With the Atlanta Falcons’ red hot start fading away, the season could hinge on the result of Sunday’s game with the Minnesota Vikings.
If you like big games, you’ve got one. The Atlanta Falcons’ contest with the Minnesota Vikings is the biggest of the season to date, and the Falcons’ season could hinge on the result.
December is the time everything must come together. The first three months of the season are about setting the stage for a playoff run in the calendar’s headline act. Well, December is arriving two days early for the Falcons this year, and it arrives inside the Georgia Dome against the toughest opponent the team has faced all year.
Enter the Minnesota Vikings.
Led by head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are a force to be reckoned with defensively. Zimmer’s defense plays with aggression and speed, and the Falcons sputtering offense must dig deep to find a way to move the football while avoiding turnovers.
On offense, they are led by the league’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who has 1,006 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Find a way to stop him, and you’ve found the key to defeating the Vikings.
And beat the Vikings the Falcons must, because the season could hinge on this game.
A win would put Atlanta level with Minnesota at 7-4, both holding a wild-card spot. The Falcons would actually leapfrog the Vikings in the standings due to the head-to-head tiebreaker, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is the Falcons would have found a way to get it going on both sides of the ball, limit turnovers and generate a spark on offense.
To win, the Falcons will need to play a million times better than they have over the course of the past month. Turnovers have killed this team; without them the Falcons could be entering this game on eight or nine wins. In Atlanta’s past three losses (to Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Indianapolis), it has lost by a combined seven points. Seven.
What will it take to beat the Vikings?
The Falcons can’t make the mistakes they have in recent weeks. That means no throwing directly to opposing linebackers from your own end zone, Matt Ryan. The Vikings only have 11 takeaways on the season, and protecting the football will go a long way to winning the game.
Atlanta owns the league’s No. 1 run defense, and Adrian Peterson is the league’s No. 1 rusher. Something has to give. The key to beating the Vikings is to limit Peterson, even if you can’t completely shut him down. In the Vikings’ seven wins this season, Peterson averaged 121 rushing yards per game. In their three losses, he’s averaged just 54 yards.
How do you beat the Vikings? Stop Peterson.
Green Bay did this last week. Peterson was shut out in the first half and the Packers kept the scoreboard ticking over with field goals. As they built a lead, the Vikings were forced to throw more often and the Packers’ pass rushers were able to tee off on Teddy Bridgewater to the tune of six sacks. This is the perfect week for Dan Quinn’s defense to generate some pressure.
The Falcons have to; the season could depend on it. Following this, the Falcons face a stretch of three road games. To make the playoffs, the Falcons will likely need to win four more games.
It starts on Sunday.