The morning after each Vikings game, beat writer Ben Goessling dives in for a deeper look at a key aspect of how the Vikings played, and what it means for the team going forward:
Through nine games, there are four teams in the NFC with two or fewer losses: the Eagles, the Vikings, the Saints and the Rams (just like everybody predicted, right?).
Two of those teams will meet on Sunday, when the Rams travel to U.S. Bank Stadium in what figures to be one of the most pivotal games of the season for the NFC playoff picture. It’s also the game that can put the Vikings in command of the race for the conference’s second first-round bye.
At present, the Vikings are the No. 2 seed in the NFC, eliminating the Saints from a three-team tiebreaker by virtue of their Week 1 win over New Orleans and beating out the Rams because of their 5-1 conference. Whichever team wins on Sunday, though, will hold the tiebreaker over the other. And a win for the Vikings would give them a tiebreaker advantage over both the Saints and Rams (who play each other a week from Sunday).
That could provide an invaluable boost to the Vikings’ playoff positioning, as they head into a three-game swing of trips to Detroit, Atlanta and Carolina. It would also help them stay in step with the Eagles, who are 8-1 and have a perfect record in the conference.
It’s against that backdrop that the Vikings will make their decision about whether to switch quarterbacks from Case Keenum to Teddy Bridgewater. Keenum set a career high with four touchdown passes on Sunday, and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating into the third quarter, but his interceptions on back-to-back plays kicked the door open to the quarterback conversation at least to some degree.
Still, the Vikings could opt to stick with the status quo and start Keenum against his former team. If they’re going to put Bridgewater in the lineup next week, they’d have to be confident in the quarterback’s readiness against an aggressive defense that knocked him out of a game the last time he faced them in 2015 (albeit when the Rams had Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator). Zimmer said last week he had “100 percent” confidence in Bridgewater’s ability to play if anything happened to Keenum; he’d certainly prove that if he made Bridgewater his starting quarterback for such a pivotal game.
The Vikings have a two-game lead in the division over the 5-4 Lions and Packers, and they’ll be in strong position to reach the playoffs no matter what happens against the Rams on Sunday. If the goal for the Vikings is to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium, though, a first-round bye makes the path to that goal significantly more direct. That’s why Sunday’s game could be critical to their chances.