After defeating the Carolina Panthers last week, the Vikings (5-6) are one game back of the Arizona Cardinals (6-5) for the final playoff spot in the NFC. On Sunday, they'll host the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-10), who are in the midst of a ten-game losing streak.
With next week's showdown in Tampa Bay looming, we ask five questions that will determine if the Vikings can take down the Jaguars.
Will the Vikings take advantage of Jacksonville's secondary?
A key part of the Vikings' success as of late has been their ability to run the football. Dalvin Cook has averaged 128 yards on the ground since Minnesota's bye week, but his effectiveness has waned with 3.6 yards per carry over the past three games.
While Cook has been getting by on volume, there should come a time when the Vikings ease up to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Sunday's game should provide such an opportunity.
Jacksonville will start two rookie corners in Luq Barcoo and Tre Herndon, giving Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson Pro Football Focus' first and fourth-best matchups of the week. Mix in Kyle Rudolph going up against a defense that has allowed a league-high nine touchdowns to tight ends and this should be a game where Minnesota could air it out more than usual.
When will Justin Jefferson eclipse 1,000 yards?
This is no longer a question of "if" but when the Vikings rookie will hit this milestone. Jefferson needs 82 yards to surpass 1,000 receiving yards on the year, which according to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, would make him the fifth rookie in NFL history to do so in 12 games.
What's even more interesting is how far Jefferson can push his stat line with five games to go. When he hits 1,000 yards, he'll become the second rookie receiver in franchise history to post such a season along with Randy Moss. Even then, Jefferson could threaten Anquan Boldin's all-time rookie record of 1,377 in 2003.
Jefferson is well on his way to becoming a superstar and it will be interesting to see how this show continues to play out on Sunday.
Will Ezra Cleveland's return jump-start the running game?
All of this talk about the passing game might make Mike Zimmer upset, so we return to the ground game. As we discussed, Cook's efficiency numbers have been down the past couple of weeks but could be in for a boost with the return of Cleveland.
The Vikings' other impact rookie missed the last three games with an ankle injury but was deemed "good to go" by Zimmer on Friday. This should mean Cleveland returns to his spot at right guard where he ranked 18th among all guards in Weeks 8 and 9.
If Cleveland takes over, it will be interesting to see what the Vikings do at left guard. Dakota Dozier has been serviceable, but Brett Jones was tremendous over the past two weeks. If Minnesota makes a change it could be another upgrade for their weakest unit.
Can D.J. Chark and James Robinson keep it close?
There's not a lot to write about when it comes to the Jaguars, but Chark and Robinson have done their best to keep Jacksonville in games.
Robinson has been a fantasy football hero this season, leading all rookie running backs with 890 yards. After posting 128 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland last week, he'll go up against a Vikings defense allowing 4.3 yards per carry this season.
More concerning is the presence of Chark. The Vikings have struggled against deep targets this season and while the switch to a Cover-2-based scheme has helped, Chark has the speed to get open downfield.
The Jaguars are a bad team but their average margin of defeat in six games against playoff teams has been a touchdown. Chark and Robinson have a big part in that and could help pull of an upset if the Vikings aren't careful.
Can the Vikings avoid another trap game?
It seems like we keep mentioning this on a weekly basis, but Sunday's game could be another wrench in the Vikings' playoff plans. There's something to be said about the Vikings even getting back in the playoff hunt, but at heart, they're an inconsistent team.
Much like when the Vikings hosted a winless Atlanta Falcons team in Week 6, it's important they get off to a fast start to bury a bad team. If not, they could be in the same pinch they were when the Falcons handed them a 40-23 loss.