Three Keys To Wild Card Weekend: Vikings vs. Giants

The playoffs are finally here! The Minnesota Vikings are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2019 and are hosting a playoff game for the first time since the Minneapolis Miracle in 2017. The opponent this time around is the 9-7-1 New York Giants. These two teams met just a few weeks ago on Christmas Eve where the Vikings emerged with a 27-24 victory. Here are three things that need to happen for the Vikings to move on to the Divisional Round.

1. Force at Least One Turnover on Defense
This year the Minnesota defense has been great at creating turnovers and it has been crucial to this team’s success all year long. The Vikings are 12-1 this year when they force at least one turnover and 1-3 when they are unable to get a takeaway. They have won 92% of the time when forcing a turnover compared to the league average of just 58% (via Dustin Baker on Twitter). Getting that takeaway however is not going to come easy against Daniel Jones and the Giants’ offense who rank second in the NFL for fewest giveaways per game. Jones has thrown just five interceptions all year but has been turnover-prone in previous years. It is possible that the pressure gets to the Giants’ quarterback in his playoff debut and Jones returns to his previous form under the bright lights. If the defense can find a way to get that one takeaway, I like the Vikings’ chances to emerge victorious.

2. Kirk Cousins Dealing with Pressure
Probably the biggest question for the Vikings coming into this game is the health of the offensive line and how Minnesota will protect Kirk Cousins against a very strong front four for the Giants. Garrett Bradbury is back as a full participant in practice and should be set to return after missing time with a back injury. Brian O’Neill was lost for the year in Week 17 against the Packers, but his backup Blake Brandel appears to have a chance to return to replace Oli Udoh at right tackle. Whether it is Brandel or Udoh starting, they are going to have their work cut out for them against stud rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux. It seems safe to say that Kirk Cousins is going to be under pressure a lot on Sunday so he is going to have to adapt well. There are many ways that Cousins and the Vikings can accomplish this, but perhaps the most important is establishing a balanced offensive attack by feeding Dalvin Cook on the ground. Giants’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is known for blitzing more than anyone in the league which means that if the Vikings can set up screens to Cook and get him in space, there will be opportunities for big plays. Cousins should also look for lanes where he can scramble as he has been able to find explosive plays with his legs and pick up important first downs many times this year.

3. A True Home-Field Advantage
Potentially one of the biggest advantages that Minnesota has in this game is that it will be played at US Bank Stadium in front of 73,000 screaming Vikings fans. It is one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL and could play a large part in this weekend’s game. The crowd in Minneapolis on Sunday is going to be rocking and have an opportunity to make communication difficult for the Giants’ offense. In the playoffs, even more than in the regular season, timeouts and clock management are absolutely crucial near the end of the game. If the crowd noise can cause the Giants to have to burn a timeout when they do not want to, it could end up deciding the game. This could also help the Vikings’ defense force that ever-so-crucial turnover if a Giants’ receiver has a miscommunication with Daniel Jones and runs the wrong route. Even if it has the smallest impact, a loud US Bank Stadium could be the difference between the Vikings moving on or going home.

Prediction: The Vikings are able to find a balanced offensive attack and Daniel Jones turns the ball over multiple times in his playoff debut. Vikings 23, Giants 17

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