After 11 Close Wins, Vikings Have Advantage Over Giants In Wild Card Round

The tests for the Minnesota Vikings begin Sunday with a home game against the Giants in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs. It will undoubtedly be their easiest assignment of the postseason.

That does not mean they will win and move on to a divisional playoff game, most likely against the San Francisco 49ers. But the Vikings certainly have the capability of beating the Giants, a team they defeated 27-24 in Week 16 when placekicker Greg Joseph blasted a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game.

There were two reasons the Giants were as close as they were to stealing a victory away from Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Daniel Jones had a superior game against Minnesota’s yielding defense, completing 30 of 42 passes for 334 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Jones is an athletic quarterback who runs well, but his passing exploits were minimal until facing the Vikings secondary.

The Giants also came at the Giants with a blitzing defense under the direction of New York defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. The Giants sacked Cousins four times and harassed him on multiple plays, and that kept the Vikings from opening up a sizable lead on the visitors.

The Vikings fully respect Martindale and his ability to pressure the quarterback. “They know how to attack protections,” said offensive coordinator Wes Phillips. “They study the protections. (Martindale) is really good at what he does.”

When Cousins had time to survey the field, he was very effective, completing 34 of 48 passes for 299 yards with 3 TDs and no interceptions.

If the Vikings are going to end New York’s season, they must pressure Jones into multiple mistakes. That means Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith have to be active and find their way into the New York backfield on a consistent basis. In the earlier meeting, Jones was able to drop back, survey the field and find open receivers against the Minnesota secondary. His confidence grew as the game went along, and that cannot be allowed to happen here.

The Vikings were almost done in by wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who caught 8 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Hodgins is an improving receiver who caught 37 passes for 392 yards and 4 touchdowns this season, but he should not be allowed to dictate against the Vikings.

The secondary has been a huge problem for the Vikings since the start of the 2020 season, so the Vikings must pressure Jones to keep that weakness from being exploited. Hunter and Smith combined for 20.5 sacks this season, and if the Vikings can get a little bit extra in that category from Patrick Jones, D.J. Wonnum or Dalvin Tomlinson, the advantage swings to Minnesota.

There is a lot of pressure on defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who ran a vanilla defense for much of the season. He tried to change his strategy after the Vikings defense was exploited by the Cowboys and Lions, but the results have been underwhelming.

On the offensive side, the Vikings have four main weapons in Cousins, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and T.J. Hockenson that are good enough to rip the New York defense. The Giants were one of the most yielding defensive units in the league, ranking 25th in yards allowed and 18th in points allowed.

Jefferson had one of his best games against the Giants, catching 12 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown, while Hockenson had his best game in a Vikings uniform with 13 receptions for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Cook had 64 yards on 14 carries, but he can be an x-factor in this game. The Giants got so beaten up by Jefferson and Hockenson that they may not pay as much attention to Cook. He can turn any game in Minnesota’s favor with just one crease provided by the Minnesota offensive line.

That unit should get a boost with the likely return of Garrett Bradbury at center. He has been out with a back injury since getting sidelined in Week 12, and he has only given up two sacks this season. If the Vikings offensive line can handle Martindale’s frequent blitzes, this game may not be close.

More than likely, it will be close since 11 of Minnesota’s 13 victories were by 8 points or less.

The Vikings have multiple issues that can be exploited, but they won’t show up in this game. The Vikings survive and advance by a 31-24 margin.

And then it’s on to the divisional playoffs, where the assignment will be far more difficult.