Stopping Julio Jones Is The Minnesota Vikings' Key In Battle Of Playoff Contenders

The Minnesota Vikings face a huge challenge this Sunday, and their road to earning a first-round bye in the playoffs could hinge on a win. A road game against the Atlanta Falcons awaits the Vikings. It is a game with a couple of hidden stipulations. How the Minnesota Vikings handle Julio Jones, the Falcons' star receiver, will go a long way in determining the outcome in the pivotal NFL matchup.

When the 9-2 Minnesota Vikings face the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons, both teams will have something to play for. The Vikings have a three-game lead over the Detroit Lions in the NFC North. Meanwhile, the Falcons are attempting to maintain their hold on the final wild card spot, with the NFC South possibily in reach.

This game has a different meaning for the Vikings, who are looking more like a Super Bowl contender with each victory. The Vikings' road gets easier if they can stop the Falcons' offense featuring Julio Jones.

Silencing Julio Jones is always a tall task. Jones is coming off arguably his best performance of the NFL season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The total for Jones' first half (courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons website) of 138 yards and two touchdowns is better than an entire game for most NFL wide receivers.

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Members of the Minnesota Vikings' defense realizes that they will have their hands full with Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons' passing game. Vikings' cornerback Xavier Rhodes acknowledges the challenge (courtesy of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press) that lies ahead.

"(Julio Jones is) big, fast, physical. I don't believe he has any weakness at all. He's focused. Doesn't talk much on the field. So it's hard to get in his head. Yeah, he's just Julio."
Xavier Rhodes and the entire Vikings secondary have to play their best this Sunday against the Falcons.

The Vikings can essentially win their division with a win over the Falcons and a Lions' loss. As of now, the Vikings own the tiebreaker over the Lions.

Both the Vikings and Lions have road wins against each other. They also have an identical 3-1 division record. Where the Vikings have the edge over the Lions is common opponents and conference wins.

The Minnesota Vikings would have to lose their five remaining games, including this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, while the Detroit Lions have to win out. A Vikings victory in Atlanta would all but guarantee that there would be a home playoff game in Minnesota. Losing to the Falcons could prove to be catastrophic for the Vikings in the near future.

Minnesota Vikings celebrate a turnover.
The Minnesota Vikings' secondary expects to have their hands full against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Atlanta Falcons has Julio Jones and the offense clicking on all cylinders at the right time. The Falcons have four divisional opponents after hosting the Vikings. Two of those games are against the New Orleans Saints.

If the Falcons wins the rest of their games, they likely win the NFC South. The Falcons also would have an edge on a first-round bye over the Vikings due to beating them head-to-head if they were to finish with identical records.

The biggest advantage the Falcons have is Julio Jones. It is imperative for the Vikings to bracket Jones often and contain him.

The Super Bowl will be played in Minnesota and the Vikings have a legitimate shot at being the first NFL team to play in their home stadium. The Minnesota Vikings have the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday, as they look to solidify their playoff position. The Vikings will have to stop Julio Jones and the Falcons' offense in order to finish the game with a victory.

Silencing Julio Jones will go a long way for the Minnesota Vikings as a couple of implications loom large.