Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
The New England Patriots are coasting to another division title but will be banking that a return to Gillette Stadium will help raise their game as they jockey for seeding in the AFC postseason race. The Patriots are a perfect 5-0 at home but will play in Foxborough, Mass., for the first time since Nov. 4 when they host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon.
New England came off its bye week and avoided a second straight loss by pulling away in the second half for a 27-13 victory at the New York Jets, but the team expects a much stiffer challenge from Minnesota. “This has really been an impressive team to watch,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the Vikings. “Looks like to me they’re even better than they were last year. Really well coached defensively, as good as we’ll face all year.” Minnesota, which holds down the No. 5 seed in the NFC, shut down Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers last week and will look to do the same against another multiple MVP-winning quarterback in New England’s Tom Brady. “You’ve got to give respect where respect’s due,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. “Five Super Bowl rings, they’re in the playoffs every year and he’s a large part in the team winning. He’s the GOAT. We’ve got to go out there and play our best game to beat one of the best.”
TV: 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Patriots -5. O/U: 49
ABOUT THE VIKINGS (6-4-1): Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs form one of the more lethal pass-catching tandems in the NFL, but Diggs did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, although he insisted he will play against the Patriots. Thielen is the NFL leader with 93 receptions and notched his ninth 100-yard game of the season after hauling in eight catches for 125 yards and a score against the Packers. Quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks fifth in the league with 3,289 yards to go with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but expect Minnesota to try to get its dormant running game untracked Sunday. The Vikings had four sacks last week but star cornerback Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) is questionable.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (8-3): New England slowly is getting healthy — rookie running back Sony Michel returned in the week before the bye, tight end Rob Gronkowski was back last week and running back Rex Burkhead is expected to rejoin the lineup Sunday for the first time since Week 3. Brady posted his highest passer rating (115.4) of the season against the Jets, throwing for 283 yards with a pair of touchdowns and zero interceptions. Michel rushed for a season-high 133 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries while Gronkowski had three catches for 56 yards and scored for the first time since Week 1. The Patriots are vulnerable to the pass, ranking 25th with an average of 269.7 yards allowed.
1. Thielen needs seven catches to join Rod Smith and Wes Welker as the only undrafted players with 100 receptions.
2. Brady needs two TD passes to eclipse Peyton Manning (579) for the most in league history (playoffs included).
3. Diggs has 31 catches for 322 yards and three TDs in his last three games.