Mike Zimmer opened his press conference on Wednesday by making sure everyone knew that the Denver Broncos weren’t nearly as bad as their 3-6 record indicates and that the Vikings would be in for a tough game on Sunday. “We’re going to have our hands full, and we’re going to have to play really well to win,” Zimmer said.
This comes as no surprise. Zimmer is concerned his players are going to look past the last-place team in the AFC West and have their eye on the upcoming bye week. Thus, it’s his job to point out that the Broncos have lost a bunch of close games and have the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense.
But the nice thing about being a fan or media member is we don’t have to concern ourselves with the one-game at a time mentality. We can put our focus wherever we want and that isn’t on the Broncos or the bye week. The focus here is on the Monday night game between the Vikings and Seahawks on Dec. 2 in Seattle.
The assumption here is that the Vikings are going to take care of business against the Broncos and young quarterback Brandon Allen, who has replaced the injured Joe Flacco as Denver’s starter. Never heard of Allen? Don’t worry, most haven’t. The sixth-round pick in 2016 by Jacksonville helped lead the Broncos to a 24-19 victory over visiting Cleveland in Week 9 — Denver was on a bye last Sunday — but playing in U.S. Bank Stadium will be a different story.
The Vikings figure to be 5-0 at home by late Sunday afternoon. That would put the Vikings at 8-3 and a half-game behind Green Bay (8-2) in the NFC North. It also will set up an interesting final five games that will begin in Seattle.
The Seahawks (8-2) are coming off a thrilling Monday night victory at San Francisco in overtime. That was the 49ers’ first loss of the season and bolstered the case of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as the NFL’s MVP. Wilson has been sensational all season. He will be just part of the storyline for the Vikings as they go into CenturyLink Field.
That game figures to tell us all we need to know about the Vikings when it comes to whether they are championship contenders or a team that likely will make the playoffs and get dispatched quickly. The Vikings failed tests in Weeks 2 and 9 when they lost in Green Bay and Kansas City, respectively. Minnesota and quarterback Kirk Cousins had opportunities to win both of those games.
It probably would have been easy to give up on the Vikings as contenders if they hadn’t gone into Dallas last Sunday night and come away with a four-point victory. Cousins was solid in that game, running back Dalvin Cook was phenomenal, the run defense was outstanding in containing Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and the pass defense looked awful. The important thing was the victory put Minnesota back in a position to prove itself.
Cousins has won two prime-time games this season, beating Washington and Dallas, to improve to 7-13 under the lights but he remains winless in his career (0-7) on Monday nights. A year ago, the then-6-5-1 Vikings went into Seattle for a Monday night game in December and came away with an ugly 21-7 loss as Cousins had a rough night. Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after that defeat but the Vikings still missed the playoffs.
So can assistant head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski get the same type of production out of Cousins in Seattle as they did in Dallas? Can Cook have another dominant performance both in the running and receiving game? And what is Zimmer going to do to attempt to contain Wilson after Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott threw for 397 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday? Zimmer will have an entire off week to answer that question.
How do the Vikings handle the pressure of playing in Seattle, one of the toughest stadiums in the league? Beat the Seahawks, assuming you get past Denver (and we are assuming that), and suddenly you have two quality wins (Dallas being the other) and the Packers and Chiefs’ losses don’t have to define your season.
Zimmer and his players will claim they aren’t giving this any thought. That Denver is their only focus. That’s fine, but I can’t wait until Week 13.