‘Impeccable,’ if a one-word reply is necessary.
The Minnesota Vikings enter Week 6 in dire need of a prolonged winning streak. Situated in
NFC North with a 1-4 record, the team is the bottom rung on the ladder. The Detroit Lions are not much better with a 1-3 record, but the team had an earlier bye week than most. If the NFL draft occurred today, the Vikings would select in the fifth overall spot whereas the Lions would make their pick at No. 9.
If there is such thing as an “NFC sight for sore eyes” to improve a 1-4 record in 2020, it would be the Atlanta Falcons. And, that’s the team the Vikings will face this Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Falcons are 0-5, recently fired their head coach and general manager, their best football player (Julio Jones) is banged up, and the team is barreling toward a full culture change.
This is also a bit spooky. Should the Vikings lose to the winless Falcons, the glass at U.S. Bank Stadium would probably shatter in disgust. The Week 6 showdown should not necessarily be perceived as a trap game because the Vikings are not currently good enough to be in talks involving trap games. As a measuring stick of talent, recent performance, and coaching, Minnesota should topple the Falcons en route to a 2-4 record with a bye week up next.
Although, nothing is guaranteed.
The Vikings-Falcons matchup history has been quite one-sided as of late. Atlanta has been an inconsistent bunch in the last half-decade, but their highs and lows have had no adverse effects on the Vikings. The Falcons even visited a Super Bowl in 2016, only to be stunned by the New England Patriots.
Specifically, how have the Vikings fared against the Falcons under head coach Mike Zimmer?
Zimmer has Never Lost to the Falcons
Plain and simple. Mike Zimmer has never been beaten as a head coach by any version of the Atlanta Falcons. Of course, this does not rubber-stamp a victory in 2020, but the past Falcons teams that Zimmer has battled were significantly more formidable than this 0-5 bunch.
It is perhaps tempting to assume that the Vikings under Zimmer have abused the bad editions of Atlanta squads, but that is false. Since 2014, Minnesota has downed Atlanta on four occasions — by an average of 11 points. Entering those games, the Falcons were holders of the following win-loss records: 2-1, 6-4, 7-4, 0-0. Therefore, this is not a circumstance of the Vikings pounding fledgling Falcons franchises. All teams were .500 or better when the teams locked horns and feathers.
Put simply, Zimmer has Atlanta’s number. Also, this is not merely an outdueling of the jettisoned Dan Quinn. It was Mike Smith, too. Smith was the skipper when the Vikings topped the Falcons in 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Teddy Bridgewater’s first career start.
Matt Ryan Relatively Ineffective vs. Vikings Since 2014
There is a common denominator, though. His name is Matt Ryan.
Amid his career, Ryan has a career passer rating of 94.5 against all NFL teams. He was at his peak in 2016 when he won the NFL’s MVP trophy. Ryan has been a good quarterback since then, but his overall performance has dipped since the infamous Super Bowl choke job. As high as that MVP award and subsequent Super Bowl appearance heightened his reputation, this recent 0-5 start can be perceived as a “bottom” of sorts to his career.
He has never excelled against Mike Zimmer’s Vikings. Winless in four starts, Ryan has tossed his way to six touchdowns, six interceptions, 251 passing yards per game, and a poor 81.6 passer rating. That passer rating would have certainly cut it in the 1970s but not in Ryan’s era.
A cogent argument can be made
that no player in Ryan’s typical top-12 or so category of
quarterbacking has struggled as much as the 35-year-old has against the Vikings as of late. If you’re a Falcons fan, it’s not a good mixture to dwell in the cellar with an 0-5 record and face a
team the following week in which Ryan has never solved.
Directions of the Franchises
A game of two foes that have a combined record of 1-9 between them would generally have a bland taste to it. Think something along the lines of this year’s Jets vs. the Giants.
This Vikings-Falcons tryst is unique, though.
Atlanta’s interim head coach is Raheem Morris – a man that won a Super Bowl ring with the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive quality control coach. Morris has been part of the
Falcons organization since 2015 and will now lead the team for the next three months. The
Falcons brass is mulling several decisions. Questions like stay married to Matt Ryan, draft a
rookie quarterback, rebuild the whole damn thing, or retool are questions assuredly raised
among the team’s ownership at the moment.
Similarly, the Vikings are at a crossroads. The working theory entails that Minnesota will
cheerlead for its young defense to mature, get healthier, and either rebound yet this season or be fully ready for 2021.
But if Minnesota finds a way to lose to these embattled Falcons heading into a bye week, all hell will break loose.