In order for the Vikings to advance to their first divisional round since 2019, they will need to beat a Giants team that they narrowly beat on Christmas Eve with a 27-24 victory.
For the Vikings to get that done, the will need some great performances from their key players. Here are six players that need to have a great performance for the Vikings to win on Sunday.
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball against the New York Giants during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings have only made the playoffs in one prior season during Kirk Cousins’ five year tenure. That year, they beat the New Orleans Saints in the wild card round before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round.
In that win over the Saints, Cousins played extremely well and he will need to do so against a Giants defense that will send a lot of pressure his way. He played well in the first matchup, completing 34-38 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. That kind of efficiency and ball security will be needed against a very aggressive Giants defense.
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates the win after the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
When you have big games, you need your big players to perform accordingly. Jefferson has stepped up multiple times in big moments, especially against the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts this season.
In the first matchup, the Giants tried numerous ways to stop Jefferson, including using bracket coverage that he just out leveraged for a touchdown.
Jefferson finished the game with 12 receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown, numbers that could easily mean a win in the playoffs for the Vikings.
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Oli Udoh (74) against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
When the Vikings lost Brian O’Neill to a partially torn Achilles tendon, it was one that hurt quite a bit. One of the benefits of the Vikings offense was having the two tackles that could handle anything thrown at them on the outside. Now, they have to restructure their blocking strategy with Udoh taking over.
Against the Bears this past Sunday, Udoh played the entire game and held up well. He had a pass-blocking grade of 79.8 and only allowed one pressure. He will be facing an improved edge rusher duo of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari and holding up will be key to victory.
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) pressures Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) during the first half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Smith started off the season like a bat out of hell. Through nine games, Smith led the league in pressures and was the NFC defensive player of the month for Octorber. Once November hit, he started to downcycle.
In the last seven games Smith played in the regular season, he put up some paltry number. Smith accumulated 15 tackles, 12 pressures, and 0.5 sacks. Teams had started to focus more on Smith which paved the way for Danielle Hunter to put up bigger numbers. For the Vikings to succeed in the playoffs, they will need a better output from Smith.
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) signals an incompletion after breaking up a pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) on Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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The Vikings really hit a goldmine when they signed Shelley to the practice squad back in September. A castoff from the Chicago Bears of all teams, Shelley was added to the active roster relatively quickly due to injuries to Cameron Dantzler.
What he gave to the Vikings was a tremendous performance above what anyone could have expected. He graded out as PFF’s 3rd-best coverage corner and snagged his first interception on Sunday against his former team the Bears. Even though he is only 5’8″ tall, Shelley plays bigger and has had success against bigger receivers. The likes of Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins shouldn’t give him much issue.
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) celebrates after defeating the Indianapolis Colts 39-36 in overtime at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings don’t just have one cornerback that is ranked in the top-five of PFF’s coverage grades, they have two as Peterson finished the regular season ranked fourth. He has been the most consistent player on the team for the Vikings this season, but they will need him for more than just the on field play.
Peterson is one of the few players on this team that has made a deep playoff run and that experience will make a big difference as they move forward. He already helped spur the Vikings comeback against the Colts by telling the offense they just needed five touchdowns and that kind of leadership is much-needed during the month of January.
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