The New York Giants head back to Minneapolis this weekend to face the Minnesota Vikings in the wild-card round of the 2023 NFC playoffs. So, our weekly ‘5 questions’ segment is once again with Christopher Gates of SB Nation’s Daily Norseman.
Ed: How do you explain the Vikings? A 13-4 record but a -3 point differential and a Football Outsiders DVOA score that ranks them 27th in the league, six spots below the Giants?
Christopher: The best answer I can give you about what the numbers say, whether it’s point differential or whatever the case may be, is that when the Vikings have lost games this year it’s been because of a complete failure in all three phases of the game. In the Green Bay game, the Vikings gave up touchdowns on offense, defense, and on special teams, and it’s tough to win when not even one of your three units is functioning properly. As Justin Jefferson put it after that game, “When we lose, we lose bad.” Their closest loss this year has been by 11 points, while they have 11 wins in games that have been determined by one score. The blowouts that this team has experienced have definitely slanted the numbers against them a bit, but they’re still a 13-win team, so it’s not as if they’re completely devoid of talent and are just constantly getting lucky or anything.
Ed: What did you, and perhaps the Vikings, learn about the Giants in the first meeting that was surprising?
Christopher: I think a lot of Vikings fans learned that Daniel Jones has gotten significantly better under Brian Daboll’s coaching. Most fans outside of New York thought that Jones was sort of a punchline after his first few seasons, but we saw that, under Daboll, Jones has evolved into the sort of player the Giants probably envisioned when they spent a top 10 draft choice on him. Given that the Giants don’t have a lot of household names at wide receiver (and that Kenny Golladay can apparently be seen on milk cartons around greater New Jersey), Jones’ development has been that much more impressive. Honestly, I’m interested to see how the Giants handle Jones’ situation after not picking up his fifth-year option and seeing him go on to have a very good season when he’s on the brink of free agency.
Ed: You asked me this, so I will flip it around: “If the Vikings beat the Giants on Sunday, it will be because ...”
Christopher: If the Vikings beat the Giants on Sunday, it will be because they did a significantly better job of pressuring Daniel Jones than they did the first time around. The boxscore says that the Vikings picked up three sacks the first time these two teams played, but it just seemed like the Vikings couldn’t get close to him a lot of the time, giving Jones time to get comfortable in the pocket and find his targets. This needs to be a game where guys like Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith make Jones miserable for four quarters. They’ll probably focus on slowing down Saquon Barkley and trying to make the Giants’ one-dimensional, but that only works if you can get pressure on Jones and force him into mistakes when the Giants are behind the chains. If they can do that, I think the Vikings can put up enough points to come out of this one with a win.
Ed: What are the key injuries on the Vikings’ side that could impact the game on Sunday?
Christopher: The two big ones are on the offensive line. Right tackle Brian O’Neill suffered a partially torn Achilles in the loss to Green Bay, and he’s done for the rest of the year. He had a big part in slowing down the Giants’ pass rush the first time these two teams played, and his absence is going to be quite significant, I think. We also don’t know yet if center Garrett Bradbury will be back for this one. Bradbury, who, like Daniel Jones, is in the final season of his rookie deal after the Vikings didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, has improved a lot this season but missed the final five games of the regular season with a back injury. His backup, Austin Schlottmann, was also injured in the Green Bay game, so the Vikings are now down to their No. 3 center in Chris Reed. Against a team that’s as strong up front as the Giants are, you don’t want to be struggling on the offensive line, but that’s the position the Vikings unfortunately find themselves in heading into this one.
Ed: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Vikings as 3-point favorites, indicating a close game. I tend to agree that this will be a game decided late in the fourth quarter. Minnesota is 11-0 this year in such games. The Giants have also been good in one-score games, 8-4-1 in 13 of them. Are you at all worried/nervous that sooner or later things will not go Minnesota’s way at the end of one of these nail-biting games?
Christopher: The Vikings and Giants have played the most one-score games of any teams in the NFL, so I think it’s the right call to expect this one to go down to the wire as well. I suppose that, eventually, the Vikings are going to have a one-score game that they don’t win. That might be a bit of the Gambler’s Fallacy kicking in, but it just seems inevitable. Will that happen this week? I don’t think it will. I think the Vikings, who are hosting a playoff game for the first time since the Minneapolis Miracle game five years ago (almost to the day), are going to be energized and will pull out a victory in this one just to confound the Really Smart Football People™ even more and push themselves into the Divisional round.