The last time the New England Patriots played on Thanksgiving night, it was a magical moment in time. Jets QB Mark Sanchez running into the Glutes Maximus of his right guard Brandon Moore and fumbling it to Steve Gregory lives in infamy to this day. On top of the fact that the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff for another Patriots touchdown, in what ended up being a 49-19 blowout. A loss so bad that Jets superfan Fireman Ed fell off the face of the earth for several years, simply fantastic stuff.
10 years later, the Patriots once again find themselves in the nightcap Thanksgiving game on the road. This time, against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings. A thought from a good sum of NFL fans is that the 8-2 squad is not as good as their record indicates. Not helping that narrative was their blowout loss at home to the Dallas Cowboys, losing 40-3. Furthermore, despite having eight wins, Minnesota’s point differential is sitting at -2 and is home to the NFL’s second-worst pass defense. Now clearly with that in mind, there is some element of truth to the Vikings not being as good as their record states, but how much? Let’s find out.
Date: Thursday, November 24th
Start Time: 8:20 EST
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Stadium: U.S. Bank Stadium
TV Info: NBC (Mike Tirico, Tony Dungey, and Jason Garrett on the call)
Uniform Info: White Jerseys, Blue Pants
Starting with the Vikings' secondary, things have not been particularly good in 2022. Save for Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Commanders’ quarterback Taylor Heinicke, everyone else they have played has gone over 200 yards passing. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jalen Hurts all eclipsed 300 yards when playing the Vikings. 10 games in, their starting corner trio of Patrick Peterson, Akayleb Evans, and Chandon Sullivan are all giving up at least 10.8 yards per completion as well. Evans missed this last week with a concussion but was limited during Tuesday’s practice. Meanwhile, second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr was a DNP with a knee issue.
Additionally, first-round safety Lewis Cine out of Georgia suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 4. However, Camryn Bynum has been the starter at safety all season alongside Viking lifer Harrison Smith. They have combined for five picks on the year, four by Smith, and five allowed scores, four by Bynum. The Vikings' top linebackers, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks meanwhile have been shaky in coverage themselves, but Kendricks has some huge games this year. None bigger than his 10-tackle performance in Buffalo, where he also came up with the late fumble touchdown in the Bills' endzone. With that said, the only Viking who has been targeted, and given up more yards than him is Peterson.
The Vikings Pass Rush sits middle of the pack at 26, but they have a pair of elite players off the edge. First of which is former Green Bay Packer Za’Darius Smith. After missing nearly all last season with a back issue, he was released by Packers GM Brian Gutekunst. Well, the Packers' loss was the Vikings' gain, as Smith ripped off 6.5 sacks in October, earning him NFC Defensive player of the month honors. Currently, at 9.5 sacks on the year, he is on pace to hit a career-high in sacks as well. Danielle Hunter is no slouch himself, sitting at six sacks on the year. Furthermore, he’s on pace for his first double-digit sack season since 2019. You won’t find many better duos in the league, if any, than these two guys.
The Vikings' run defense ranks respectably in the middle of the league but took a beating last week up against Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. Based on how quickly that game got out of hand, you would think most of those yards came in garbage time. That isn’t the case believe it or not. The Cowboys as a team were already over 100 yards rushing for the game by the time the second quarter ended. Although the Patriots are a step down in run blocking, Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris can create some problems for Minnesota.
While the Vikings' offensive numbers are down across the board from last season, they’re playing winning football. Additionally, the vibes, really on both sides of the ball seem to be up from last year. That can be credited to head coach Kevin O’Connell, who last year was the brains behind the Rams' Super Bowl-winning offense. Furthermore, he is one of three NFL head coaches who at one point played for the New England Patriots. Drafted as a quarterback out of San Diego State in 2008, O’Connell ended up forming an early relationship with Matt Slater after they were drafted together. Slater earlier this week said the Vikings head coach is still one of his best friends and even played a role in his wedding. Small world indeed.
Onto the Vikings’ weapons, and they have no shortage of firepower out wide and in the backfield. And you can’t talk about the Vikings' offense without starting with Justin Jefferson. The LSU wideout can go hot and cold, but when he is on his game, there may not be a better all-around receiver in the sport. By that I mean route running, separating, big play ability, catch radius, etc. Jefferson can do just about everything. He got erased against the Cowboys, but the Patriots should, and probably will double him in spots. Also worth noting, he is dealing with a minor case of Turf Toe. Meanwhile, Adam Thielen is still going strong in year nine, with 45 catches and 492 yards.
Next up is the relatively new T.J. Hockenson, whom the Vikes got from the Detroit Lions in a trade deadline day stunner. Kevin O’Connell has made the most of his new tight end as well, averaging nearly 10 targets per through three games. The Patriots shut him down earlier in the year, but they might have to prioritize him less in this matchup. Finally, there’s Dalvin Cook, whose comfortably in the top tier of running back. Currently, he is just shy of 900 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards, with seven total touchdowns.
Then there is the curious case of Kirk Cousins. So far this year he’s been solid, sitting at 14 touchdowns to eight picks, 2461 yards, and a completion percentage of 63.4. With that said, there is a trend with both Vikings’ losses and Cousins. That being his yards per attempt being under five against the Eagles and Cowboys. The lowest Y/A in the eight games he’s won is 5.83 against the Dolphins. Another worrying trend for him is that Cousins has eaten at least two sacks in six of his last seven games. Not helping things out this week is the loss of Christian Darrisaw, the No. 12 graded pass-blocking tackle via PFF. That’s a gigantic loss for both the pass and run game. Two years in, Darrisaw is already one of the best linemen in football.
