Most of the “Monday Night Football” matchups this season have left a little something to be desired but rounding out Week 4 is one of the more intriguing games on the schedule between a pair of potential NFC title contenders. The two teams are both in the upper third of the league and in line to make a run at their respective divisions so it will be a nice test of just how good each squad is when they square off in front of a big national audience to wrap up a great week of action.
Minnesota has particularly impressed this year thanks to a stingy defense that is allowing fewer than 14 points per game against some high-powered offenses, including limiting Cam Newton and the Panthers to just 10 points last week on the road. The Vikings have absorbed the loss of offensive cornerstones Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson too and quarterback Sam Bradford looks better with each passing week in Norv Turner’s offense. While nobody is ready to call this the best team in the NFC just yet, the Vikings have fought through plenty of adversity and come out well ahead of high expectations in 2016.
New York hasn’t been firing on all cylinders to begin the season but the Giants have still been able to deliver some dramatic wins in the first month of action, including close victories over division rival Dallas and a pesky New Orleans team. This marks the start of a big stretch for the Giants with the schedule featuring top NFC North contenders Minnesota and Green Bay. Eli Manning’s squad matches up well against their brethren from the land of 10,000 lakes so it certainly should be worth tuning in to catch what unfolds from U.S. Bank Stadium tonight.
The Vikings are currently on a six-game winning streak in the regular season — the longest in the league — that they’ll be looking to extend against the Giants while ending another as they’ve lost seven straight on “Monday Night Football.” The Giants are coming off their first loss of the season and hoping for the opposite result of last year’s meeting where Minnesota rolled to a huge win at home.
New York at Minnesota
Kickoff: Monday, October 3, 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Vikings -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Slowing down the Giants’ aerial attack
The Vikings’ defense has been one of the best in the league this year and this unit is hoping to keep that up against a staunch passing game from the Giants. The pass rush has helped out significantly when it comes to posting all those great numbers with the most notable being that Minnesota leads the league in sacks. They’ll need Everson Griffen and company to put the pressure on Eli Manning all game long because the secondary will have its hands completely full trying to contain Odell Beckham Jr. and company.
2. Establishing the run
The Giants spent a ton of money to upgrade their defense in free agency and through the draft and there have been some positive signs on that side of the ball with the early play from newcomers Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison among others. They’ll likely be counted on to stop one of the few offensive weaknesses from the Vikings in their lackluster ground game. If Minnesota can get things going with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, it will be hard to beat. If the Vikings’ running backs can be limited like they have been, the visitors will have a chance at making things a close and winnable game.
3. Limiting turnovers
Both quarterbacks have been known to turn the ball over so there will be a premium on ball security against a pair of active defenses. Sam Bradford has been efficient in the passing game but his offensive line hasn’t been tested quite like it will against the Giants so he not only needs to be aware of the pass rush but also can’t take a bunch of chances against a secondary that loves to disguise coverages. Manning is always good for a bad throw from time to time so Minnesota’s defense must be ready to make a play on the ball when it’s up for grabs.
It would surprise nobody if this is just the first meeting between these two teams this season given the potential for both to meet in the playoffs down the road. The Vikings have been one of the year’s pleasant surprises in the NFC, shaking off the doom and gloom predictions after the losses of their starting quarterback and face of the franchise at tailback to post some impressive wins in a 3-0 start. Expectations are high in the Twin Cities as a result and the chance to make a move toward home-field advantage in early October could pay big dividends down the road.
New York is hoping for a little road magic however. Head coach Ben McAdoo will have to change a few things up after the first loss of his tenure and you can bet that his team will come out focused and fired up to play a big primetime game against a quality opponent. Eli Manning gets all the attention but there are a number stars on both sides of the ball who are going to be a key part of any success the team has in this game.
While an upset by the visitors is certainly in the cards, the home team will ultimately prevail in a fun Monday night affair. The Vikings’ stingy defense will simply be a bit too much for the Giants to handle in the end and, with another week learning the offense, Sam Bradford should be even sharper when trying to move the ball. The end result is a quality win at home and the end of a long losing streak on “Monday Night Football” for Minnesota.
Prediction: Vikings 28, Giants 23
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.