NBA fans often use the phrase, but it feels fitting as a lead-in to this “Sunday Night Football” matchup. Once upon a time, the Minnesota Vikings were 1-4, and the Denver Broncos were as well. Now, they’re two of the hottest teams in the league, meeting in prime time.
Can Josh Dobbs continue his ascent against a Broncos defense thriving off turnovers? Will Russell Wilson continue his admirable play against deceptive coordinator Brian Flores? The Athletic’s Alec Lewis and Jon Krawczynski are here for a preview of the nationally televised game.
What I’m watching
Lewis: Whether or not Josh Dobbs can continue to be a Jedi in the pocket. His movement amid the mess over the last two weeks has been something to behold. It’s as if he’s doing the Cha Cha Slide away from NFL athletes like Cameron Jordan. Can he keep this up? Can he keep two hands on the football as he’s bobbing and weaving? Can he keep his eyes downfield as he’s dodging defenders like in “The Matrix”? I think he can, but the Broncos will make him prove it. Vance Joseph’s defense limited Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, two elite scramblers, to 33 total yards rushing. Dobbs has topped that total in each of his two games with the Vikings. If he can continue to evade defenders, this Vikings offense will continue to be difficult to stop.
Josh Dobbs’ rise to NFL prominence is hard to believe — unless you know him
Krawczynski: Danielle Hunter chasing Russell Wilson. That’s right. I keep you guessing, don’t I? You don’t fork over your hard-earned money to us every month to get the easy “Passtronaut” answers from me. I dive deeper! Hunter is up to 11 sacks on the season. There have been only two games in which he has not sacked the quarterback. Wilson is playing well for the surging Broncos, so the Vikings will need their improved defense to come up big to keep their own win streak going. Hunter will be ready to roll Sunday night and show the rest of the league what Vikings fans have known all season: that he belongs in the conversation about the NFL’s most impactful defensive players.
Lewis: Marvin Mims Jr. No player in the NFL averages more yards per punt return than the Broncos’ second-round pick from the spring. He often places Denver in prime field position, which is helpful for an offense that at times can be quite anemic. Limiting Mims may not be the sexiest facet of this game, but it is essential. Punter Ryan Wright will have a hand in this. So, too, will gunners like NaJee Thompson.
Krawczynski: T.J. Hockenson’s ribs. The tight end says he will play Sunday night, simply putting his injury “in the back of (his) head” while he goes out there and tries to make plays down the field. It’s a painful situation, especially for a player who makes a living going over the middle and catching the ball in traffic. Hockenson’s toughness has been on display while he’s played through the pain the last few weeks. He is essential to this offense and has built a fast chemistry with Dobbs. The wrong hit at the wrong time could make things difficult for him and the Vikings offense.
Most interesting matchup
Lewis: Russell Wilson against Brian Flores. Only one quarterback is worse against Cover 0 this season than Wilson, according to EPA per dropback: Jalen Hurts. Simultaneously, no defense has used Cover 0 more this season than Flores. If Flores sends the house Sunday night, how will Wilson respond? Notably, Flores has not used Cover 0 as much in the last four weeks. That means he and the Vikings defense have mostly stifled quarterbacks by dropping more defenders into coverage. Wilson’s struggles against these looks could revive Minnesota’s onslaught of pressure. The Vikings also will be without linebacker Jordan Hicks. Rookie Ivan Pace Jr. and veteran Anthony Barr could slot into his place, and both of them thrive in pass-rush opportunities.
Krawczynski: Patrick Surtain II versus Vikings WR1. Yes, I’m leaving this a little open-ended. Will this be the week Justin Jefferson returns? Or will he need just a little bit more time to ramp up that hamstring? Jefferson said this week he wanted to make sure he wasn’t sore after workouts so he could be ready for a full plate of routes when he returns. If he needs another week, Surtain will likely see plenty of time on rookie Jordan Addison, who just keeps showing up no matter who is covering him.
Vikings’ Jefferson questionable to play vs. Broncos
Most interesting overall storyline
Lewis: After Sunday night, will it still feel like the Vikings are playing with house money? They haven’t had Jefferson in five weeks and they’ve won all of those games. Minnesota also has a two-game lead in the NFC wild-card picture. Can the team maintain that distance another week without Jefferson? The superstar wide receiver is not likely to play, so the onus will be on Dobbs and Flores’ defense to keep the train rolling. If they can do it, if they can secure their sixth straight win with a game against the Chicago Bears on the horizon and the bye week looming, it’d be easy to continue to hurl praise at head coach Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings’ core leaders who have helped spearhead this turnaround.
Krawczynski: Dobbs and Wilson, sharing the field. I know their physical traits are a little different, but it’s hard not to see some real similarities between the two quarterbacks. Wilson rose to prominence in the league by virtue of his soft touch on the deep ball, command of the offense and ability to make plays with his legs. But more than that, there was a certain magic to his game as a young quarterback that seemed to captivate his team and the league as a whole, an intangible quality that just made you believe in him. Dobbs has a long way to go to mimic what Wilson did in those early years in Seattle, but I can’t help but see some of the outlines of it in his play with the Vikings in these first two games. Dobbs has captivated this team and this town. Let’s see how far he can take them.
Schematic matchup to keep in mind
Denver is only giving up about 16 points on average in its last four games, which is a far cry from the team’s performance early in the season. Using EPA per play as a benchmark, the Broncos rank eighth in the NFL in defense. That statistic, though, takes turnovers into account, and turnovers have a massive effect on the overall number. Success rate, on the other hand, does not weigh turnovers as heavily, and by that metric, the Broncos rank 29th in the league in defense. Fumbles and interceptions helped Denver beat both the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. If the Vikings can maintain possession of the ball, they should be able to move it fairly easily against Vance Joseph’s unit, especially on the ground.
Lewis: Vikings 24, Broncos 13. The atmosphere will be raucous. Prime-time pressure will test Dobbs. I think the Vikings will handle both fairly easily. Turnovers tend to cloud a team’s reality — good and bad — and I think that’s the case with these Broncos. Flores should be able to cause problems for Wilson. For that reason, I’m picking the purple.
Krawczynski: Vikings 27, Broncos 23. This Denver defense has been stingy the last few weeks, giving up 19 points to Kansas City, 17 to Green Bay, 9 to Kansas City and 22 to Buffalo over the last month. But Dobbs and the Vikings offense are clicking much better than Buffalo’s offense, and the defense is playing well enough to keep the Broncos from getting rolling. The win streak continues.
2023 Vikings week-by-week predictions
|Game||Week 11 at DEN||Record|
(Top photo of Josh Dobbs: Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)
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