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Eye on the opponent: Minnesota Vikings



The skinny with the Vikings is they must win to get in.

Minnesota (6-6) has lost six of seven games after starting the season 5-0, but while the Vikings are two games behind Detroit in the NFC North, they still have a realistic chance at the postseason. They likely need to win their final four games to qualify.

The Vikings have struggled offensively, largely because of serious injuries to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been efficient while starting the last 11 games, but Minnesota has scored 20 or fewer points in seven of 12 games.

"We've just failed to put enough points on the board," Bradford said. "You go back and look at it and I think a lot of it is us just stopping ourselves whether it be a penalty, a negative play. Whatever the reason, we've just had so many drives where we stopped ourselves. We just got to get out of our own way, go out there and be a little more consistent."

The Vikings rank 31st in the NFL in total offense, 32nd in rushing.

Minnesota defensively remains one of the NFL's best units. The Vikings rank third in the NFL in total defense and they have forced 22 takeaways – the fourth most in the NFL.



Sunday could be decided in similar fashion to many Jaguars games this season: turnover margin. The Jaguars have been defined by the statistic recently with a minus-28 turnover ratio since the beginning of the 2015 season. They have a league-worst minus-18 ratio this season. The Vikings' plus-13 giveaway/takeaway ratio ranks second in the NFL behind Kansas City.


The Vikings' offensive struggles stem very much from injuries, and they particularly miss Peterson. The three-time NFL rushing champion and five-time first-team All-Pro has been out since tearing his meniscus in a Week 2 victory over Green Bay. The Vikings' 72.4-yard average per game rushing is down from last season when they ranked No. 4 in the NFL at 138.2 yards per game. The Vikings also have been hampered by a slew of injuries along the offensive line. Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith have been on injured reserve since the first month of the season and the Vikings have used six tackles this season. "We've had to do some shuffling up there just with some of the injuries that have occurred throughout the year, but I think our guys have done a great job," Bradford said. "Obviously it's difficult when you're asking [a player] to play on the left side and the next week you're asking him to play guard and then the next week you're asking him to play on the right side. I don't think that's easy for anyone, but I think those guys have done a great job up front."


Forget the Vikings' record: this remains one of the NFL's best, most-dominating defenses. That has been particularly true in recent weeks along the defensive front, with the Vikings holding Dallas to a season-low 264 yards offense last week. While cornerback Xavier Rhodes has emerged as one of the NFL's best players at his position, a deep front that features three ends with six or more sacks -- Danielle Hunter (9.5), Brian Robison (6.0) and Everson Griffen (6.0) – is capable of disrupting any offense, particularly one struggling as the Jaguars have done in recent weeks. "They're all such good, all-around players – run and pass," Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. Safety Harrison Smith is expected to miss Sunday with a high-ankle sprain.




This game could turn on the Vikings' defensive front versus the Jaguars' offensive line. A huge reason for the Vikings' efficiency forcing turnovers is Head Coach Mike Zimmer's ability to call timely, effective blitzes and therefore create opportunities with schemes. The Jaguars' line is dramatically improved in terms of allowing quarterback Blake Bortles time to throw. The Jaguars as a team this season have allowed 26 sacks after allowing 71 in 2014 and 51 last season. The group held Denver to one team sack last week; this week's task is just as tough. "They're such a sound defense, and their schematics put them in a position to get some one on ones," Hackett said. "You have to be cognizant of where that's coming from."


"It wasn't too fun. You know you put a lot of work in for Sundays, or in this case Thursday, and you don't get an opportunity to do the stuff that's really important. But just something that had to be done."

--Zimmer on missing last Thursday's loss to Dallas because of eye surgery


"The ball is coming out [of Bradford's hands] extremely fast. We have to find a way to get after him and hit him, but at the same time if it's coming out fast we have to get our hands up and get some tipped balls and give some opportunities for our guys in the back end to get some interceptions."

--Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash

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