The Minnesota Vikings go into Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns with a 5-2 record, following a convincing 24–16 victory at home to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. It was a scoreline that flattered the visiting Ravens however, as they narrowed the margin to 8 points with a touchdown on the last play of the game
The Minnesota defense really came out to play in the game, limiting a toothless Ravens offense to just 208 total yards. Meanwhile, Case Keenum performed well under center, but it was running back Latavius Murray who really stood out, picking up 113 yards on the ground, his first 100-yard performance as a Minnesota Viking.
The Browns, however, are still winless in 2017, having fallen to a 12–9 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans last weekend, their fourth loss by a margin of three points this season. Worse than losing the game itself, the Browns also lost left tackle Joe Thomas to a season-ending torn triceps, breaking a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps, the longest such streak in recorded history.
Without Thomas, the offense struggled to produce, and the Browns ended the game without a touchdown for the first time in head coach Hue Jackson’s tenure.
The Vikings come into Sunday’s game without starting strong safety Andrew Sendejo, whose one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Ravens receiver Mike Wallace was upheld by the NFL’s disciplinary committee on Tuesday. That opens up a spot on the defense for Anthony Harris, who previously stood in for Sendejo in the game against the Packers in Week 5, when Sendejo was struggling with a groin injury.
Harris played all 66 defensive snaps in that game, recording two solo tackles. That’s a significant drop-off from Sendejo’s contribution of seven tackles (including assists) per game so far this season.
However, the loss of one individual shouldn’t limit the Vikings too much against a Cleveland offense that has struggled to produce so far this season. The team have registered a total of 21 sacks (averaging three per game), including nine for defensive end Everson Griffen alone, who is on pace to smash his season best of 12 sacks from 2014.
Kizer to continue
The Browns announced that rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer would continue under center for this weekend’s game at Twickenham, despite having benched him during last week’s loss to the Titans. The 21-year-old threw for just 114 yards (5.7 yards per attempt) last Sunday, as well as two interceptions, on his way to a passer rating of 36.2, his second lowest of the season so far. In six games as a starter, Kizer has a TD–INT ratio of 3–11, the worst in the league.
The decision to go with Kizer again means the Browns’ revolving door at quarterback keeps on turning, and such confusion at the position can’t be good for the other players on that offense, who don’t know who’ll be throwing to them come gameday.
The other problem is that the Browns’ only other available quarterback, Cody Kessler, isn’t much better, and whoever they go with on Sunday is going to have to run for his life to avoid the pressure from the Vikings front seven, especially in the absence of Joe Thomas at left tackle.
No case for the defense
As well as missing Thomas on offense, the Browns defense was dealt a blow-both literal and metaphorical–against the Titans, with Myles Garrett suffering a concussion that meant he didn’t travel with the team to London on Thursday night.
The rookie defensive end has shown remarkable promise in his first three games for the team, picking up four sacks and 11 tackles. Without him, the Browns should struggle to threaten the Vikings’ offensive line, which was ranked as the third best in the league by NFL.com’s Shaun O’Hara.
With a solid offensive line in place, the Vikings should have a great platform in place to have plenty of production at Twickenham, both in the passing game and the run game. Latavius Murray managed over 100 yards against the Ravens last weekend, so he and Jerick McKinnon should be hoping for more of the same on Sunday.
The game could also present an opportunity to ease quarterback Teddy Bridgewater back into the offense following his horrific knee injury that has kept him out for 14 months. If the Vikings have a solid lead in the fourth quarter, don’t be surprised to see Bridgewater make a cameo.
Matchup to watch: Stefon Diggs vs Jason McCourty
Stefon Diggs is expected to make his return on Sunday from a groin injury that has seen him miss the last two games for the Vikings. Nevertheless, he still leads the team in touchdowns (4) and yards per catch (17.2), and he’ll be keen to show the team what they’ve been missing for the last two weeks.
Facing him on the Browns side of the ball will be Jason McCourty (should he be healthy enough to play), who has three interceptions already this season, including one pick-six. The way Diggs has been playing, few in the league could stop him, but if anyone on the Browns is capable, it’s McCourty.
Fantasy tip: Minnesota RB Jerick McKinnon
While it was Latavius Murray who led the way in the Vikings’ rushing attack last weekend, I fancy McKinnon to have the lion’s share of the ball at Twickenham. Even if he doesn’t get much up the middle, his speed makes him a threat on screen passes and runs outside the numbers. He also returns kickoffs for the Vikings, so even if the Browns don’t kickoff too often, McKinnon could give you some good numbers if your league awards points for return yardage.
Prediction: Vikings 26–10 Browns
The Browns don’t offer much on offense, but they could sneak a touchdown in garbage time once the Vikings have the game sewn up. Meanwhile, the Vikings offense isn’t particularly explosive, but I fancy them to do enough to get the job done and allow kicker Kai Forbath to do the rest on special teams.
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