NFL fans have had this Minnesota Vikings vs. Kansas City Chiefs matchup circled on their calendars for months with two of the most talented offenses in the league facing off in a rare interconference matchup. But most of that excitement has gone by the wayside with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes' dislocated knee throwing his availability into question.
After suffering the injury on an Oct. 17 quarterback sneak, the Chiefs had to turn to veteran Matt Moore, who has been decent enough but unable to spark the offense that led the league in scoring and total offense last season. Despite going 24-of-36 for 267 yards with no turnovers last week, the Chiefs fell to the Packers 31-24.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has remained mum about Mahomes' injury. The 24-year-old was limited in Thursday's practice, so he's making progress, but it may not be enough for him to get the go-ahead to play this weekend. Considering his initial timetable of three-to-five weeks, even if Mahomes played on Sunday, we would probably see a similar, if not worse, version of Mahomes when he was clearly hampered by an earlier ankle injury.
The good news for Kansas City is that even if Mahomes can't go and they drop another game, they still have a comfortable lead in the AFC West. The Chiefs enter Week 9 one and a half games up on the Raiders and the only team in the division with a positive point differential (+45, third in the AFC). The ship may have sailed on a first-round playoff bye, but just winning the division at this point is a win.
Even if Mahomes does return in time for Sunday's game, Minnesota (6-2) will provide a difficult opponent. They are third in total offense (396.5 ypg), and running back Dalvin Cook looks every bit as dominant as fans hoped he would now that he's healthy. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski had been slow to use Kirk Cousins to begin the year, but the quarterback seems to have found his groove with Stefon Diggs.
Minnesota at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. What will the Chiefs get from their quarterback?
This is the big question hanging over Sunday's game. Given that Patrick Mahomes is back at practice in a limited role, it's entirely possible that the Chiefs may not announce whether or not he'll start until hours before kickoff. It could be gamesmanship or a genuine uncertainty for his injury, but the Chiefs had better be cautious and make sure he doesn't aggravate the injury or suffer a new one, like when he played on his sprained ankle.
Mahomes' mobility could be hampered, which hurt his effectiveness in the three games before the knee injury. During that stretch, he only completed 56.0 percent of his passes and took five sacks. Although he only threw one interception, his 7.8 yards per attempt was nearly three yards less than his average through Week 3.
Were Matt Moore to start, he represents the very definition of a game manager. His 66.7 percent completion rate did look pretty, but that was boosted by 10-of-11 passing at or behind the line of scrimmage. He was just 5-of-12 when passing eight yards or deeper downfield. Moore will have plenty of weapons between Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman, but his primary goal will be to not turn the ball over.
2. Has Kirk Cousins finally arrived?
No team has attempted fewer passes per game this season than the Vikings (26.9), but Cousins has been making his case lately to lean more heavily on his arm. Over the last four games, he's lived up to his $84 million contract with 91-of-116 passing for 1,261 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just one interception. His 9.3 yards per attempt lead the NFL, and that's up to 10.9 in his last four games.
Wideout Adam Thielen is questionable after battling a hamstring injury that forced him out last week, but Stefon Diggs has returned to form as one of the league's best receivers in his absence. He has surpassed 140 receiving yards in each of the last three games and ranks fourth in the league in the category despite totaling just 101 through Week 3. The question becomes if the Chiefs defense can step up to stop Cousins' and Diggs' hot play.
3. Can the Chiefs' defense step up?
Kansas City's defense has been middling all season, ranking 17th in total defense and 25th in scoring defense. But they've been a bend-don't-break unit because of their penchant for big plays. The Chiefs rank 11th in the league with 12.9 percent of opponents' drives ending in turnovers. Meanwhile, their 25 sacks rank fifth in the league; KC's talented unit includes four players with at least three sacks.
Missing Mahomes last week hurt, but the defense also didn't step up against the Packers. They only sacked Aaron Rodgers twice and could not force a single turnover. With little pressure, Rodgers was able to go 23-of-33 for 305 yards and three scores. This Chiefs defense will need a much stronger showing against the Vikings.
The quarterback situation means this game could go any direction; some sportsbooks have yet to release a line, while others have seen theirs bounce all over the place. However, with a raucous home crowd behind them, the Chiefs will be dangerous no matter who is under center. This one could be a high-scoring affair with the team that makes the fewest mistakes likely coming out on top.