Dave Choate: I've been reading a lot about Teddy Bridgewater's progress and his fit in the Vikings offense, even though his numbers obviously aren't eye-popping. Are you happy with his progress, and what should we expect from him Sunday?
Christopher Gates: You're right in pointing out that Bridgewater hasn't been putting up eye-popping numbers this season. Part of the reason for that is because he really hasn't been asked to. Unlike about 90% of the offenses in the National Football League, the Vikings' offense isn't quarterback-centric, and it isn't going to be as long as Adrian Peterson is a part of it. For now, the offense runs through #28. When Bridgewater has been asked to make plays, he has made them for the most part. He's had some big third-down passes and third-down scrambles to keep drives going at big points this year. What he's not doing is killing the offense with boneheaded decisions and bad throws in big spots, and if you're going to play the sort of ball-control offense that the Vikings are looking for, that's what you're hoping for. I have no doubt that if the Vikings' offense was centered around Teddy Bridgewater and not Adrian Peterson, he'd be putting up numbers on par with his 2014 QB class contemporaries like Derek Carr and Blake Bortles. Unfortunately, we're probably going to have to wait until at least 2017 before we get an opportunity to see a Bridgewater-centric offense in Minnesota. Overall, I think Vikings' fans are pretty happy with his progress thus far, and there's no reason that they shouldn't be. I think we'll continue to see the same sort of steady-but-unspectacular play from Bridgewater on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. He'll make the plays he needs to make and he won't short-circuit the Minnesota offen
Dave Choate: The Falcons have one of the stoutest run defenses in the NFL, while you guys have Adrian Peterson. Who wins that particular battle, and why?
Christopher Gates: I think that Peterson is going to have a bit of an advantage, because there's a very good chance that he's going to be on a mission. He didn't get a whole lot of opportunities in Sunday's loss against Green Bay, and one of his big runs resulted in a lost fumble that pretty much sealed the deal for the Packers. He's missed the Vikings' last two games against the Falcons (2011 with an injury and 2014 with. . .well, you know why), and with that little bit of extra motivation and the Vikings needing to solidify their position in the post-season race, I think he's going to have a pretty good game on Sunday.
Dave Choate: Offensively, the Falcons might be without stud running back Devonta Freeman, and they'll likely be passing a lot. How will the Vikings attack Matt Ryan and his receiving options?
Christopher Gates: It's going to be interesting to see how Mike Zimmer, George Edwards, and company are going to attack the Falcons this week. They had been doing a lot of blitzing, but seemed to back off of that this past weekend for reasons I don't quite get. I know that Matt Ryan is a very good quarterback, but I don't think the Vikings are going to treat him the same way they treated Aaron Rodgers last week. So, I wouldn't be surprised to see them blitzing quite a bit, led by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. With that blitzing scheme, the Falcons' receivers are going to have a lot of one-on-one battles with the Minnesota secondary, so if they can win those battles, Ryan may have more opportunities to find them than we might like.
Dave Choate: To piggyback on that last question, what's the plan for stopping Julio Jones?
Christopher Gates: My guess is that Jones is going to see a lot of Xavier Rhodes across from him on Sunday afternoon. Starting about midway through last season (after the game between the Falcons and Vikings in Minnesota), the Vikings seemed to adopt the strategy of locking Rhodes onto the opponent's best receiver, and he did a very good job against guys like Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, and even Calvin Johnson. He hasn't had quite as solid a season this year as we had hoped, but he's still the #1 corner in the Vikings' defense, and it wouldn't surprise me to see them match him up with Jones for most of the afternoon. I'm certain that he'll have help, of course, but otherwise I think you're going to see a lot of Julio Jones and Xavier Rhodes knocking heads on Sunday.
Dave Choate Projection for this game's final score, and your season?
Christopher Gates: I think that, much like the season-opening loss to San Francisco, the loss to the Packers last week is going to be a bit of a wake-up call for the Vikings. They may have started to get into their own hype a little bit, and losing in the manner that they did is going to bring them back down to earth. The Falcons have had some struggles recently, and I think that if the Vikings can get back to the disciplined, physical play that they exhibited over the course of their five-game winning streak, they'll get back on the right track on Sunday. I'll go with a 24-21 Minnesota victory, and I think the Vikings will ultimately finish their season at 10-6, getting back to the post-season for the first time since 2012.