LOS ANGELES RAMS (7-2) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, noon, U.S Bank Stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: 38th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 21-14-2. The Vikings are 11-3-2 at home, but this is the first meeting at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings have won the last four meetings, including a 21-18 overtime game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2015. The teams have met seven times in the playoffs, but not since 1999, when the Rams won a 49-37 divisional meeting at St. Louis. The Vikings are 4-0 in home playoff games against the Rams. They advanced to Super Bowls IX and XI by beating the Rams at old Met Stadium.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It’s unlikely many people had Rams-Vikings circled as The Game of Week 11. The Rams bring the NFL’s top-scoring offense to Minnesota to face the NFC’s toughest defense.
Los Angeles’ first-year coach, Sean McVay, has done wonders for young quarterback Jared Goff by putting him in situations where he can thrive. But the Vikings have speed at the corners to contend with Rams wideouts Robert Woods and Sammie Watkins, and Minnesota safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo excel at disguising coverage.
The Rams can use running back Todd Gurley and speedy wide receiver Tavon Austin in the ground game to keep the Minnesota safeties honest.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made the decision this week to stick with Case Keenum at quarterback, despite Teddy Bridgewater being back on the active roster.
Keenum, who has completed 67 percent of his passes for six touchdowns the past two games, has been sacked just once in the past five games.
The Rams, No. 5 in the league with 28 sacks this season, will need to get pressure on Keenum and contain the Vikings’ one-two punch on the ground, Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Vikings MLB Eric Kendricks. Another game, another big assignment for Kendricks. Last week, he had Washington’s Chris Thompson and did a solid job after surrendering an early 27-yard reception. Next up is a much greater, even more versatile challenge. Gurley is fourth in the league in rushing and leads the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. But he also is second on his team with 35 receptions and has three receiving TDs, including a 53-yarder. Kendricks leads the Vikings with 90 tackles. Second place is 63.
–Vikings LG Nick Easton vs. Rams DE Aaron Donald. Donald is one of the best players in the league. He is warming up to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense as the right defensive end. He has five sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He can wreck a game plan if he’s able to blow up the left side of an offensive line. Easton returned last week after missing three games because of a calf injury. Like the rest of the line this year, Easton has played very well. Left tackle Riley Reiff has been superb. He’ll no doubt have a role in handling Donald as well.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Vikings WR Adam Thielen. At some point, we all have to move past the fact that he was a Division II player from Minnesota State-Mankato. Right now, he’s one of the best receivers in the NFL. He is tied for the most games with at least 90 yards receiving (five) and has had at least five catches in all nine games. Last week, he caught eight balls for 166 yards and a touchdown. He is beating corners deep, shaking linebackers short in zone coverages and showing fantastic hands and body control. You’d think the Rams would give him extra attention, but they also must worry about Stefon Diggs having a big game on the other side.
FAST FACTS: Rams QB Jared Goff passed for a career-high 355 yards, with three TDs and no interceptions, last week. He is the first player in franchise history with 300 passing yards, three TDs and no INTs in consecutive games. In his past four road games, he is 4-0 with 10 TD passes and no INTs. … RB Todd Gurley leads the NFL with 1,160 scrimmage yards and 10 TDs. He had 109 scrimmage yards (89 rushing) and a rushing TD in the last meeting. In his past four road games, he has 588 scrimmage yards (147 per game) and six TDs. … WR Robert Woods caught eight passes for a career-high 171 yards and scored two TDs in Week 10. He has 140 yards and two TDs in his past two road games. … WR Sammy Watkins aims for his third in a row with a TD catch. He has three in his past four road games. … DT Michael Brockers had a sack in Week 10 and has two sacks in his past three road games. … Vikings QB Case Keenum passed for 304 yards with a career-high four TDs last week. He spent two seasons with the Rams (2015-16). … RB Jerick McKinnon has 156 scrimmage yards and two TDs in his past two home games. … RB Latavius Murray has 220 rushing yards and two TDs in his past three games. … WR Stefon Diggs has 20 receptions for 364 yards and four TDs in his past three home games. … DE Everson Griffen has six sacks and a forced fumble in his past five road games. He is tied for third in the NFL with 10 sacks and has a sack in eight straight games. … DE Danielle Hunter had a sack last week and has three sacks in his past three at home. … S Harrison Smith has two interceptions and 1.5 sacks in his past four home games. Since 2014, he is the only NFL safety with 10 interceptions and eight sacks. He had a sack and 81-yard interception for a TD in the 2014 meeting.
PREDICTION: With Latavius Murray becoming a workhorse in the backfield after a slow start to the season, the Vikings are extremely balanced on offense. And if the Minnesota defense can fluster Jared Goff and slow down Todd Gurley, the Vikings can win a high-scoring affair.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 34-26.
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(photo courtesy of Vikings.com)