A home game after an 0-2 start would seem like an occasion for a proud team full of veterans to assert itself. For these Vikings to win, though, they’ll have to overcome being without two of their top three cornerbacks, their most experienced linebacker and their best pass rusher. That might be too much to ask.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Win or else
The Vikings have an 18% chance of making the playoffs after an 0-2 start, according to FiveThirtyEight, but those chances could be all but gone if they fall to 0-3 on Sunday before having road games against Houston and Seattle. The NFL added two more playoff teams for 2020, but since it last expanded the playoffs in 1990, only eight teams have reached 9-7 or better following an 0-3 start.
Barr’s injury forces defense to adapt again
Linebacker Anthony Barr, the man responsible for running the Vikings’ defensive huddle, is out for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle. That means another major shift for a defense that already was dealing with plenty of changes this season and will be without cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler on Sunday.
Cousins looks to shake off career-worst game
By many measures — a 15.9 passer rating among them — last Sunday’s loss in Indianapolis was the worst game of quarterback Kirk Cousins’ career as a starter. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak blamed himself for some of the struggles, saying the Vikings have to do more to get receivers open for Cousins.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings defensive front vs. Titans RB Derrick Henry
Henry is averaging a modest 3.6 yards per carry through two games, after averaging 5.1 on 303 carries last season, but the Titans have handed him the ball a league-high 56 times and will try to get him going against a Vikings defense that’s allowed more than 150 rushing yards in each of its first two games.
Vikings offensive line vs. Jadeveon Clowney
Tennessee has worked Clowney into its defense gradually after signing the pass rusher before the start of the season, but Clowney will move around the Titans’ 3-4 scheme and test the Vikings in pass protection, particularly with linebacker Vic Beasley back on the field Sunday.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
3.2 Derrick Henry’s average yards per carry after contact last season, according to Pro Football Reference. Henry ran for 1,540 yards last season to win his first NFL rushing title.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
Their guards can get to the second level of the Titans’ defense and open up enough space for Dalvin Cook to help control the flow of the game. Cousins should have places to throw against Tennessee’s defense, but he needs Cook to help stake the Vikings to manageable second and third downs.
THE TITANS WILL WIN IF …
They can lean on Henry against a Vikings front that’s had trouble stopping the run, while Ryan Tannehill makes enough throws to continue drives and keep the Vikings defense chasing them without Barr, Hughes, Dantzler and Danielle Hunter.
Prediction: Titans win, 24-21