The Minnesota Vikings are cruising toward the NFC North title but they will be tested by back-to-back road games against a pair of hot contenders in the NFC South. The Vikings put their seven-game winning streak on the line Sunday when they visit the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who have come alive with three consecutive victories.
Minnesota owns a three-game cushion atop the division and has the second-best record in the conference, but the memory of failing to make the playoffs after starting 5-0 last season is a reminder not to become complacent. “For us, I think it helps us focus this year,” Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. “I also think it helps us realize it doesn’t matter how many games you win, it can go south real quick if you don’t stay focused.” Atlanta has charged back into the postseason chase behind its revitalized offense, which struggled most of the season after leading the league in scoring a year ago. The Falcons failed to score more than 17 points in each loss during a recent 1-4 stretch, but they have amassed a combined 95 points during the three-game winning streak to move within a game of NFC South co-leaders New Orleans and Carolina.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Falcons -3. O/U: 47
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (9-2): Here’s the great irony with Minnesota — coach Mike Zimmer has refused to commit long-term to Case Keenum as his starter, even though the quarterback was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. Keenum threw for 866 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions while posting a passer rating of 114.0 in guiding the Vikings to three wins in as many games last month. Wide receiver Adam Thielen has 22 catches for 378 yards and two TDs over that span to push him over 1,000 yards for the season while Latavius Murray has steadied the ground game and scored four times over the last three weeks. Minnesota yields only 290.4 yards per game and ranks No. 2 versus the run (75.5).
ABOUT THE FALCONS (7-4): Star wide receiver Julio Jones reached the end zone once in the first 10 games before erupting with a monster performance in last week’s 34-20 win over Tampa Bay, hauling in 12 receptions for 253 yards and a pair of scores. The ground game will receive a boost with the return of Devonta Freeman, who missed most of the past three games with a concussion, although Tevin Coleman picked up the slack by rushing for four touchdowns in that span. Reigning league MVP Matt Ryan has completed at least 70 percent of his passes and posted a QB rating of least 104.8 during the current winning streak. While Atlanta’s defense is ninth in the league in sacks (30), it ranks 31st with only three interceptions.
1. Thielen joined Randy Moss as the only Minnesota wideout with at least 70 catches and 1,000 yards through the first 11 games.
2. Ryan has thrown a scoring pass in 29 straight games, the longest active streak in the league.
3. Vikings DE Everson Griffen had two sacks last week to tie for the league lead with 12.
PREDICTION: Falcons 26, Vikings 23