SERIES HISTORY: Sixth meeting. Minnesota leads the series, 4-1. Jacksonville's only win came in 2001, a 33-3 win in Minneapolis. The Vikings are one of just two NFL teams (New England) that the Jaguars have not beaten at home. Last meeting between the teams was on Sept. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis with the Vikings winning 26-23 in overtime.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
First, let's get the report from Minnesota's busy infirmary. After four eye surgeries this season, coach Mike Zimmer can fly with the team to coach in Jacksonville, although probably from the coaching box above the field. Versatile safety Harrison Smith is probably lost for the season with an ankle injury. And superstar running back Adrian Peterson says he can return to action (knee surgery), but only if the Vikings are in the playoff picture.
That probably means there is a slim chance he will return this year and a good chance he will be released before the third day of the 2017 NFL year or the team will owe him $6 million.
As far as the game at Jacksonville is concerned, the absence of Smith is most important. His replacement could be rookie Jayron Kearse, second-year pro Anthony Harris or even starting cornerback Terence Newman, who shifted to safety a year ago when Smith missed the game at Arizona.
In stats that may matter, the Vikings head into the game with the fourth-ranked scoring defense (17.4) and the second-ranked turnover margin (plus-13). The Jaguars have the 27th-ranked scoring offense (18.7) and are last in turnover margin (minus-18), giveaways (25) and interceptions thrown (18).
Both quarterbacks are on the hot seat.
The Vikings gave up a lot now and in the future to get QB Sam Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater went out with a major knee injury.. But Bradford has not proven to be the answer to the Vikings' offensive woes as the team ranks 25th in passing and 26th in scoring. Bradford has had moments, including five games in which he has passed for over 260 yards.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has done little to go forward in recent games, and Jacksonville's record reflects it -- the Jags are on a seven-game losing streak. In his last five outings, Bortles has thrown for fewer than 250 yards each game.
This Sunday he goes against a Vikings secondary that is ranked No. 4 in the league for allowing the fewest passing yards. If the Vikings shut down Bortles for yet another week, the Jaguars likely will notch a franchise-record-tying eighth consecutive loss.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jaguars RT Jermey Parnell vs. Vikings DE Danielle Hunter. Last week Parnell encountered Denver's Von Miller, who came into the game leading the NFL with 12.5 sacks. Miller made just three tackles and had no sacks until late in the game when he pushed Parnell into Blake Bortles, causing him to fumble. Parnell allowed four sacks in losses to Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City, but hasn't allowed a sack in his last four games. Hunter has 9.5 sacks this year, eighth best in the NFL.
--Vikings OTs Jeremiah Sirles and T.J. Clemmings vs. Jaguars LEO Yannick Ngakoue. In coach Gus Bradley's defense, the LEO position is the weakside edge rusher. The team found a good one in Ngakoue in the third round this year. After 13.5 sacks as a senior at Maryland, Ngakoue has a team-high six for Jacksonville. He's a 6-2, 252-pounder with 4.75 speed. He could present difficulties for Sirles on the right side and Clemmings on the left. Both players were backups at the start of the season. They struggle with edge rushers and even committed three false start penalties at home against the Cowboys last week.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT:
--Out: C Joe Berger (concussion), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), S Harrison Smith (ankle)
--Questionable: LB Edmond Robinson (hamstring), CB Marcus Sherels (rib)
--Questionable: RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), G Brandon Linder (ankle), LB Dan Skuta (elbow)
Vikings DE Danielle Hunter. The second-year pro might be the best athlete on a team that includes Adrian Peterson. He is a physical marvel that the Vikings stole in the third round because of how raw he was at LSU. He developed more quickly than expected and is proving to be unblockable at times. He has 15.5 sacks the past two years, including a team-high 9.5 this season. He doesn't start, but does play a lot. Typically, the Vikings put him at left end in passing situations. When that happens, starting left end Brian Robison moves to a two-point stance and rushes from an interior spot on the left or right side.
Vikings QB Sam Bradford passed for 222 yards and three TDs in the only career meeting. He ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage (71.2). Bradford established season highs last week when he attempted 45 passes and completed 32. But the Vikings are 5-0 this season when Bradford attempts no more than 36 passes (starts only), compared to 0-6 when he throws at least 37 times.
Vikings WR Stefon Diggs caught eight more passes last week and leads the NFL with 48 receptions since Week 8. For the season, Diggs is averaging 7.5 receptions per game, the third-highest rate in Vikings history. Only Cris Carter, who averaged 7.6 catches per game in both 1994 and 1995, has had a higher rate for Minnesota.
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles completed only 45.2 percent of his passes last week, a season low, and compiled a passer rating of 37.9, a career low. He also threw the 11th pick-6 of his career, a total that tops the league since Bortles debuted in 2014.
As long as they can stay healthy enough to play the game, the Vikings and their coach should eye a victory over a Jaguars team that has a long way to go before it is competitive in the NFL.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 28-14.