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NFL: Vikings hanging on to playoff hopes against Chargers

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While the Los Angeles Chargers fight to win the AFC West, the Minnesota Vikings are aiming to preserve any kind of chance at the NFC playoffs.

Those are the stakes Sunday when the teams meet in California, where Los Angeles aims to keep the pressure on fellow division front-runner Las Vegas while Minnesota hopes to avoid the beginning of the end.

At 5-3, the Chargers are tied with the Raiders atop a wild division race. Denver and Kansas City are a half-game back at 5-4, making this a division anyone can win. Los Angeles’ early wins over the Chiefs and Oakland give it a leg up.

“I think we’ve earned the exact record we have right now,” said first-year Chargers coach Brandon Staley. “Our record is a reflection of where we’re at as a football team. It’s a week-to-week league and it’s a matchup league. You just have to treat each week like it has a life of its own.”

Meanwhile, the Vikings (3-5) trail Green Bay by three games in the NFC North. They had a chance to draw within two games — the Packers lost last week in Kansas City — but burped up a 24-10 third quarter lead and lost 34-31 in overtime in Baltimore.

Of particular concern to coach Mike Zimmer is how his defense can recover from a taxing game in Baltimore. Not just because they allowed a lot of points, but because they were on the field for more than 46 minutes in the game.

Four players — leading tackler Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Xavier Woods and Camryn Bynum — played 98 snaps, a figure that counts penalties on the Ravens that wiped out the results of a play.

“We’ll have to try to be smart in practice this week,” Zimmer said. “We’re getting the things that we need to get done, but we’ve gotta get ready to go. It is what it is. We’ve gotta go out and play.”

Further, Vikings starting safety Harrison Smith will miss his second consecutive game on the reserve/COVID-19 list, said Zimmer, one of 29 members of the Vikings’ organization who were in COVID protocol Wednesday.

Smith is one of five players on the COVID-19 list, joining starting center Garrett Bradbury and guard Dakota Dozier, who was hospitalized. Bradbury, who is vaccinated, missed the Ravens’ game.

Minnesota’s defense will need more help from the offense this week. Thirty-one points sounds like a good total, but one touchdown came on a kickoff return to start the second half. Six of the Vikings’ 11 possessions in Baltimore were 3-and-outs, putting pressure on a defense that didn’t need it.

Another half-dozen 3-and-outs this week will likely bring another defeat with it. Los Angeles has one of the league’s more dangerous attacks, led by maturing second-year quarterback Justin Herbert and a variety of useful weapons.

Herbert was prolific and efficient in Philadelphia, completing 32 of 38 passes for 356 yards with two touchdowns. Veteran receiver Keenan Allen carved up the Eagles’ secondary for 104 yards on 12 catches as the Chargers rolled up 445 yards and owned the ball for 33:37.

“I just really liked how we played offensively,” Staley said. “I feel like there’s another gear we can get to as a total team, but it’s an advantage any time you can dictate the terms of the game. You’re keeping the chains moving, you’re making first downs.”

A similar performance could come in handy. Los Angeles is last in the NFL against the rush (161.6 yards per game) and has to deal with Dalvin Cook, who’s coming off a 110-yard performance in Baltimore.

–Field Level Media

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