks who have appeared in the Super Bowl, in no particular order, are as follows: Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson.

That’s mostly a group of MVPs and future Hall of Famers. Brees will cruise into the Hall and has a good argument for being a top 10 quarterback in history. His yard total may be down, but Brees still has a 103.9 rating, NFL-record completion percentage and outstanding 8.1 yards per attempt.

The Saints also have the No. 1 rushing offense in yards per attempt, making their attack balanced.

On defense, New Orleans has changed greatly since Week 1. Against the pass, Sean Payton’s group ranks seventh in passer rating against, giving up a 79.0 rating. They rank third in the NFL and first in the NFC in interceptions with 20.

The bottom line:

While the Vikings have seen the Rams and Panthers recently, it’s been so long since they beat the Saints that any information gathered from that game is irrelevant. Out of the three, the Vikings would least want to face a Hall of Fame quarterback who is supported by talented playmakers and a defense that can slow down the pass.

Carolina Panthers (11-5)

Pros:

The Panthers are by far the most flawed team. They rank 28th in passing yards per game, 24th in QB rating and 22nd in yards per pass attempt. Cam Newton has put together several incredible games, but he’s also been hindered by a lack of running game and poor wide receivers. Star tight end Greg Olsen is playing, though he’s been slowed this year by injury.

Carolina has some strong players on their offensive line, but they also have below average tackles who could be shredded on a good day by Griffen and Danielle Hunter.

Against the pass, the Panthers sit 23rd in quarterback rating allowed. They may have intercepted Case Keenum twice, but those were two of only 10 INTs all year by the Carolina defense.

Cons:

Head-to-head, the Panthers defeated the Vikings in Charlotte. Their defense took advantage of opportunities given by the Vikings in the form of two subpar throws by Keenum. On offense, Newton gave the Vikings problems with his legs, setting up the game-winning touchdown with a 60-yard carry. He also made a handful of special throws that set up scores. Still, in victory the Panthers caught breaks. The Vikings committed penalties, turned the ball over and had uncharacteristic drops.

The bottom line:

Carolina has an MVP quarterback and a good front seven, but they have enough holes to be highly questionable as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The post Who should Vikings fans be rooting for in the Wild Card round? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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