Just like we all expected, the Minnesota Vikings are leading the NFC North Division heading into their Week 9 bye.
Wait, what? That’s right, the Vikings finished the first half of their schedule with a 33-16 win over the Cleveland Browns in London. They’re 6-2, have won four straight games and have firm control of the NFC North. The next best divisional team is Green Bay at 4-3. But the Packers are without Aaron Rodgers the rest of the year, making their postseason chances slim at best.
So here we are at the bye week. The Vikings control their playoff destiny, but have four out of five games after the bye on the road. Their defense is dominating, and the offense hasn’t been terribly electric, but it’s doing enough to win.
Here are four reason for the Vikings’ 6-2 start, and here’s your obligatory reminder that Super Bowl LII is at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. No host team has ever reached the Super Bowl.
Case Keenum Does Enough To Win
Case Keenum is a back-up quarterback. He will probably always be a quarterback, and we need to stop talking about it like it’s a bad thing. Look at the Packers, who have no options after Aaron Rodgers and were one injury away from being mediocre. It happened. Yeah, most Vikings fans were panicking when Sam Bradford went down with knee pain after Week 1.
We have no idea when or if Teddy Bridgewater will play this year. The Vikings have until Nov. 8 to activate him from the PUP list, or put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. In the meantime, Keenum has done what you would expect a non-starting quarterback to do. While it’s not always in the prettiest of ways, he’s moving the ball down the field, putting up points and for the most part, not turning it over. He’s completing nearly 64 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. The turnovers came from tipped passes, or a receiver not fighting for the football.
If they get to the playoffs, can Keenum lead them to a Super Bowl? The answer is probably not, but the Vikings need to keep playing him as long as he’s not making mistakes and doesn’t get hurt. The Vikings can activate Bridgewater from the PUP list, but must do so by next Wednesday. That doesn’t mean he’ll play immediately. And you don’t have to fix what isn’t broken, until it breaks.
Jerick McKinnon Provides Offensive Spark
Jerick McKinnon has become the ultimate spark plug for the Vikings offense. You read that correctly. Once lost on the depth chart earlier this season, McKinnon is suddenly the Vikings second leading rusher behind Dalvin Cook, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Running duties are now split between McKinnon and Latavius Murray, but McKinnon appears to have more burst at the line of scrimmage and has three rushing touchdowns on the season. He is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and his longest run of the season went for 58 yards.
McKinnon has become particularly effective in the pass game on screen plays. He’s averaging more than seven yards per catch and is dangerous in space. He’s stepped up and been ready when his name has been called, and the Vikings will need him the rest of the season.
Defense can win you championships, no matter how average your offense is. Just ask Trent Dilfer, who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. Arguably the biggest reason for the Vikings’ 6-2 start? The defense has been dominant in the victories. In six victories, Minnesota hasn’t allowed more than 19 points. On average in the wins, they’re allowing less than 17 points per game.
The Vikings are third in total defense, allowing 282.1 yards per game. They’re also fourth in scoring defense at 16.9 points per game for the whole season. Eric Kendricks is one of the top tacklers in the NFL with 61 through eight games, good for eighth. Everson Griffen has 10 sacks on the season, at least one in every game and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October on Thursday.
Maybe the most impressive stat of them all is the Vikings have only allowed one 300-yard passer on the season (Jameis Winston Week 2). They have yet to allow a 100-yard receiver this season. The front seven is creating pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary is shutting down top receivers. It’s a recipe that if the unit can stay healthy, it can lead to a playoff run.
Offensive Line MUCH Improved
The Vikings’ offensive line was a disaster last year, between injuries and poor play. There really was nowhere to go but up after having the worst rushing offense in the NFL last year. It’s been a much different year, with a vastly different look on the offensive line. The Vikings are currently 13th in the NFL in rushing at 120 yards per game, and that’s largely without Dalvin Cook.
They’re also keeping their quarterback upright. Through eight games, the offensive line has allowed just 10 quarterback sacks. According to the Vikings, they allowed 21 sacks over that same span last year and 38 for the season. That’s a rate of more than two per game. A Pro Football Focus report shows Riley Reiff hasn’t allowed a sack yet this year. The group of Mike Remmers, Pat Elflein, Reiff and others have found a way to gel and for the most part, stay on the field consistently. It’s refreshing after how dire the situation was last season.
The Vikings face a huge challenge out of the bye with four out of five games on the road. But with Rodgers out, they control their destiny in the NFC North. And we could find out Teddy Bridgewater’s future by next Wednesday. Enjoy the season, Vikings fans.