Two of the NFC’s wild card contenders meet in Minnesota as the St. Louis Rams travel to face the Vikings. Both teams have a similar make-up: a strong running game backed up by a dominant defense and a complementary quarterback and passing game. So who will win to take the lead in the wild card race?
The Rams have pulled off some big upsets already this season, beating the Seahawks without seeing Todd Gurley truly emerge while recovering from injury. Once Gurley got going, the Rams were transformed into a strong team. Gurley dominated the Cardinals, Packers, Browns and 49ers, and the Rams are 3-1 since having their first round pick healthy.
The Vikings have scraped into wild card contention despite struggling against weaker teams. They lost to San Francisco in Week 1 and have has narrow wins against teams like the Bears and Chiefs. After this week’s game against the Rams, Minnesota’s schedule gets a lot tougher, making this a must-win game.
Three Keys to the Game
- Can the Vikings stop Todd Gurley?
Gurley has been game-changing for the Rams. He has averaged 141.5 yards per game over the last four contests, dominating opposing teams. The Vikings rank 15th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 104.7 yards per game. Gurley should be able to have another big game against the Vikings.
- Can the Rams stop Stefon Diggs?
Despite a dominant defense, the Rams do struggle in the secondary. Diggs has emerged as Minnesota’s number one receiver after being drafted in the fifth round and not playing for the first few weeks. Diggs gives Teddy Bridgewater a legitimate target on every down and could be the key to a victory over the Rams.
- Protecting the quarterbacks
Despite both teams relying on the running game, their quarterbacks can still affect games. The Rams like to use Gurley to open up big plays for Nick Foles to connect with Tavon Austin and Kenny Britt. The Vikings will want to do something similar with Bridgewater and rookie sensation Diggs. Both quarterbacks will need to remain upright, but both will struggle against two dominant front sevens. The Rams’ defensive line is one of the league’s best with 26 sacks, while the Vikings have a strong pass rush with Everson Griffin and rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks. Minnesota have 18 sacks this season and have allowed 20. The Rams have allowed just 11. It could be a long day for Teddy Bridgewater.
Matchup to watch
Todd Gurley vs Adrian Peterson The running game makes both of these offenses work. Both teams have one of the league’s best backs. Gurley has the advantage of being younger, running harder than Peterson, where AP has struggled at times this season against tough defenses like Denver. The Rams’ front four will present a huge obstacle for Peterson. Gurley will likely continue his incredible form.
Prediction: St. Louis
The Rams have transformed themselves into a contender with the emergence of Gurley. Against the Vikings, Gurley will continue his impressive form and give the Rams a win against their wild card competitors. Gurley takes more pressure off Foles than Peterson does for Bridgewater, especially against a good pass rush like Minnesota.