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Op-ed: Vikings win gives fans hope for long playoff run

I think it’s time that we finally call this year’s Vikings team what it is: good.

In arguably the toughest test they have faced all season—we are going to disregard that 26-9 loss to the Steelers because that was B.K., before Keenum—the Vikings showed how dominant their defense can be as it held the high-powered Falcons offense to under 300 total yards as the Vikings (10-2) extended their winning streak to eight games with a 14-9 win in Atlanta.

For us Minnesota sports fans, Sunday’s game looked like a prime candidate to break our hearts. Holding a 14-9 lead late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons drove down inside Minnesota territory looking like they were headed for the backbreaking score.  Instead, with a 1st and 10 at the Vikings’ 33-yard line, the Falcons were held to just six yards on the ensuing three plays and elected to go for a 45-yard field goal attempt with 4:59 left in the game.

Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed the kick wide left—that’s nice to hear from a non-Blair Walsh standpoint, isn’t it?—and the Vikings killed the remaining time on the clock with a nine-play, 52-yard drive to seal the victory.

Everything was clicking for the Vikings on Sunday, but the result was further proof that if the Vikings have a shot at a playoff run this season, the defense will be the catalyst.

The defensive unit held Matt Ryan’s offense to a season low of 275 total yards, but the star of the show was Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes completely eliminated star receiver Julio Jones from the game. After hanging 253 yards on Tampa Bay a week ago, Jones was held to just 24 yards on two catches—largely thanks to the stellar coverage from Rhodes.

With the big play ability of Jones gone from the Atlanta offense, Minnesota’s core up front was able to keep the Falcons to short gains for most of the afternoon. The longest play of the day for Atlanta was a 20-yard pass caught by Marvin Hall in the second quarter.

Third down defense was another strong suit for the Vikings as they allowed Atlanta to convert on only one of ten third down opportunities. The Falcons came into the game with a 48.1% conversion rate, according to NFL Research.

Minnesota’s defense is ranked fifth in the NFL and has finished in the top 10 each of the last three seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Case Keenum had another solid, if unexciting, game, throwing for 227 yards and two touchdowns for his eighth straight win. Keenum is 9-2 with the Vikings this season, and this week’s win was particularly important for the quarterback. With the win, Keenum’s career record is no longer a losing one at 17-17. This is especially impressive considering the 0-8 mess he endured in Houston back in 2013.

The bigger picture for the Vikings became much clearer after the win on Sunday in the Peach State. Minnesota can clinch the NFC North for the first time since 2015 with one more win in its final four games after Detroit dropped to 6-6 with a loss Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens. Technically the Vikings have not yet clinched a playoff berth, but they would have to lose out to even have a chance of missing the playoffs.

The Vikes face another difficult matchup next weekend in Charlotte against the Panthers, but after that the rest of the schedule should be—knock on wood—relatively smooth sailing. A Dec. 23 matchup with Green Bay that loomed at the beginning of the season looks much less menacing now that the Packers are 6-6 and have been without Aaron Rodgers for much of the season. Rodgers is eligible to play against the Vikings in the pre-Christmas matchup, but depending on the Packers’ results up to that point, they might not want to risk re-injury.

The only real goal for Minnesota after they secure the division is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As of right now, the Vikings are atop the conference, holding the tiebreaker with the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles, the only other team in the NFC with 10 wins.

An Eagles-Vikings NFC Championship looks very possible at the moment, but anything can happen. You know that if you’re a Minnesota sports fan.

Let’s just hope the Vikings don’t mess this up.


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