CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-8) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (10-3)
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 6-6. The Vikings are 5-0 at home. This will be the first meeting at U.S. Bank Stadium. Only once in series history has a team won consecutive games; the Vikings won in 1989 and again in 1992. The Bengals won the last meeting, 42-14 at Cincinnati in 2013. Current Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was Bengals defensive coordinator at the time.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings will be focused on improving their pass protection and stopping the run, which they couldn't do against Carolina last week. Minnesota turned the ball over three times and the Panthers capitalized, converting those miscues into 10 points while winning by seven.
So, Kyle Rudolph was accurate in saying this team "can't just roll the ball out there" and expect to win. The defense can be dominant, but it still needs help from an efficient offense that can run the ball with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Adam Thielen continues to enjoy a breakout season and could do some damage against a banged-up Bengals defense.
On the defensive side, the Vikings can't be giving up runs of 60 and 62 yards, which doomed them against the Panthers. Being at home against an inferior opponent, the Vikings will win if they don't turn the ball over and they stop the run. If they do that, the pass rush will take over and Cincinnati won't be able to outscore them.
Despite their losing record, the Bengals remain a dangerous team ready to explode at a moment's notice. And for the rest of the season, they'll be playing for pride.
While the Vikings are playing for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, many of the Bengals are playing to solidify roster spots next season. If there is added incentive for the Bengals, it's to rebound from one of the worst performances of Marvin Lewis' tenure in last week's 33-7 loss to the Chicago Bears.
It won't be easy. Cincinnati is likely to again be without leading rusher Joe Mixon, three starting linebackers and possibly corner Dre Kirkpatrick. The Bengals are familiar with Mike Zimmer's defenses and Andy Dalton and A.J. Green spoke this week about being better than they were on Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings WR Adam Thielen vs. Bengals cornerbacks. The Bengals' secondary is banged up, with Adam Jones out for the season and Dre Kirkpatrick in concussion protocol. Thielen is tied for the NFC lead with a career-high 1,161 yards.
--Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes' assignment will be fairly simple: Cover the big, fast Pro Bowler with the great hands and excellent ball skills. Green leads the Bengals with 65 catches for 950 yards and eight touchdowns. Rhodes has nine passes defensed and two interceptions. But stats don't tell the whole story. Asked to shadow Antonio Brown in Week 2, he shut him down. Asked to cover Julio Jones two weeks ago, Rhodes held Jones to two catches for 24 yards. The week before, Jones had 253 yards and two touchdowns.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--Out: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), LB Kevin Minter (hamstring/injured reserve), LB Nick Vigil (ankle)
--Doubtful: C T.J. Johnson (pectoral)
--Questionable: RB Joe Mixon (concussion), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
--Out: CB Mackensie Alexander (ribs), TE Blake Bell (shoulder)
--Doubtful: T Riley Reiff (ankle), TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle)
--Questionable: LB Emmanuel Lamur (foot)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals QB Andy Dalton. He has had a knack for rebounding from poor games. Dalton hasn't had many games as poor as last week's 33-7 loss to the Chicago Bears, which essentially wrecked the Bengals' playoff hopes. Dalton completed 14 of 29 throws for 141 yards. He will be minus his leading rusher in Joe Mixon and facing a Minnesota defense that is among the league's best. It's a good time for Dalton to show some leadership. "Especially on the road, you've got to bring your own energy," Dalton said.
FAST FACTS: Bengals QB Andy Dalton has 10 TD passes and one interception in his past five games. In his only career game against the Vikings, he completed 27 of 38 (71.1 percent) for 363 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. ... RB Giovani Bernard had 130 yards from scrimmage last week and is averaging 113 from scrimmage in his past two games. ... WR A.J. Green recorded 97 receiving yards and two scores last time he played the Vikings. He has four TDs in his last five games. He is the only player in NFL history with more than 950 yards receiving in each of his first seven seasons. ... DE Carlos Dunlap has 3.5 sacks in his past four games. ... Since entering the league in 2010, DT Geno Atkins has 59 sacks, most among defensive tackles. ... DE Michael Johnson had two sacks last week. He has three sacks in his last two games against the NFC. ... LB Vontaze Burfict recorded two sacks last time out against the Vikings and has four straight games against the NFC with more than 10 tackles. ... Vikings QB Case Keenum has 1,661 passing yards (276.8 per game) with 13 TDs and just five interceptions in his past six games. He has a 100-plus rating in four of his past five games and has three straight games of at least two touchdown passes. ... RB Latavius Murray has 208 rushing yards and three TDs in his last two home games. ... RB Jerick McKinnon has two TDs in his last three home games. ... TE Kyle Rudolph has four TDs in his past three games and has 19 touchdown catches since 2015, tied for second most among tight ends. ... DE Everson Griffen ranks third in the league with 13 sacks. He has seven sacks in his past five games.
PREDICTION: The Vikings will be able to shut down the Cincinnati rushing attack and limit the damage A.J. Green can cause. And the Vikings should be able to move up and down the field against the battered Bengals.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 35-24.