Atlanta are having a good season, but Minnesota are doing even better. Who has the edge? Neil Harvey breaks down the first of Sunday's live NFL games...
"Minnesota aren't sexy. They don't have a star quarterback. Or a star running back come to that. But they're stuck together with true grit, and it makes them formidable opponents."
Minnesota Vikings @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday December 3rd, 18:00 GMT
TV - Live on Sky Sports Main Event
Atlanta stand proud at 7-4, and yet due to the sheer bad luck of being in a very strong division, they could still miss out on the play-offs. The Falcons currently lie third in the AFC South, putting huge pressure on them to win on Sunday.
The positive for head coach Dan Quinn is his side go into this on a three-game winning streak, including an impressive victory in Seattle. They could also be boosted by the return of the league's best-paid running back, Devonta Freeman, who's now cleared concussion protocol. But given this was Freeman's second concussion of the season, I'd expect a cautious approach. Tevin Coleman has shone in Freeman's absence, scoring three touchdowns in as many weeks. He's not made huge gains though, and as a lighter-build runner he could find it tough sledding against a Vikings defensive line that ranks second in the league.
Matt Ryan is probably still wondering how he didn't win a Super Bowl, and whether he'll ever get that close again. But while he has Julio Jones to throw to, there's always a chance. Jones had been subdued this season, before exploded last week with 253 receiving yards against Tampa. Don't expect a repeat here though. Tampa are nowhere near the level of the Vikings D, which is just good all round.
To be fair though, Atlanta's defense has also been one of the best in the league. In fact, both teams have been playing well on both offense and defense and that's why they keep winning. Sometimes it's really that simple.
So what will give here? Well, probably not much. Atlanta need a result and are at home. But they face a Vikings side that's been performing better than the sum of its parts all season. Minnesota aren't sexy. They don't have a star quarterback. Or a star running back come to that. But they're welded together with true grit, and it makes them formidable opponents.
On offense, Case Keenum looks like he's experienced some kind of epiphany. A perennial back-up, Keenum's suddenly playing so well he's now keeping first choice quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of the team. Stefon Diggs is Minnesota's slightly ganglier version of Julio Jones. He's pure quality. If Keenum puts it on the spot, then Diggs will hurt the Falcons.
On the ground, the Vikings have stuck with their own running back tandem of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. After a power struggle, Murray has now emerged as the lead-back, with McKinnon offering a change of pace. Since returning from surgery, Murray has looked better with every game. He has four TDs in his last three outings and I have a strong feeling that he will be the real difference maker for the Vikings here.
On a roll
Minnesota have won seven in a row and have breathing room at the top of the NFC North. They can play with freedom at this stage. So if they are to lose this, I can't see it being by much, against a nervy Atlanta side who'll likely struggle to get over the winning line.
And I can see the kickers playing starring roles. Both Minnesota's Kai Forbath and Matt Bryant for the Falcons have made more kicks than they've missed from 50+ yards. So given their range, and the two tough Ds on display, there should be opportunities for both.
Indeed, it all looks set for a desperately close game. But of the two, it's the Vikings for me. Minnesota's defense has nine interceptions on the season, compared to Atlanta's three. And it's turnovers that decide games. While I'll suggest the option of either team winning by seven points or less to offer some degree of cover.
5pts Minnesota(+2.5) points to be beat Atlanta @ [2.06]
5pts 1st quarter field goal - YES @ 4/6
5pts Either team to win by 7 points or less @ 10/11
3pts Latavius Murray rushing yards Over 59.5 @ 5/6
1pt Latavius Murray to score 1st TD @ 8/1
1pt Latavius Murray to score 2+ TDs @ 9/1
1pt There will be overtime @ 9/1