The Minnesota Vikings may have lost their top quarterback and running back to injuries, but for the most part they have been one of the healthiest teams in the NFL.
Most of the starting lineup has played in every game. On defense, safety Andrew Sendejo missed one game due to injury (another suspension) and defensive end Everson Griffen sat out against Washington with a foot issue.
On the offensive side, tackle Mike Remmers and guard Nick Easton have been absent from several games and Stefon Diggs had a groin injury that kept him on the sideline against the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens.
Heading down the stretch, nearly everyone is healthy. Last week’s injury report featured Remmers and Eric Kendricks, who played against the Atlanta Falcons.
With a healthy squad, the Vikings are either ahead or on par with every top NFC contender.
So Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals should have made the Vikings nervous.
The game saw players on both sides get carted off the field. Linebacker Ryan Shazier was lost for the Steelers and both rookie running back Joe Mixon and linebacker Vontaze Burfict took hits to the head and did not return.
Burfict, who has a long history of dirty hits, including one against Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs, was crushed on a crack back block by rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Later on a touchdown catch by Brown, Cincinnati safety George Iloka was penalized for a late helmet-to-helmet hit. The Bengals racked up 13 penalties for 173 yards.
The Vikings are by no means a soft team. You’d take their combination of offensive and defensive line in a street fight, but the last thing the Vikings need is to lose a player to injury or suspension because of a dirty hit.
For Mike Zimmer’s group there could be plenty to play for, namely home field advantage throughout the playoffs. But for the Bengals, any hope they had at the postseason ended on Monday night, which means they will be traveling to Minnesota with only pride on their minds.
If the commisioner’s office issues heavy penalties for some of the ugly plays in the Bengals-Steelers game, it would seem more likely that Cincinnati would be more cautious about where they’re throwing their helmets. After all, who wants to get nailed with a huge fine or lose a game check for a hit in a game with no implications?
But if the NFL goes soft – as they did with Rob Gronkowski’s horrific hit against Buffalo’s rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White, the Bengals might not have any problem playing that way in Minnesota.
There’s no way to back of the gas pedal for the Vikings as they head down the stretch, but in order to be the best team in the NFC, they need everyone in the lineup. Lack of discipline for the Bengals and Steelers would open the door for that possibility.