We made it. The playoffs are here and the Vikings have made it to the postseason for the first time since the 2019 season. As the third seed in the NFC, the Vikings play at home against the sixth seed New York Giants on Sunday of Super Wild Card Weekend. This game will be a rematch of the week 16 Christmas Eve game where the Vikings squeaked by the Giants on a last-play 61-yard field goal for a 27-24 win. It is said that it is difficult to beat a team twice, especially when the two matchups occur within three weeks. ESPN is giving the Vikings a 57% chance of winning this weekend and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. For that to happen, the Vikings are going to have to secure these three keys to victory on Sunday.
Get Jefferson Involved Early & Often
No surprise here, the Vikings are going to need to get their best player the ball as much as they can early on and throughout the game. In the regular season matchup against the Giants, Jefferson went for 12 catches, 133 yards, and a touchdown. Both Jefferson and Hockenson were huge in ensuring the win in week 16, this time the Giants will surely look to shut down Jefferson. In 3 of the 4 losses on the Vikings’ schedule this year, Jefferson was held to under 50 yards. The Vikings will not be able to rely on just Hockenson and Osborn to carry them to a victory this week. While both have turned into reliable assets in the passing game, Jefferson is going to have to take control to make sure the Vikings can win.
This is Jefferson’s first NFL playoff game. He is no stranger to big games. In the 2020 College Football Playoff semifinal, Jefferson went for 227 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns to lift LSU over Oklahoma. Look for Jefferson to embrace the challenge of his first playoff game and for him to put up numbers that look straight out of a video game.
Limit the Giants’ Ground Game
The Giants own one of the most potent run games in the NFL. They rank 4th in rush yards per game with 148.2. Their rushing attack is led by one of the favorites for Comeback Player of the Year, Saquon Barkley. In the week 16 matchup, Barkley broke off a big 27-yard touchdown run to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Outside of that critical play, Barkley accumulated 57 yards on 13 carries. The Vikings defense has proven it can somewhat stymie Barkley, however he is not the only ground threat for New York this season. Daniel Jones has put his legs to work, ranking 5th in QB rush yards this season. The Vikings defense has been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks this season and though Daniel Jones may not be a typical mobile quarterback, he has the ability to pick up key third downs and create chunk gains with his legs. Containing Jones and making him throw the ball is going to be critical to staying alive in the playoffs.
As a current student at the University of Oregon, I am a huge supporter of Kayvon Thibodeaux, however, this Sunday I would like to see him neutralized by the Vikings’ offensive line. Though Thibodeaux’s 33 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles on the season do not necessarily evoke fear in the eyes of opponents, he has shown a knack for making huge plays in crunch time. In week 6 against the Ravens, Thibodeaux had a strip sack that sealed the win with 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Against the Commanders, he had another strip sack that he recovered for a touchdown that ended up being the difference in the game. The University of Oregon product has the ability to be a game wrecker, combined with a banged up Vikings’ offensive line it could be a disastrous recipe for the Vikings. Depending on where Thibodeaux lines up, Christian Darrisaw or Olisaemeka Udoh will have their hands full blocking him. Wink Martindale, in his first year with the Giants, has done a masterful job applying pressure to quarterbacks and making use of what he has on the defensive side of the ball. It will be a tall task for the Vikings’ offensive line, but containing Kayvon Thibodeaux and the rest of Giants’ defensive line will be imperative to securing the win on Sunday.
The matchup at home against the New York Giants may seem like a winnable one and it certainly is, however, the Vikings cannot afford to slip into a lull like they have quite a few times this season. Justin Jefferson will be a huge factor in the final decision of the game and if he can deliver in clutch moments, like he has done so often this season, the Vikings will have a great shot at walking away with a win. Limiting the run game and keeping Thibodeaux out of the backfield will also play pivotal roles in advancing this team further into the playoffs. Right now it is one week at a time for the Vikings and I don’t know about you but I am excited to watch some Vikings playoff football.