5 Bold Predictions for the Minnesota Vikings' Week 17 Matchup

Arif HasanContributor IIIDecember 26, 2013

5 Bold Predictions for the Minnesota Vikings' Week 17 Matchup

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    The Minnesota Vikings' final game in the Metrodome probably won't carry the same excitement as Candlestick Park's final moments, but the Vikings have been sure to end their seasons with extraordinary performances.

    In 2011, Percy Harvin dazzled fans with 128 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown (with Joe Webb under center), while Christian Ponder shocked most of the NFL the next year with a spectacular three-touchdown performance to cap a day that Adrian Peterson nearly broke the NFL rushing record on a 199-yard outing.

    There's no guarantee that we'll see anything close to the drama of the 49ers-Falcons game, but fans probably won't leave empty-handed.

    Nothing would be better than a shocking feat or two as the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions, as the Vikings have checked in this season with more than one lackluster effort.

    The Vikings are well-positioned to have some bold performances.

1. Jared Allen Will Have 3 Sacks

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    Jared Allen has been having a down year and has only 9.5 sacks despite commanding the top cap hit in the country for a defensive player at any position.

    But Riley Reiff hasn't been having the year that many expected of him and just gave up two sacks to Mathias Kiwanuka of the New York Giants just a week ago. Overall, Reiff has been a fairly inefficient pass protector for one of the most pass-happy teams in the country and has allowed the 13th-most total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus' Pass Blocking Efficiency metric (subscription required).

    As primarily a technique-oriented pass-rusher, Allen will not only benefit upon a second meeting with Reiff but also Reiff's relative inexperience as a player just finishing up his second year (and finishing his first year as a starter).

    Allen didn't come away with any sacks in his first meeting with the Lions at the beginning of the year, but he did have one turned into a tackle-for-loss after the NFL concluded that Matt Stafford ran for -5 yards. In addition, he also scored two hits and two hurries against Reiff and generally had a good day.

    It's not unreasonable to think Allen can turn some of those hits into sacks if he has another good day, as unlikely it may seem.

    This might be his final game playing in purple, so it would be big to make it count.

2. Greg Jennings Will Hit 100 Yards as a Receiver

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Greg Jennings was considered a top-tier receiver when he played for the Green Bay Packers, and was considered a big signing for the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason.

    He all but disappeared early in the season. In his first 10 games, he produced 439 receiving yards with only two notable performances—an 84-yard game against the Chicago Bears and 92 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London.

    Since then, he's averaged 80 yards a game and seems to have a particular affinity playing alongside Matt Cassel, with whom he's averaged 73.8 yards a game. In games started by Christian Ponder, he's averaged only 35.5 yards a game.

    This remarkable split has been a big part of the tension surrounding the Cassel/Ponder debate, but for Sunday only means that Jennings has a big chance to succeed.

    Given that the Detroit Lions rank fifth in passing yards per game given up, it's certainly well within reach for Jennings to hit a mark he's hit only once all season, but it might be difficult for a run-heavy team.

    Jennings certainly has the talent to hit that mark against a weaker Lions secondary, but it remains to be seen if the game plan calls for him.

3. Chris Cook Will Grab an Interception

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    The Vikings weren't initially planning on playing Chris Cook very often against the Cincinnati Bengals, but injury forced their hand.

    At the moment, he figures to see starting time against the Lions and may line himself up against Calvin Johnson, the premier wide receiver in the NFL.

    Cook has traditionally had success against Johnson, but he still doesn't have a single interception in his career.

    An inauspicious statistic to carry after four years in the NFL, Cook has put his ability into question because of it—even after accounting for his shortened time on the field due to injury and off-field concerns.

    Matt Stafford has thrown the fifth-most interceptions in the NFL. There have been some fluke plays here and there—two of the interceptions, for example, had been in Johnson's hands before popping out and into a defensive back's hands—but for the most part, Stafford has been somewhat interception prone this year.

    More importantly, the high volume of passes that come from the Lions offense should create significant opportunity for a player like Cook, who often plays in position but doesn't always get his head turned around in time to make a play on the ball.

    Cook is about to hit free agency, and it would be an interesting fluke for him to grab his first interception in the last game of his contract.

4. Blair Walsh Matches the Field Goal-Distance Record

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    Breaking any record is difficult, and the field goal-distance record in particular is more subject to opportunity than ability, but Blair Walsh definitely has the leg to drill a 64-yard field goal to match Matt Prater's record set earlier this year in Denver.

    The longest field goal Walsh has kicked in the NFL was last year, for 56 yards against the Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium.

    That set its own record, as he then kicked the most 50-plus-yard field goals in a season with that kick. He also matched the longest field goal made by a Viking (previously set by Paul Edinger).

    That kick, along with a number of his other 50-plus-yard tries, cleared the crossbar by a significant margin. In fact, columnists like ESPN's Kevin Seifert regularly discuss his impressive field goals by referencing how far they could have been good from—better than the 64-yard mark set by Prater.

    In game conditions, it certainly looks like Walsh has the capability to hit the record, but it is entirely up to the Vikings coaching staff to see if he'll get an opportunity.

5. Cordarrelle Patterson Will Return a Kickoff for a Touchdown

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    Cordarrelle Patterson's performances against the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers in his second meeting with the two teams was largely quiet, with only one return of more than 30 yards, which came after his first kickoff against the Packers.

    This is largely because teams who have had their fill of Patterson's kick-return prowess try not to give him continued opportunities. Chicago kicked the ball away from him all game and Green Bay kicked it short.

    The Lions, however, haven't had as traumatic an experience as the other divisional rivals. Chicago and Green Bay both gave up touchdowns in their first meetings against Patterson, but Detroit "held" him to 27 yards a return.

    Since then, Detroit has given up the sixth-shortest field on kickoffs while the Minnesota offense has ranked first in starting field position from kickoffs.

    While they've been able to kick touchbacks somewhat regularly, they still allow more than 40 percent of opposing kickers to return the ball and may feel confident allowing Patterson to do the same.

    The rookie first-round pick out of Tennessee has shown amazing vision and incredible athleticism on his returns and could be in position to exploit that ability against the Lions.