The Minnesota Vikings host the New York Jets in a playoff contenders duel on Sunday afternoon.
With Pro Football Focus’s top-notch defense and an attack wielding multiple dangerous weapons, the Jets pose a much bigger threat than they did at the start of the season, but if the Vikings can overcome them, they have a shot at claiming their first division title since 2017 .
A fight with the Jets should be unpredictable, but here are five things you can count on when the Vikings take the field.
Justin Jefferson is used all over the field
The matchup between Jefferson and Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner made the most headlines in Sunday’s game, but it’s likely we won’t see much of a one-on-one situation.
Kevin O’Connell has kept his word to use Jefferson in the same way he used Cooper Kupp during his time with the Los Angeles Rams. In addition to being one of the best route runners in football, Jefferson is used throughout the formation, creating imbalances on defense.
With DJ Reed Jr. and Michael Carter II also having tremendous coverage seasons, Jefferson won’t have an obvious mismatch, but it could be a better matchup than Gardner, who has only played six coverage snaps in the slot all season and primarily has played on the other side of the field.
That might disappoint fans, but if it leads to a big day for Jefferson, they’ll surely take it.
More pressure for Kirk Cousins
The Vikings have gotten by with a patchwork offensive line this season, and they’ll need to find a way to survive again when they face off against a Jets defensive line that ranks seventh in PFF’s pass-rush classes.
The biggest concern is on the inside of the offensive line, where Quinnen Williams ranks seventh in the NFL among centerbacks with 38 quarterback pressures. Ed Ingram continues to lead all NFL offensive linemen with 44 legal quarterback pressures and Ezra Cleveland ranks sixth with 34 legal pressures, meaning Cousins will struggle with internal pressure Sunday.
That’s not the only problem as the Jets have a stable of edge rushers including Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff who could make life in the bag miserable. With Christian Darrisaw out for Sunday’s game, the Vikings must find a way to protect Cousins.
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More mistakes by Mike White
White’s second tour of the back of the New York tabloids was one of the biggest storylines from Week 12, but he will face a more difficult matchup against the Vikings.
White threw for 313 yards and two points in the Jets’ win over the Bears, but he wasn’t challenged against a Chicago defense that pressured him with just three of 30 dropbacks.
Of even greater concern is what happened the last time White busted. After throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns in a Halloween 2021 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, White imploded with a performance of four interceptions against the Buffalo Bills two weeks later. In four starts last season, White threw eight interceptions, five of which came from clean pockets.
The Vikings have been passive in their coverage this season, but it’s only a matter of time before White starts turning the ball around. If Minnesota is ready, they have an opportunity to capitalize on those mistakes.
Another big day for an opposing wide receiver
Of course, that detracts from what White was able to do well last week. PFF recorded White’s average throw time of 2.38 seconds, which was the third fastest time in week 12. In comparison, Zach Wilson’s average throwing time this season is 3.09 seconds, which ranks 35th out of 38 qualified quarterbacks.
This is a boon for Garrett Wilson, who will attack a Vikings defense that has given up big plays to No. 1 wide receiver. Despite benefiting from an early injury to Jakobi Meyers last week, the Vikings still gave Mac Jones 382 yards and two touchdowns. who was last seen yelling at his offensive coordinator on Thursday evening.
The return of Akayleb Evans should provide a boost in secondary, but with a quick passing game and a defense that allows catches underneath, Wilson should be able to have another big day against the Vikings.
Vikings league title for five years
Winning the NFC North is a matter of when, not if, for the Vikings, and they have a chance to get the job done on Sunday.
The Vikings can win the division with a win over the Jets and a loss or draw against the Detroit Lions. Neither is a guarantee — especially with the Lions hosting the 4-7 Jacksonville Jaguars — but there’s enough to think Minnesota can hold up its end of the bargain.
The Jets are an improved team compared to a year ago, but the Vikings have an advantage in several areas. If they force White to make some untimely mistakes and find a way to crack New York’s defense, they should be able to pull off a win in front of their home crowd at US Bank Stadium.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Jets 21