MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings are taking a 13-4 record in Kevin O’Connell’s first season and NFC North Division title to the playoffs.
It’s now playoff week, and the Vikings are set to host their first NFC playoff game since the "Minneapolis Miracle" in 2018. Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff against the New York Giants on Fox 9 is one of six games over Wild Card Weekend, all of which are rematches from the regular season.
The Vikings hosted the Giants on Christmas Eve at U.S. Bank Stadium, and needed a 61-yard field goal from Greg Joseph as time expired to leave with a 27-24 win. It’s now the playoffs, and a win extends the season at least one more week. A loss, and players are cleaning out lockers on Monday, left to wonder what might have been.
Here are six keys for the Vikings to beat the Giants on Sunday.
GET JUSTIN JEFFERSON THE BALL
It sounds obvious on the surface, but getting Justin Jefferson the ball is O’Connell’s top priority on Sunday. Jefferson had 12 catches for 133 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown on Christmas Eve. He led the NFL with 128 catches and 1,809 receiving yards in 17 games. He had a big day against the Giants, who were missing their top two defensive backs.
The Giants are now healthy on defense, and will do everything they can do contain Jefferson. Kirk Cousins and O’Connell need to get their star receiver involved early and often.
NO TIME FOR A SLOW START
Too many times this season, the Vikings have gotten off to slow starts. They climbed out of a 33-0 hole and made a historic comeback to beat the Indianapolis Colts. They trailed 27-10 at Buffalo before coming back, trailed the Cowboys 23-3 at half and got bludgeoned and trailed the Packers 27-3 at half two weeks ago before losing 41-17.
There’s no time for that this week. They need to start fast in every phase, be mentally ready to go and deliver the first punch in an elimination scenario.
MAKE DANIEL JONES BEAT YOU WITH HIS ARM
The Giants’ offense centers around star running back Saquon Barkley, who had 14 carries for 84 yards and a game-tying touchdown on Christmas Eve. Daniel Jones is more dangerous with his feet than he is with his arm, and the Vikings’ defense needs to keep it that way. Jones is an inconsistent passer, and the Vikings need to generate pressure, whether it’s with four or blitzing. Don’t let Barkley take over, make Jones throw the ball to beat you.
OFFENSIVE LINE CONTINUITY
The Vikings enter the NFC Playoffs seeking continuity Brian O’Neill is out for the season, and Garrett Bradbury is back at practice after missing five games with a back injury. The left side of the line is intact with Christian Darrisaw and Ezra Cleveland. If Bradbury can’t play Sunday and has to miss his sixth straight game, Chris Reed will get his second start with Austin Schlottman out for the year. Ed Ingram is the right guard, and Oli Udoh replaces O’Neill at right tackle.
If Bradbury can return, it’ll give the Vikings some stability on the line. They’ve also activated Blake Brandel from injured reserve for depth if somebody goes down.
ANOTHER BIG DAY FOR T.J. HOCKENSON?
When the Vikings and Giants met on Christmas Eve, it was a career day for T.J. Hockenson. He had a career-high 13 catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Since joining the Vikings in November, Hockenson has 60 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns. With the Giants likely game-planning to lock down Jefferson, it presents an opportunity for other weapons like Hockenson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook and K.J. Osborn.
PLAY WITH A CHIP ON YOUR SHOULDER
The Vikings are 13-4, won the NFC North with room to spare and still remain among the most disrespected teams in the NFL. They’re 11-0 in one-score games, won a division with a first-year head coach and earned a home playoff game. Yet the outside world questions who the Vikings are with blowout losses at the Eagles, against the Cowboys and at the Packers.
The Vikings need to play with an extra chip on their shoulder. It’s the playoffs, where it doesn’t matter who you get there, as long as you get there. Survive and advance, and live to the see Divisional Playoff Weekend.