Sunday Night Football will feature a battle of surging teams as the Denver Broncos look for their fourth straight win at home, while the Minnesota Vikings are coming into town looking for their sixth straight win.
One of the streaks will come to an end.
While the Vikings would still be in a good position in their playoff hunt with a loss, the Broncos need this win to truly stay in the mix. A loss won't mathematically eliminate Denver, but it would make the road ahead that much more difficult.
There's a significant problem for the Broncos vs. this Vikings defense, and it's reflected in these bold predictions. Despite predicting a rough offensive showing by Denver, I still have the Broncos doing enough to walk away with the win in this one.
Russell Wilson Sacked 8 Times
The Vikings love to blitz — to the tune of a rate of 49%. Meanwhile, the Broncos' offense is one of the worst at handling the blitz. What makes the Vikings so effective is how well they disguise their blitz, which also plays into Wilson's pre-snap issues this season.
According to Pro Football Focus, over 25% of the pressures on Wilson have been because of him. That means he's missing his reads pre-snap, which is apparent when analyzing the film, and combined with his penchant for holding onto the ball too long, it creates a potential for disaster vs. Minnesota.
It isn't all on Wilson, though, as the Broncos' offensive line has been inconsistent in pass protection, especially from left guard Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Denver's unit will be strained in handling the blitzes, especially with how talented the Vikings' pass rushers are led by Danielle Hunter.
Wilson will try to get out of the pocket, use his legs, or dump it off to the running backs, and he'll succeed sometimes. However, the extra rushers get home, leading to eight sacks on Wilson, bringing his total for the 2023 season to 38.
Broncos Lose Turnover Battle
This prediction goes hand-in-glove with the one above. Wilson will be under duress often during the game, and while he has done an excellent job so far protecting the ball, he's had plenty of turnover-worthy plays under pressure. This leads to a Wilson interception — if not two.
Although he's been stingy thus far in throwing picks, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-to-4, Wilson's ball security has been a concern, leading to multiple lost fumbles. With how much pressure he's projected to face from Minnesota's onslaught of blitzes, it leads to at least one strip sack.
There's more than Wilson that plays into this, though. There are concerns about ball security from multiple Broncos' weapons on offense. The Vikings do an excellent job of attacking the ball to try and force fumbles and rank 11th in forced fumbles per game.
Broncos Held Sackless with One Takeaway
This is my boldest prediction this week. Over the past two games, the Broncos have forced a combined nine takeaways. It's a rare, historic accomplishment, and it's not sustainable. Denver's defense falls back to Earth vs. Minnesota, forcing only one takeaway.
Adding to the boldness of this prediction is the Vikings' lack of ball security themselves. Joshua Dobbs leads all NFL quarterbacks in fumbles, and the Vikings are -3 in the turnover margin on the season, which is tied for 19th.
Minnesota has improved at protecting the ball in recent weeks, averaging one giveaway per contest over the last three games. The Vikings sit at 1.7 giveaways per game on the season.
Minnesota's offensive line improvement has been a big reason for that. The unit has been outstanding all around in recent weeks, doing an excellent job of protecting the quarterback. They've allowed one sack since Dobbs has become the starter and three sacks combined in the last three games.
The Vikings are tied for the sixth-lowest number of sacks allowed and ninth in pass-blocking efficiency. What has helped them over the past two games has been Dobbs' ability to use his legs when things get muddy in the pocket. The Vikings' O-line allows pressures but isn't allowing them to turn into sacks.
This all leads to a more normal showing from the Broncos' defense, with just one takeaway on Sunday night. The Broncos also are held without a sack on defense, though I predict they'll net more than 15 pressures on the game.
Javonte Williams Breaks 100 Yards Rushing
The Vikings have a great run defense that got shredded by DeAndre Swift and the Philadelphia Eagles for 175 solo yards and 259 total rushing yards from the team. Outside of that, Minnesota's single-game high was 65 yards to a single rusher and has twice allowed more than 100 yards rushing as a team.
The Vikings allow 3.7 rush yards per attempt on the season, which is the fifth-lowest. Minnesota has a good defense, and the Broncos' rushing attack hasn't been the most efficient, though it has been effective.
One of the better ways to handle a blitz-happy defense is to counter with a proficient run game. There's a risk, as you can run into a wall of defenders, but draws can be very effective against the blitz.
And yet, Williams finds a way to eclipse 100 yards rushing on Sunday night. There's a lot going against this prediction, making it the boldest one this week. But Williams is ready.
Marvin Mims Jr. Picks Up Two Special Teams TDs
The Vikings have struggled with punt coverage, allowing 114 return yards on 14 returns. Meanwhile, Mims has been one of the best returners in the NFL. As a result, the Broncos' rookie takes a punt to the house.
While there are never many kickoff returns in Denver because of the thin air, the Vikings hang one up for Mims to return. This leads to another touchdown.
The two special teams touchdowns help overcome the Broncos' offensive shortcomings and mitigate a slight drop-off from the defense, leading the way to a fourth straight victory.
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