New England Patriots
Without having to face Christian Darrisaw now, the Patriots' pass rush has a shot to make Kirk Cousins feel the heat much like Micah Parsons and the Cowboys did on Sunday. While Matt Judon continues to be unstoppable off the edge, I think this could be a good game for Deatrich Wise. If the Vikings play things right, they prioritize Judon regardless of where he lines up, in turn giving an opening for Wise, or even Josh Uche or Anfernee Jennings for that matter. Even then Judon may still end up getting home once or twice.
Defending against Dalvin Cook as a runner and receiver should prove difficult, but teams have found some relative success as of late. Outside of an 81-yard touchdown via some bad tackling from the Bills, they held him to just 38 yards on 13 carries. The Commanders also did a good job keeping Cook in check with their loaded front seven, only 47 yards on 17 carries. Not having Christian Barmore is going to sting but remember that the Patriots did a great job bottling up Nick Chubb in Week 6. Cook should win some downs, but the Patriots should hopefully be up for the task.
The most intriguing part of this Patriots-Vikings matchup is how is Bill Belichick going to gameplan for Justin Jefferson. The turf toe will slow him down, but he is still priority one in the passing game. Jalen Mills appeared to get the lion's share of snaps on Garrett Wilson on Sunday, but would they put Jack Jones on him with help and go with Mills on Adam Thielen? Jonathan Jones is also an option, but when the latter two were out together against the Jets, Jones was moved into the slot. Marcus Jones was limited with an ankle issue meanwhile but would imagine he is good to go.
The offensive line is of course operating at under 100 percent, but there was a major development on Tuesday afternoon. David Andrews, suffering what appeared to be a serious thigh injury on Sunday, was out practicing in a limited fashion on Tuesday. Nothing short of remarkable stuff, Andrews is as tough as they come. Even if he misses this game, the fact he was even practicing yesterday was big. Isaiah Wynn meanwhile was not seen, but an old friend was brought back off the Jets practice squad in Conor McDermott. Originally drafted by the Patriots several years ago, McDermott started in three games for the Jets last season. Probably won’t play this Thursday, but he’s a good depth piece for the time being.
Onto Matt Patricia, who short of introducing full house sets into the game plan, was not good enough on Sunday. Not the only problem, but if you were to rank them, he was No. 1 with a bullet. On a short week where the game plan will likely be condensed, he needs to have a good setup. The Vikings' pass defense and red zone defense are bottom two in the NFL, so he has no excuse to make some good timely calls even with the offensive line woes. In fairness to him, Mac Jones also must execute, which he did on Sunday, and his pass catchers must be ready for some quick passes. A growing trend is receivers not looking for the ball quickly enough, and that must change if the Patriots want to get to where they want to be. But Patricia being better is paramount.
A pleasant surprise on Sunday meanwhile was the play of Damien Harris, who was averaging over eight yards per carry, only being run eight times. Greg Bedard pointed this out on Felger&Mazz that he was shocked he wasn’t used more, and I’d agree. The Jets made a conscious effort to stop Rhamondre Stevenson and succeeded but had no answer for Harris. Would guess the carry distribution remains about the same, but I’ll be watching how the Patriots attack on the ground closely on Thursday in any case.
Points Spread: NE +2.5 (-110) | MIN -2.5 (-110)
Moneyline: NE (+116) | MIN (-136)
Over/Under: O 42.5 (-110) | U 42.5 (-110)
The Vikings have played five home games so far in 2022 and are 2-3 ATS in those games. Going back to last season, that record bumps up to 6-7, but 4-4 as favorites. For the Patriots, they sit at 8-5-1 ATS on the road since last year, 4-3 as a road dog. Just in 2022 however, they are 3-1-1/4-1 away from Gillette Stadium. As it relates to the total, the Patriots have gone under three games in a row, while the Vikings have alternated these last four games.
Now for some historical general and thanksgiving game trends. The Patriots in non-season opening Thursday Night Football games since 2000 are 11-3. A lot of Tom Brady games in there but worth considering. The Vikings meanwhile are 6-7 with those same parameters.
Then of course there’s the Kirk Cousins primetime game factor. All time regardless of what day it is, he is 10-18 all-time, with a horrendous 2-10 record on Monday Nights. On Thursday, Cousins is 3-5 lifetime and his career splits on Thursdays aren’t anything to write home about. Statistically, it's his worst day of the week in terms of completion percentage, touchdown to interception ratio, and passer rating, among other things. Have to go Patriots and under with that in mind, but I would avoid this game if possible, not much to feel great about.
Make no mistake, the Vikings are going to be up for the task in this one, especially after how they lost just days ago. Losing two in a row with who they have down the pipeline (Jets, Giants, and three divisional games), wouldn’t be ideal, even with their lead in the NFC North. But as little faith as I currently have in the Patriots' offensive play calling, in conjunction with the offensive line issues, I think the Patriots end up pulling off a road upset. Minnesota's offensive line is in a similar spot now with the loss of Darrisaw. Additionally, my goodwill with the Patriots' defense and Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo (who have killed it this season) outweighs my distrust of Matt Patricia. That and the Kirk Cousins primetime game agenda. Regardless, hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving and a long weekend. Good slate of games in general this year is a welcomed sign.
Final Score: New England Patriots 20, Minnesota Vikings 17