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Bleacher Report – Vikings

5 burning (non-QB) questions for the Vikings’ final 5 games

By Matthew Coller

At 9-2, the Minnesota Vikings are in the midst of a special season. Over the next five games, they have a chance to set the franchise’s best mark since a 15-1 season in 1998 or 12-4 year in 2009.

In both instances, they reached the NFC Championship game. Will they turn this year into a special season over the next five weeks? What will we be watching the closest (outside of Case Keenum)? Let’s have a look…

Can the Vikings clinch home field throughout the playoffs?

The Vikings’ final five games are a mixed bag of talented playoff-worthy teams and clubs that might be mailing it in by the end. Over the next two week, they travel to an Atlanta team that’s coming off a big win over Seattle and Carolina group with one of the league’s best defenses – and a former MVP quarterback. But the final three contests are against three non-contenders in Cincinnati, Green Bay and Chicago. And two of those games are at home. The Vikings would be disappointed if they won any fewer than three of those games and could reasonably take four.

If they finish the year, 12-4, there’s a possibility they could clinch home field throughout, but the Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) would probably need to lose their December 3 and December 10 games on the road at Los Angeles and on the road against Seattle. After that, the Eagles get the Giants, Raiders and Cowboys, which should result in at least two victories.

The Saints have a tough schedule down the stretch. On Sunday they face the Rams, then they play Atlanta twice and Carolina. While New Orleans has been blazing hot since Week 2, it will be tough to steamroll through that group.

Likewise, the Rams play the Saints, Titans, Seahawks and Eagles down the stretch.

So Philadelphia clearly has the road to home field laid out for them, but the door is open for the Vikings if they continue to perform as they have over the past three weeks against competitive teams.

Will anyone solve Pat Shurmur’s scheme?

The West Coast offense has been magic for Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings as they rank fourth in the NFL in yards per game heading into Sunday’s slate. Shurmur has found ways to create high-percentage passes for Keenum and allowed his star receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to maximize their route-running gifts. He’s also mixed up running schemes

But three of the Vikings’ final five opponents are in the top 10 in yards per attempt allowed. Cincinnati (2nd), Atlanta (3rd) and Carolina (10th) have all had success at containing opponents’ passing games. Will they come up with a solution for the Vikings’ play-action success? Could they bait Keenum into taking untimely risks?

The Baltimore Ravens are the only other top 10 passing defense in Y/A that Keenum has faced and he managed only 188 yards through the air.

One thing that opponents will have a tough time slowing is the Vikings’ outstanding red zone offense. Shurmur’s creativity, using motion, play-action and even a read option play, has been unstoppable.

Will Everson Griffen reach 20 sacks?

The Vikings’ dominant pass rusher is having his best career year with 12 sacks in 10 games. Do the math: He would need eight over the final five games to reach the 20 sack plateau. Some of the Vikings’ matchups won’t offer a lot of opportunities to sack the quarterback like Atlanta, who’s given up the seventh fewest sacks this year. But in Week 16, the Vikings play Brett Hundley and Green Bay. That could be a huge game for Griffen as the Packers are second in the NFL in sacks allowed.

Can Adam Thielen lead the NFL in receptions?

Thielen may have taken the national broadcasts off guard with his rise to stardom, but he hasn’t surprised anyone in Minnesota by grabbing 70 passes this season, tied for the league lead heading into Sunday’s game. It seems that every time Keenum gets in trouble, he looks for No. 19 and then Thielen finds any way possible to catch the ball. That isn’t going to change over the final five games, but if opponents begin to focus on him more, that will leave opportunities for Stefon Diggs, who is every bit as unstoppable as a route runner and has tremendous hands.

It will be a three-man race to the end between Thielen, Antonio Brown and Keenan Allen. Since Brown routinely leads the NFL in receptions, he’s the favorite.

Will Mike Zimmer be named Coach of the Year?

Considering the adversity the Vikings have faced this season – losing QB1 and RB1 – it’s hard to see anyone other than Zimmer winning so long as the Vikings close out the season strong. Winning three of five games would put him at the top of the list. However, a strong finish for the Philadelphia Eagles may earn Doug Pederson the award as the Eagles also went from a non-playoff team to a dominant NFC power – albeit without many catestrophic injuries. Other contenders include: Sean Payton of New Orleans, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone, and possibly Anthony Lynn in Los Angeles if the Chargers reach the playoffs.

The post 5 burning (non-QB) questions for the Vikings’ final 5 games appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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