Dave Choate: Where do you fall in the great Case Keenum/Teddy Bridgewater Debate of 2017? Should the Vikings pivot away from Keenum if he cools off, or stick with him the rest of the way? Also, is the long-term solution at quarterback on this roster?
Chris Gates: On a personal level, I'm a huge Teddy Bridgewater fan. I've been a big fan of his since the Vikings drafted him, and I really thought that 2016 was going to be a huge year for him until, you know, his leg almost fell off thanks to that freak non-contact practice injury. He's busted his hump to get back to the point that he is now, and I would love to see him get an opportunity to get back onto the field in a "live fire" situation so that this team can see what they might have in him going forward. But, when you have a quarterback that's led this team to a 7-2 record in games that he's started (and 8-2 in games that he's finished), it's really hard to justify taking him off the field. Case Keenum is having the best season of his football life, and as long as he keeps playing at the level he's currently playing at, I can't see a justification to benching him. It's going to make things really interesting when we get to the offseason. Neither Bridgewater nor Keenum is under contract going forward, and you would think that Keenum has played himself into a pretty big contract somewhere next season. I mean, if Mike Glennon can get $15 million a year despite never having actually been any good, you'd have to think Keenum could get that much from somebody, right?
Dave Choate: The Falcons have been brutally bad at stopping the run much of the season. How have teams been able to bottle up Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon in the past, so we can copy that?
Chris Gates: I'm afraid I can't help you on that front, since even with the loss of Dalvin Cook, the Vikings' run game really hasn't slowed down. The carries have been split up between Murray and McKinnon since Cook's injury, and the Vikings have had a tendency to rid the proverbial "hot hand" over the course of a game. Murray has stepped up his game significantly lately, and it appears he might finally be at 100% after having surgery on his ankle this offseason. The Vikings seemed content to make Murray the starter this offseason, prior to Cook falling into their laps on draft weekend, and he's producing at a level consistent with what a starting running back should. McKinnon will still see plenty of action, but he's more of the change of pace option to Murray. He has the ability to make people miss in space and catch passes out of the backfield. Much like the Falcons do with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, I think the Falcons can expect plenty of Murray and McKinnon on Sunday afternoon.
Dave Choate: I'm seriously concerned about Atlanta's ability to stop Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. What other receiving options do we need to be aware of, though, with the Falcons facing injuries at cornerback?
Chris Gates: Thielen and Diggs are both very good on the outside, particularly Thielen, whose story you'll probably hear approximately 27 times on this week's broadcast. (Spoiler: He grew up in Minnesota and only got a $500 scholarship to play football at a D-2 school and now has over 1,000 receiving yards.) The next option behind those two guys is probably tight end Kyle Rudolph, who continues to be a reliable target in the middle of the field for Case Keenum. He's not the most fleet-of-foot guy and he doesn't break a lot of tackles, but when you're 6'7" and have hands that look like the Hamburger Helper mascot, you can do some damage, particularly in the red zone. As far as the third actual wide receiver, it sort of varies from week to week. It might be Laquon Treadwell, it might be Michael Floyd, it might be Jarius Wright. It just depends on who Pat Shurmur and Mike Zimmer feel the most comfortable with on any given day. Diggs and Thielen will probably do most of the damage, though.
Dave Choate: Atlanta's passing attack has really picked it up of late. We know Xavier Rhodes is going to be on Julio, but what's the plan for Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and (most critically) Tevin Coleman?
Chris Gates: Trae Waynes has actually gotten significantly better over the course of the season, and I'd expect him to see a lot of Sanu while Rhodes is following Jones all over the place. In the slot, second-year corner Mackensie Alexander has really picked up his game after a tough rookie season, and has made several impressive plays over the past few weeks. The Vikings still also have the venerable Terence "Hello" Newman to rotate in as well whenever the situation merits. As far as Coleman, the Vikings' linebackers have done a very good job against backs out of the backfield, particularly Anthony Barr. The Falcons have enough talent on offense, but I'm relatively certain that we'll see a lot of Rhodes vs Jones and the rest of the matchups will probably develop as the game goes along.
Dave Choate: Who wins this game, and what happens with the rest of this very good Minnesota season? Are you guys Super Bowl bound?
Chris Gates: I think that the Vikings can pull this one out. While the Falcons have won their last three games, their opponents have not exactly been of the same caliber of this Vikings' team. (I know that probably sounds arrogant, but the Vikings are 9-2 for a reason, after all.) I don't think it's going to be a shootout or anything, but I think the Vikings can walk out with a victory by a 23-20 kind of score. After this game, the Vikings have to take on another NFC South team on the road when they travel to Carolina, and then finish up with Cincinnati, Green Bay, and Chicago. I think this team is going to do enough to get themselves a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, and we'll have to see how things go after that. As far as being Super Bowl bound. . .well, we true blue Minnesota sports fans know better than to engage in that sort of speculation. Or, at least, we should.