When the schedule came out last spring, seeing the Chiefs on the home schedule for the fifth game of the season was seen as a watershed game. Kansas City has been a playoff contender the last several years and the Minnesota Vikings were expected to potentially be a home underdog against the Chiefs.
However, a lot has changed since then. Kansas City is 1-4 and allowing 29 points a game and on the brink of being effectively eliminated from playoff contention with another loss. The Vikings are going to be facing a desperate team and those teams are dangerous.
These are the 10 points of focus the Vikings will need to throw the final shovel-full of dirt on Kansas City’s playoff hopes. Many of these key factors play in the Vikings’ favor, so if both teams continue on their current paths, Minnesota has every opportunity to get above .500 again and back on track for a playoff run.
Get Off to Fast Start – Through four games, the Vikings have allowed just three points in the first quarter of games. Granted, they’ve only scored 10 first-quarter points of their own, but the Minnesota defense has set the tempo in each of their first four games. If the Vikings can continue that trend and get an early lead, the Chiefs may be forced to be much more one-dimensional. Seeing as though the Chiefs have allowed 37 first-quarter points, the odds of seeing an early Vikings lead looks even more probable.
Charles No Longer In Charge – While nobody cheers for injuries, Kansas City not having Jamaal Charles is huge. Charles was averaging 5.1 yards a carry and the Vikings have allowed a disappointing 4.7 yards per rush, something the Chiefs would clearly have looked to take advantage of. Knile Davis and Charcandrick West aren’t at Charles’ level of production, so not having him in the lineup hurts the Chiefs.
Duck and Cover – Alex Smith has been consistently under pressure, being sacked 21 times on 194 passes – an average of a sack for every nine drop-backs. Only Seattle’s Russell Wilson has been sacked more often or with more frequency than Smith. The Vikings are currently in the middle of the pack for sacks (18th), but the struggles Kansas City has had on the offensive line will give the Vikings a chance to make the big plays behind the line of scrimmage, especially if the running game without Charles can make Kansas City one dimensional.
Third Time Isn’t a Charm – The Vikings defense has struggled all season in getting off the field on third down. The league average is 39.2 percent of third-down conversions. The Vikings defense is tied for 22nd in third downs allowing 41.2 percent conversions. However, the Chiefs are tied for 30th on converting on third downs, making good on just 28.3 percent (17 of 60) – almost 11 percent below the league average. Only Miami has been worse than Kansas City, so the Vikings will be looking to pad their defensive numbers against the struggling Chiefs’ third-down offense.
Gobble Up Big Mac – Jeremy Maclin has led the Chiefs in targets every game this season and is clearly Alex Smith’s go-to target. Things have gotten even more pronounced over the last three weeks. In the last three games, Maclin has been targeted 36 times (never less than 11), catching 27 passes (never less than eight) for 374 yards and one touchdown. If you can stop Maclin, especially without Charles, you can stop the Chiefs offense.
Doubting Thomas – De’Anthony Thomas is something of a Swiss Army knife for the Chiefs. He’s a Tavon Austin-style undersized player whose versatility is useful on both offense and special teams. He is Kansas City’s punt returner and has been used on kickoff returns as well. But nobody has been better than the Vikings on punt coverage. Of the 14 Vikings punts that have been fielded, nine of them have been fair caught. Of the five that have been returned, opponents have gained just 4 yards – an incredible 0.8-yard average. Thomas has the ability to break off a long run at any time, but nobody has been better at neutralizing punt returners than the Vikings.
Passing Fancy – The Vikings have the worst passing offense in the NFL. Teddy Bridgewater is averaging less than 194 yards a game passing and has thrown just two touchdown passes. That may be due in part to having the league’s second-rated rush offense, but the Vikings have too much talent at the receiver position not to have a more effective passing game. Kansas City has the 27th-ranked pass defense and has been allowing almost 300 yards a game passing, so this is a potential mismatch the Vikings might be able to exploit.
Better Late Than Never – Few teams have been as brutal in the fourth quarter as Kansas City. In three of their four losses, the Chiefs have allowed 31 points or more and at no point have they been worse than in the fourth quarter. They’ve allowed 51 points in the final quarter. If you’re looking for a reason why the Chiefs are 1-4, their inability to close out games late is as big a reason as any.
When Adrian’s Hungry, Feed Him – In the Vikings’ two wins this season, Adrian Peterson has rushed 49 times for 260 yards and two touchdowns. In their two losses, he has rushed 26 times for 112 yards and one TD. Coincidence? Don’t bet on it. Both of his games with 20 or more carries came at TCF Bank Stadium and there’s no reason to think he can’t dominate again and control the clock and the tempo of the game in front of the home fans.
Turning Over A New Leaf – Perhaps no stat is more telling on the success or failure of a team than the giveaway/takeaway ratio. The Vikings have twice as many takeaways (eight) than giveaways (four) through four games, which is a standard all teams wish to achieve – doubling up your opponents in that category. The Chiefs are the other end of that spectrum. In five games, they have just four takeaways and seven giveaways. The disparity in those numbers is huge and something the Vikings can take advantage of.
With these 10 areas of focus for Sunday, the team that wins the most of them – taking advantage of the weaknesses and accentuating their own strengths – is the team that will come away with a victory Sunday. Given that the Vikings have more strengths and the Chiefs have more weaknesses, there’s a reason why Minnesota is favored to extend their home record to 3-0.