The Vikings host the New York Jets on Sunday hoping to clinch their first NFC North title since the 2017 season. And although they need Detroit to lose or tie as well, the Vikings should be trying to take care of business on their end. Here are the three matchups that the Vikings have to win to beat the Jets.
Justin Jefferson Versus Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner
In addition to leading the NFL with 14 passes defensed, rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner has been about as “shut-down” as one can be in man coverage.
The above numbers are ridiculous, and it should be fun to watch him and Justin Jefferson battle on Sunday. Assuming Gardner matches up with Jefferson quite frequently, I don’t want the Vikings to shy away from Gardner. While I do think we have to be smart and not try to force it, I would love the momentum boost from Jefferson getting a few early receptions. Not to mention, Jefferson has not produced much in our two losses this season; getting him going should remain a priority.
Quinnen Williams Versus The Vikings’ Offensive Line
Jets’ defensive tackle Quinnen Williams won the AFC Defensive Player of the Month award for October and has been a force all season. With eight sacks in 2022, Williams has been one of the key components of the Jets’ defense, which ranks in the top five in yards allowed per game.
The Vikings have had the luxury of top-level tackle play on the offensive line with Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill, but they have been susceptible to penetration up the middle. Rookie guard Ed Ingram in particular has struggled, and with Darrisaw ruled out again, the Vikings’ offensive line will need to find a way to hold its own.
Vikings’ Defense Versus The Mike White Momentum
Quarterback Mike White was a breath of fresh air for the Jets’ offense last week against Chicago. White threw for 315 yards, three touchdowns, and only had six incompletions on the way to a 149.3 quarterback rating. He had similar moments last season when he burst on the scene, and the Vikings need to frustrate him early and force him to make throws into tight windows.
The key here, in my opinion, will be stopping the run. Mike White benefitted from the Jets being able to rush for 158 yards on the day against Chicago, and nearly five yards per carry. This type of production was the perfect complement to the Jets’ passing attack, but I believe if the Vikings can slow this running game down, they can slow down the momentum of Mike White. One of the quotes of the past week was Jets coach Robert Saleh saying that White “Made the easy look easy.” The Vikings need to make the Jets do the not-so-easy, and if they can win this matchup, they will greatly increase their chances of winning.
Special Shout-out To The Special Teams
On Thanksgiving, kick returner Kene Nwangwu tied the game against the Patriots early in the third quarter with a 97-yard kick return touchdown.
You can listen here to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels talk about the adjustment the team made at half-time, and this was a clutch play. I know return touchdowns don’t happen often, but as I listened to Daniels’ presser, I was very encouraged at how this part of the team can contribute now and into the playoffs.
Further, I ended the video feeling encouraged about Vikings’ kicker Greg Joseph. I know that coaches will try and talk up their guys to the media, but Daniels has me at least slightly less worried about the liability Joseph has become when it comes to extra points. We can only hope he goes on a nice, long streak of made XPs starting Sunday versus the Jets.
Week 13 Injury Report
The good news is that DT Dalvin Tomlinson and CB Akayleb Evans have no designation and will play on Sunday. The bad news is that Darrisaw is still out in concussion protocol, but even this hopefully means the Vikings are taking all necessary precautions to make sure he is fully ready to come back.
On the Jets’ side of the ball, S Ashtyn Davis has been ruled out, and CB Cedric Agbuehi is doubtful. On the offensive side of the ball, RB Michael Carter is doubtful as well.
Final Thoughts And Prediction
I have to keep picking the Vikings, as they keep finding ways to win the close ones. And I do think this one will be close. I think the Vikings will struggle to run the ball, and while I believe we’ll score, I think we’ll have enough three-and-outs to allow the Jets to hang around.
My prediction is a 24 – 11 win, in a game that will feel closer than the two-score margin I’ve listed here. I think the Vikings will benefit late from a Mike White turnover and head to 10-2. Then, all we’ll need is Jacksonville to help us out in Detroit and we can claim the NFC North Crown! Speaking of the NFC North, check out the latest Daily Skol Podcast episode where we discuss all of the teams of the NFC North, and stick around on Stadium Rant for more great NFL coverage. SKOL!