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Vikings-Browns: 5 things you can count on happening

Can the Vikings climb back to .500?
Adam Thielen

Two years ago, Mike Zimmer's job was on the line ahead of a playoff game. With rumors of a trade to Dallas swirling, Zimmer crafted an upset over the Saints and Kevin Stefanski became head coach of the Browns.

On Sunday, the paths of Zimmer of Stefanski will cross. Although it's not a "revenge game," both coaches are familiar with each other and it should produce an intriguing matchup as the Vikings look to climb back to .500.

1. Another Adam Thielen touchdown

Since the start of last season, Thielen has scored 18 touchdowns in 18 games. Kirk Cousins has compared Thielen's red zone presence to that of Cris Carter and there's a good chance Thielen finds the end zone again on Sunday.

Greg Newsome will miss Sunday's game with a calf injury, leaving Thielen matched up with Greedy Williams. Williams hasn't started a game since 2019 and missed the entire 2020 season with a shoulder injury.

If Justin Jefferson is matched up against Denzel Ward, it could lead to a big day (and another touchdown) for Thielen.

2. The Browns running the ball

The Cleveland offense is something Mike Zimmer dreams about. The Browns rank first in rushing attempts, second in rushing yards and third in yards per attempt this season, which creates a challenge for the Vikings' defense.

The Vikings rank third in the NFL, allowing 4.8 yards per carry and allowed a 30 yard touchdown to Chris Carson last week. Although they could get a boost from the return of Anthony Barr (questionable, knee), they may be without Michael Pierce, who suffered shoulder and elbow injuries in practice this week.

Whoever is out there, they'll have their hands full with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. If they can't stop the running game, it could be a long day.

3. Odell Beckham Jr. torching Bashaud Breeland

Beckham returned from a torn ACL last week but didn't need to do much as the Browns defense dominated the game. With the Vikings having a more explosive offense, Cleveland will need to throw the ball, which means Stefanski will scheme his playmaker open.

The best option is to find Bashaud Breeland. Breeland ranks last among all qualifying cornerbacks in PFF's defensive grades and allowed nine catches for 103 yards and a touchdown in last week's win over the Seahawks.

The Vikings have made Breeland and Patrick Peterson stationary over the first three weeks, so Stefanski and the Browns can move Beckham to get the matchup they want. Unless Zimmer lets Cam Dantzler out of the dog house, Breeland will be a big liability in the secondary.

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4. The offensive line being tested 

One of the biggest stories coming out of the win over Seattle was the performance of the offensive line. PFF has the Vikings graded fourth in pass-blocking efficiency through three weeks and they look much different from the unit that struggled in Cincinnati.

But Sunday brings a major test in the Browns defense. While they may have been aided by Matt Nagy's game plan, Cleveland tallied nine sacks in a win over the Bears and have plenty of talent to make Cousins miserable in the pocket.

The good news is the Vikings have found ways to make their offensive linemen better. The use of screens and Cousins getting the ball out quickly has asked less and it has led to an offensive explosion in the first three weeks.

If the Vikings can continue to perform well, it should neutralize Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett on the way to another big day for Cousins.

5. No warm homecoming for Stefanski

If you're looking for warm feelings, you might want to look elsewhere. When asked about each other during this week's press conferences, Zimmer and Stefanski downplayed any sort of homecoming and focused on the task at hand.

The more intriguing storyline is how both coaches will try to counter each other on the field. It was just two years ago when Zimmer's defense went up against Stefanski's offense in practice, so both coaches know what they want to do.

That could bring this game down to if last week was a fluke. If the Vikings can use their running game, take care of the ball and make good decisions, they should be able to get another win and return to 2-2.

Prediction: Vikings 34, Browns 31

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