MINNEAPOLIS — A date with future hall of fame quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers awaits the Minnesota Vikings next week, but first the team must face the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday, Dec. 6. Finishing a three-game homestand against one of the worst teams in the league has all the makings of a trap game, but Minnesota (5-6) has no margin for error in a tight playoff race.
Here are five things to look for in Sunday's Minnesota-Jacksonville matchup:
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is the reigning NFC offensive player of the week after a strong showing against Carolina. Cousins did a masterful job of spreading the ball around in the absence of top wide receiver Adam Thielen, silencing doubts about the passer's ability to perform in the clutch. Continuing to grow Cousins' confidence against a weak opponent will be key to keeping Minnesota in the playoff race.
How's Thielen feelin'?
Thielen looked ready to get back to work in the video his wife, Caitlin, posted to Twitter following last week's game-winning touchdown by teammate Chad Beebe. After being cleared to return following a positive COVID-19 test, Minnesota's most dangerous target will be back on the field, but will he need a game or two to get back to 100% speed?
Playing into Minnesota's favor is the abysmal Jacksonville defense. It's about as good as you'd expect from a 1-10 team. Pick a category — yards allowed, points allowed, sacks — you'll find the Jaguars in the bottom five in the league. Look for the Vikings to strike early and often, and for backups like Alexander Mattison, Bisi Johnson and Tyler Conklin to get involved to provide a break for the offensive starters.
Despite Gardner Minshew being cleared medically, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is going with veteran backup Mike Glennon under center. Glennon didn't shine in his only action of the season, resorting to checkdowns and missing open targets in a loss to Cleveland last week. On the plus side, he didn't turn the ball over. Call this a prime opportunity for a Minnesota defense growing in confidence and ability to take another step forward.
Stable special teams
Minnesota has settled its conundrum at long snapper, cutting 2019 seventh-round draft pick Austin Cutting. Andrew DePaola takes over and will look to bring a steady hand to special teams play, something the Vikings have struggled with all season. Preventing further mishaps in the third phase of the game needs to be a top priority for head coach Mike Zimmer and special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf.