The unofficial NFL Game of the Week takes place in the city of Minneapolis Sunday as the Vikings welcome the impressive Los Angeles Rams to U.S. Bank Stadium. As two of the top teams in the league, this will be a major test for both squads as they jockey for position atop the NFC and for the potential first round bye.
So how do the rosters compare?
The fact that Case Keenum and Jared Goff are starting the most watchable game of week 11 is fascinating in itself. What makes it even more interesting is how well each is playing this year.
This position battle is closer than Rams fans would like to admit; Keenum has been that steady. But Goff still gets the slight edge as he has been one of the best in the league this year at moving the ball downfield, picking apart the blitz and excelling in the west coast passing attack.
No real debate here. Todd Gurley is one of the three best backs in the league in both the run and receiving game. He is on the short list for offensive player of the year.
The Rams’ success on offense this year has been largely due to their receiving corps exceeding expectations. Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins were castoffs from Buffalo and Cooper Kupp was a relative unknown out of Eastern Washington. But they have all been effective and productive targets for Goff.
That being said, none of them are Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs.
Tyler Higbee does not factor all that much in the Sean McVay offense. Kyle Rudolph has at least five receptions in five straight games.
The Viking line has been solid and rookie Pat Elflein just keeps getting better. Even with injuries the depth has shown up and the pass pro has not missed a beat. Plus, for the first time since Dalvin Cook’s injury, the running lanes were wide open in last week’s victory.
But the Rams have one of the better lines in football. They went out and got All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth to protect the blindside of Goff and it has paid back in spades. Guard Roger Saffold is the eighth-best player at his position on Pro Football Focus.
Assuming Everson Griffen is healthy, the Vikings have one of the two best defensive lines in the league. The Rams are probably a top-five unit themselves, anchored by the best defensive player in the game Aaron Donald and the emerging Michael Brockers but the Vikings are slightly more destructive across the board.
But that is only if Griffen plays. As we saw in week 10, without Griffen the Vikings can struggle to get consistent pressure.
Edge: Vikings (Conditionally)
The Rams have three outside linebackers who know how to get pressure on the quarterback in Connor Barwin, Robert Quinn and Matt Longacre. They do not contribute that much to the run game, however. The leading tacklers for Los Angeles are Marc Barron and Alex Ogletree, who while up-and-down, are supremely athletic and know how to find the football.
Minnesota’s linebacker unit is just a hair more versatile and reliable, even if they make up a smaller percentage of the defensive unit. Slight edge to Minnesota.
Outside of safety Lamarcus Joyner, the Rams secondary does not have a lot of proven standouts. That being said, they have held most opposing quarterbacks in check all season, even if that crop of opposing quarterbacks is not particularly fear-inducing.
The Vikings defensive backfield looked a little suspect for the first time all year in week 10, but they made plays and their resume of consistent dominance is largely unmatched across the league. Advantage Minnesota.
The two kickers in this game are two of the best in football this year so that is a wash. The returners are two of the most efficient in the NFL so that is a wash. And while Johnny Hekker’s punting distance numbers are far better than Ryan Quigley’s, they have similar stats for punts inside the 20 and average yards per return. Plus, Quigley’s punts have many more fair catches. So we will call that one a wash too.
This is the classic “Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object” game. The stout defense of Minnesota against the high-powered offense of Los Angeles.
While it is true the Rams have played a lot of sub-par opponents, they have put up a lot of points against those opponents and won the games they are supposed to win. They, along with the Vikes, Eagles and Saints, are clearly among the best and most complete teams in the league.
This is going to be a close game, that much is for certain. I believe the Rams will come out firing and hold a lead through the first half, but the Vikings will shape up, hold their ground and pull out the narrow victory on their home turf.
Prediction: Vikings 27, Rams 26