The San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings may as well be the same team right now. Both teams are 5-5. Both teams are looking to win their third straight. And both teams are trying to fend off the five teams in the NFC with six losses to maintain the last couple of playoff berths.
San Francisco’s RBs vs. Minnesota’s rush D
The 49ers rank 8th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, so no doubt they are pumped up about their clash with the 28th-ranked Vikings rush defense. Who will be those running backs, though? Elijah Mitchell is still questionable for Sunday’s game, and JaMycal Hasty has already been ruled out.
In Week 11, the 49ers turned to Jeff Wilson and Trey Sermon (19 and 10 carries, respectively) who rushed for a combined 82 yards. They also enlisted the help of star WR Deebo Samuel. Samuel carried the ball 8 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. It appears that Kyle Shanahan can make an RB committee out of anybody, so the Vikings should be worried regardless of who lines up behind Garoppolo on a given play.
The Vikings rush defense held the Packers under 100 yards in Week 11, but it’s a relatively misleading stat. Aaron Rodgers had a big game, and Aaron Jones did not play. The Vikings need to keep improving to stop the 49ers rushing attack on Sunday. Although Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing well, the Vikings still need to make him win the game for San Francisco.
Bay area weaponry
Most teams will say that want to control a game by staying committed to the run. Most teams will say they will stick to a game plan to find success. But when two teams are fighting for the playoffs, expect to see some fireworks!
The San Francisco offense boasts a very dangerous receiving corps in addition to their steady run game. Deebo Samuel has made plays all over the field for the 49ers, as both a runner and a pass-catcher. Look for Shanahan to get Deebo involved in a variety of ways early, leaving the Vikings defense scrambling. There is also Brandon Aiyuk, who was picked for a big year before the season started. Although he hasn’t always gotten opportunities for various reasons, he is still an impact player that can break a game open. In the win against Jacksonville, Aiyuk caught all 7 of his targets for 85 yards and a touchdown. Then, the San Francisco offense can always lean on George Kittle, a top 5 TE in the NFL. His size and athleticism are a nightmare combination to game plan against. Kittle also had a touchdown against the Jaguars and will try to continue the positive momentum. Look for Garoppolo to use Kittle to exploit the Vikings’ 26th ranked pass defense.
Arsenal from Minneapolis
Traveling to California this weekend is a Vikings offense ranked 7th overall. Kirk Cousins threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Packers and still has only thrown 2 interceptions all season. His consistent play has kept the Vikings competitive in every game. Dalvin Cook leads the rushing attack with a 4.6 yards per carry average. Reliable WR Adam Thielen has found the endzone 8 times already this year and has some of the surest hands in the NFL.
But the true weapon in Minnesota is 2nd-year sensation, Justin Jefferson. He has continually made big catches at clutch moments and has now reached 100 yards in 11 games. He is tied with Randy Moss and Juju Smith-Schuster for 100-yard games in a player’s first 2 seasons. He’ll look for his third straight 100 yard game against the 49ers as he tries to catch Odell Beckham Jr.’s record of 100-yard games in his first 2 seasons (15). Two weeks ago he had 143 yards against the Chargers, last week he hit 169. How many yards will Jefferson get this week?
If the playoffs started today…
Both teams would be in. Technically, Minnesota would have the 6 seed and San Francisco would have the 7. In an extremely tight NFC race, this game could have huge ramifications.
The 49ers are 1-3 in their divisional matchups, so they will need a strong conference record. Currently, they sit at 4-4 versus NFC opponents. The Vikings have a much more desirable 4-2 conference record and a 2-0 start to their in-division record. Suffice it to say, this is a huge game.
Too close to call?
Par for the course this season for the Vikings, I think we see a game decided by 10 points or less. Both teams have everything to play for, and it is a relatively even matchup.
If you were looking to give an edge to one team, you would probably have to lean slightly toward San Francisco. The 49ers have the 3rd-best pass defense and the 6th-best overall defense. If they can find a way to slow down Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings will have a hard time finding their way to victory.
It’s hard to use the phrase “trap game” when the home team is only a 3 point favorite, but I think the 49ers look past the Vikings a little bit on Sunday. The 49ers have been inconsistent this year, and they absolutely have to have their running game on point to be successful. The Vikings, in spite of their record, have had almost all close games.
After two blowout wins, the 49ers come back down to earth. They will get their running game going and definitely put up some points, but the Minnesota defense will nab a timely takeaway. I see Kirk Cousins leading the Vikings to efficient offensive performance, on their way to a 32-28 victory.