Week 13 Preview: Minnesota at New England

Adam Bettcher (Getty Images)

This will be a grind, literally and figuratively.

The Minnesota Vikings will be taking on the New England Patriots this Sunday afternoon at 4:25 ET at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The weather forecast is supposed to be rain with scattered thunderstorms until 5 p.m.

The sloppy weather could give the Patriots a slight edge, as the Vikings play in a dome. New England has had an unprecedented amount of success in the month of December, as the team is 64-13 since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick combined to form a dynamic duo in 2000.

With that being said, the Patriots have a difficult task at hand in trying to stop the plethora of options that Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins has at his disposal in wide receivers Steffon Diggs and Adam Thielen, as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Dalvin Cook. Diggs was listed as questionable for a large portion of the week with a knee injury but is expected to play. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore will line up on either Thielen or Diggs, so look for Minnesota to try and exploit the other match up.

The key to stopping Minnesota’s offense is to get pressure up front and make Cousins rush in his decision making. New England cannot afford to let Cousins sit back comfortably and survey the field to find the weak spot in the Patriots’ pass defense, which is ranked 25th in the NFL in passing yards (269.7).

Despite being 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (85.3), they have a capable back in Cook, who can come out of the flat to make catches. He will be a tough test for the Patriots linebackers in space.

Rudolph is one of the league’s better tight ends, as he rebounded from a underwhelming two games last week and pulled in seven receptions for 63 yards last week in the teams’ 24-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Meanwhile, Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has had success in slowing down Brady in the past. Prior to him at the helm in Minnesota, he was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and in 2013 held the Patriots to just one touchdown with an interception.

Zimmer certainly has the personnel to draw up pressure against Brady, as the Vikings are top five in the NFL in yards (third, 314.7), passing yards (fifth, 221.1) and rushing yards (fifth, 93.6). Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Sheldon Richardson should be monitored on the defensive line, as well as linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Hendricks.

The Patriots will look to control the clock so the Vikings’ offense cannot get into a groove. A big component of this will be a balanced attack. The team will welcome running back Rex Burkhead back from IR and should help with some much needed depth at the position to give Sony Michel and James White a breather at times.

While Rob Gronkowski had a nice game against the New York Jets last week with a touchdown grab over the middle, he was on the injury report this week with back and ankle issues. Minnesota safety Harrison Smith will more than likely line up on Gronk, which will make creating separation a hard task for the four-time All Pro.

Veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury and will undergo a test during pregame warm-ups to see if he is able to play.

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Follow O'Callaghan on Twitter: @JOCallaghan_ENT

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