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Bleacher Report – Vikings

With Week 12 in the books, how do the Vikings stack up against the NFC’s best teams?

By Matthew Coller

He The Minnesota Vikings have had a pretty good seven days. They won two games, one of which was against a top NFC teams, the other virtually ended the Lions’ chances of winning the NFC North. Then on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers took care of the Green Bay Packers, likely ending any chance that Aaron Rodgers could return for the VIkings-Packers matchup on December 23.

The Vikings now head into their final five games in control of the NFC North and with a shot at posting the best record in the NFC.

The past few weeks have made the picture in the NFC pretty clear, save for a magical run or incredible meltdown. So let’s have a look at what we know through 12 weeks about the likely playoff field…

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)

Offensive yards rank: 3rd

Defensive yards rank: 6th

Point differential: 1st

The best team in the NFC by record and point differential steamrolled Chicago on Sunday, adding another stellar day to quarterback Carson Wentz’s resume. The 2016 No. 2 overall pick has a 104.0 quarterback rating, which is 0.1 behind Drew Brees for the top rating in the NFC. The Eagles have weapons all over the field and a strong offensive line to support Wentz. They also sport one of the league’s best defensive lines, anchored by DT Fletcher Cox and edge rushers Brandon Graham.

The biggest question: Will they still be the NFC’s best team following road games against the Seahawks and Rams in the next two weeks?

Minnesota Vikings (9-2)

Offensive yards rank: 4th

Defensive yards rank: 5th

Point differential: 6th

We knew the Vikings’ defense was going to be good, but you should play the lottery if you guess they would have three straight 400-yard offensive performances in key games behind backup quarterback Case Keenum. The Vikings will face some tough defensive teams over the last five games in Atlanta, Carolina and Cincinnati. If Keenum continues to roll over those teams, he will certainly be staying at the helm as the Vikings head into the playoffs. Controlling the game on the ground certainly has helped the Vikings’ defense and passing game. They’ve gone over 100 yards in six of the last seven games.

The biggest question: Is this offense the norm or did the Vikings peak over the last three games?

Los Angeles Rams (8-3)

Offensive yards rank: 4th

Defensive yards rank: 16th

Point differential: 2nd

After a road loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams were eager to prove they still belong with the NFC’s elite. They defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-20 behind 354 yards passing from quarterback Jared Goff. Even without top receiver Robert Woods, Goff completed passes to eight different receivers and running back Todd Gurley added 74 yards on the ground. The Rams have shown some vulnerability on defense at times (especially in the second half against the Vikings) but they slowed Drew Brees to only 13 points and zero touchdowns until a garbage-time TD late in the fourth quarter.

The biggest question: Could Sean McVay adapt his offense to offer a bigger challenge for the Vikings’ defense if the two teams match up in the playoffs?

New Orleans Saints (8-3)

Offensive yards rank: 2nd

Defensive yards rank: 15th

Point differential: 5th

The Saints entered Sunday as one of the league’s hottest teams, winning their previous eight games. New Orleans’s defense came to life following brutal performances in Week 1 and 2, but the Rams revealed that they still have some weaknesses. Their pass rush will be less effective now that DE Alex Okafor is out for the year.

Despite the loss in L.A., running back Alvin Kamara put on a show, gaining over 100 yards through the air and flashing tremendous elusiveness. He’s helped push Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense to the top of the NFL.

The biggest question: During their eight-game win streak, the Saints had two wins against teams who currently have a winning record (Carolina, Detroit). Are they as complete of a team as they seem?

Carolina Panthers (8-3)

Offensive yards rank: 17th

Defensive yards rank: 3rd

Point differential: 10th

The Panthers’ offense hasn’t always been pretty – including Sunday’s 11-for-28 passing performance by Cam Newton – but they have found different ways to score enough to win. Carolina’s defense is tough, but maybe a little overrated when looking only at the yards statistic. Going into Sunday’s game against the Jets they had allowed a 91.6 quarterback rating against, then they gave up 307 yards and three touchdowns to Josh McCown.

The biggest question: Cam Newton has been boom or bust on a week-to-week basis this year. Which Cam will show up in the playoffs?

Seattle Seahawks (7-4)

Offensive yards rank: 7th

Defensive yards rank: 8th

Point differential: 8th

The Seahawks’ defense has lost two of its best players to injury in Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. While they still have a dangerous enough front seven to be effective, Seattle is no longer impenetrable on the defensive side. On offense, Russell Wilson is their entire attack. The Seahawks haven’t found a running game since Marshawn Lynch left and their offensive line is still extremely suspect despite trading for Duane Brown. Still, Seattle might be 9-2 if not for their commitment to kicker Blair Walsh, who cost them games against Washington and Atlanta.

The biggest question: Is an elite quarterback enough to make a very average team a legit contender?

Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

Offensive yards rank: 6th

Defensive yards rank: 10th

Point differential: 12th

Here’s one thing nobody in the NFC wants to hear: The Falcons’ offense is back. After sputtering out of the gate on offense, Atlanta has made some tweaks and is showing signs of the same explosiveness they had last season. Receiver Julio Jones went bananas on Sunday, totaling 253 yards on 12 catches. Atlanta’s defense has quietly had a better year than in 2016, using an improved pass rush and speedy linebackers to make life (somewhat) difficult on opponents.

The biggest question: Can the Falcons’ offense keep on trucking against the Vikings’ top-notch defense? If so, they might be unstoppable.

The post With Week 12 in the books, how do the Vikings stack up against the NFC’s best teams? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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