When: 7:20 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Bank Stadium
TV, radio: Ch. 11, 100.3-FM
Line: Vikings by 2½
THREE STORY LINES
A quick (and welcome) turnaround
The Vikings will play four days after a 40-3 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday; few players have minded the fact they'll get to play so soon after the second-worst home loss in team history. Coach Kevin O'Connell took starters out of the Cowboys game once there was no chance for a comeback in hopes of keeping players fresher for Thursday's game, and the team seemed eager for another home game to move on from the loss to Dallas.
O'Connell faces his former coach
The Patriots selected San Diego State quarterback Kevin O'Connell in the third round of the 2008 draft; on Thursday, O'Connell will try to beat the legendary coach who called to tell him he'd been drafted. "It's been a huge part of my football journey to be able to experience being there for that period of time. It helped me grow tremendously," O'Connell said this week. "But as far as coaching against him and his team this week and his coaching staff, you just know what the challenge is going to be."
Patriots defense provides another test
After the Vikings scored three points at home against the Cowboys, they'll face a Patriots team that's allowed just six points in its past two games. New England ranks second in the league in fewest points allowed, second in fewest touchdown passes allowed and second in quarterback pressures. "The personnel groupings they use provide a lot of stress, obviously, for your players," O'Connell said. "You're trying to quiet their minds, and I feel like we've got a good plan."
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings' offensive line vs. Patriots DE Matthew Judon: The Patriots will line Judon up all over the field, so the NFL's sack leader will be a challenge for both Blake Brandel at left tackle and Brian O'Neill on the right side. The Patriots can also make things difficult with Deatrich Wise lined up across from right guard Ed Ingram, so the Vikings will have to figure out where to allocate help along their offensive line as they deal with New England's pass rush.
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Patriots CB Jalen Mills: If the Vikings can protect Kirk Cousins and give him time to find Jefferson, the wide receiver could be in for a big Thanksgiving game against the Patriots' secondary. New England plays more man coverage than most teams in the league, and Mills has struggled in coverage. The Patriots will likely try to double-team Jefferson and provide help for their corners against him, so it'll be up to the Vikings to find chances for him to get open.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
1.42: The average number of points per drive the Patriots' defense is allowing this season. That figure is the best in the NFL.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
They can get their passing game going with Brandel starting at left tackle while Christian Darrisaw is in the concussion protocol, and coax Patriots quarterback Mac Jones into the kinds of turnover-worthy throws he's made through much of the season (seven interceptions against four touchdowns). They will also need Duke Shelley (starting at cornerback with Cameron Dantzler, Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans out) to hold up in pass coverage, and they'll need to keep the Patriots from leaning on running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
THE PATRIOTS WILL WIN IF …
Their pass rush has the kind of effect on Cousins and the Vikings' passing game that the Cowboys' front had, and their offense is able to move the ball effectively enough to keep the pressure on the Vikings to answer them. The Patriots, who got a game-winning punt return touchdown from Marcus Jones last week, could also make a special teams play to help tip the game in their favor.
If you're trying to stay awake after your Thanksgiving meal, this might not be the kind of game with the offensive fireworks to help with that process. The Vikings will have their hands full with the Patriots' defense, and Belichick is certain to have a plan to slow down Jefferson. But Mac Jones has struggled enough this season that the Vikings' defense will come up with the key turnover to hold New England off. Prediction: Vikings 16, Patriots 13