For Vikings, no place like home

Dec 14, 2017 - 12:11 AM EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Coming off his first loss since Oct. 1, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer isn't feeling all that nostalgic about 2008 to 2013 when he was Marvin Lewis' defensive coordinator in Cincinnati.

"Honestly," said Zimmer, whose Vikings (10-3) host the Bengals (5-8) at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, "I'm looking at them more as numbers, not faces. You know what I mean? We need a win, no matter who we're playing."

After having their eight-game winning streak snapped in Carolina, the Vikings return home for the first time in a month.

It's also the first time Zimmer has coached against his former team, which still runs Zimmer's defense under coordinator Paul Guenther.

"That's probably a disadvantage for us because they've heard everything I've ever said in a defensive meeting to the coaches and the players," Zimmer said. "They probably know me a lot better than I know them."

With a win Sunday, the Vikings will clinch their second NFC North title in four years under Zimmer. They also can clinch if the Packers and Lions both lose.

It would take a season-ending four-game losing streak for the Vikings not to win the division. With them hitting the road to Lambeau Field for a Saturday night game against Aaron Rodgers in Week 16, it's probably best to lock down the division and start focusing on trying to get home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The Eagles (11-2) are a game ahead of the Vikings in that battle. But the Eagles also are leaning on quarterback Nick Foles after losing Carson Wentz for the rest of the season.

The Vikings have injury issues of their own on the offensive line. They ended last week's game with right guard Joe Berger as the only starter playing his normal position.

Zimmer, however, said on Wednesday that he feels "pretty good" about the offensive line's overall health.

"I think we'll get a lot of them back," he said. "I think we should get (center Pat) Elflein back this week. I think we should get (right tackle Mike) Remmers back. There's a good chance -- a possibility -- of getting (left tackle Riley) Reiff back."

Full strength on the line will help the Vikings get back to the sound running game and solid pass protection they were enjoying before the loss at Carolina.

Zimmer loved his time in Cincinnati. He still has a ranch right over the state border in Kentucky. And Lewis is one of his closest friends in coaching.

"But," he said, "we need to beat these guys."

SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 6-6. The Vikings are 5-0 against the Bengals at home. This will be the first meeting at U.S. Bank Stadium. Only once in series history has a team won consecutive games. The Vikings won in 1989 and again in 1992. The Bengals won the last meeting 42-14 at Cincinnati in 2013. Current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was Bengals defensive coordinator at the time. The loss dropped the Vikings to 4-10-1 and helped seal the fate of then-head coach Leslie Frazier.

--The Vikings haven't played at U.S. Bank Stadium in a month.

"It feels like two months," head coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday.

Does it really make that much of a difference?

"Yes, our fans are unbelievable," Zimmer said. "They're loud. They've helped us in a lot of home games. I think this will be the loudest game of the year.

"(Bengals quarterback Andy) Dalton does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage trying to change things. It helps with our pass rush, it helps on third down with us getting off the ball and them maybe being a little slow. Fans can really help us in this game."

The Vikings are coming off a three-game road stretch. They beat Detroit and Atlanta before losing to Carolina.

Asked if last week's loss had anything to do with being worn down by travel, Zimmer said, "No, not really. Somebody told me no team has beat three above .500 teams on the road in a row since (the Raiders in) 1967, so it's hard to do. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's hard to do. We played three good teams and we got beat. We need to get refocused, get a new sense of urgency back for this last stretch and get back to work."

--Consider Mike Zimmer a big fan of Cincinnati's big receiver, A.J. Green.

"A.J. is a great person," Zimmer said. "He's a lot like your son (Larry Fitzgerald Jr.). He doesn't talk crap to anybody.

"Goes about his business. He's got exceptional hand strength, catches the ball. First thing I noticed about him when he was a rookie was how strong his hands were, where he can go up and get the ball. I've seen him go up against three guys and catch it many times. He's got great speed and runs good routes."

NOTES: QB Case Keenum reached 16 straight completions when he completed his first pass at Carolina last week. His next pass was incomplete, so he ended up tying Tommy Kramer's franchise record for consecutive completions. Kramer set the mark against Green Bay in 1979.

... DE Brian Robison will play in his 171st regular-season game on Sunday. The career-long Viking will tie Paul Krause and Kevin Williams for the sixth most games played in franchise history. John Randle is fifth with 176. First place: Jim Marshall with 270, all played consecutively from 1961-79. ... DE Everson Griffen has 13 sacks to rank third in the league. He has played the Bengals only one time. He had 1.5 sacks in that 2013 meeting. ... LT Riley Reiff (ankle) was one of four starters, including nickel back Mackensie Alexander (ribs), to miss practice on Wednesday. The others: TE Kyle Rudolph (ankle) and CB Xavier Rhodes (hip). ... WR Adam Thielen (knee) was one of seven starters or key players limited in Wednesday's practice. The others: RB Jerick McKinnon (shoulder), NT Linval Joseph (knee), C Pat Elflein (shoulder), RT Mike Remmers (low back), DT Shamar Stephen (shoulder) and TE David Morgan (concussion). Remmers has missed the last five games. Elflein and Morgan missed last week's game.

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