When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday, Levi's Stadium
TV (radio): Ch. 9 (100.3-FM)
Line: 49ers by 3
If the Vikings had more depth along their defensive front, this would seem like a game they could (and possibly) should win on the road. But absences on their defensive line make this a particularly tough matchup against a San Francisco offense that could hold the ball for much of the day and wear the Vikings down.
THREE STORY LINES
Wild-card hopefuls have plenty to play for
Both the Vikings and 49ers were two games under .500 earlier this season, but the fact they're 5-5 now is good enough to have them in the race for one of the NFC's three wild-card spots. They are both a half-game ahead of the Eagles, Panthers and Saints for the conference's final two wild-card spots, so the winner of Sunday's game will be at the top of the five-team derby for the final postseason berths.
Defensive line regroups without Griffen, Tomlinson
With Dalvin Tomlinson on the COVID-19 reserve list and Everson Griffen away from the team to treat mental health issues, the Vikings will be without their four preferred starters against a 49ers team that runs the ball more frequently than all but three teams in the NFL. It could mean more time at defensive end for Sheldon Richardson after he played there against Green Bay a week ago, and the Vikings will count on players like Armon Watts and James Lynch to play bigger roles.
Cousins tries to keep it rolling vs. Shanahan
It's now been eight years since Kirk Cousins played for Kyle Shanahan in Washington, but the 49ers coach has continued to bring up his high regard for the Vikings quarterback. Cousins will try to get the better of his old coach on Sunday, in the stadium where the Vikings lost to the 49ers in the NFC divisional playoffs two years ago.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings defense vs. 49ers WR Deebo Samuel
When Samuel is lined up at receiver, he'll test Bashaud Breeland and Patrick Peterson. Mackensie Alexander will see him plenty in the slot, and the 49ers will also put Samuel in the backfield. On an offense with a number of chess pieces (like tight end George Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk), Samuel might be the one who stresses the Vikings' defense the most. He's averaging a league-high 15.3 yards per touch this season, gaining 18.1 yards per catch on his 55 receptions and running for 7.2 yards per attempt on his 19 carries.
Vikings RT Brian O'Neill vs. 49ers DE Nick Bosa
After facing Bosa's brother Joey two weeks ago in Los Angeles, O'Neill has another tough matchup on Sunday against the 49ers defensive end, who has 10 sacks in as many games this season. With Arik Armstead lined up next to Bosa, the 49ers can create plenty of tough matchups for the right side of the Vikings' offensive line, using stunts to get either player a clean rush lane.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
77.8: The 49ers' red zone success rate this season; they've scored touchdowns on 21 of their 27 trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line. That's the best mark in the NFL.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
Their continued aggressiveness on offense allows Cousins to test the 49ers' corners with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, while his offensive line can win some of its battles against Bosa and Armstead and the Vikings' makeshift defensive front can hold up against a San Francisco offense that's not scared to run early and run often.
THE 49ERS WILL WIN IF …
The Vikings' losses along the defensive line are too much for them to overcome, and San Francisco can control the clock while wearing out Minnesota's defense and making the game easier for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers' secondary could have trouble with the Vikings' receivers, so it stands to reason they'll try to control the clock for much of the day and keep Cousins off the field.
49ers 17, Vikings 13