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Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Chargers: Storylines, prediction in potential season-saving game for Kirk Cousins

The Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Chargers game offers Kirk Cousins and the Vikings a chance to climb back into the NFC playoff picture.

The Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Chargers game looked more interesting before the season began, but it would have sneakily been an awful matchup for LA if Danielle Hunter suffered a season-ending pectoral injury. Now, the Chargers appear primed to make the Vikings 3-6. But given the impossibly inconsistent nature of the NFC and the must-win nature of this game for Minnesota, it feels like the Vikings could pull this one out.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Los Angeles Chargers storylines

The Vikings need to win because Mike Zimmer is on the hot seat in Minnesota. They’re 3-5, and it’s almost entirely due to their pathetic offensive output. We’ll get to why that’s such an issue for a defensive head coach soon enough. Kirk Cousins does not escape blame, either.

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But let’s get to the biggest question in this game. After last week’s performance against Philadelphia, is Justin Herbert back?

Is Justin Herbert back?

Honestly, I never believed he’d left. The Ravens can create issues in many ways, and Bill Belichick is almost always a severe mismatch against young quarterbacks.

However, we should talk about how Joe Lombardi keeps Herbert’s strongest trait — his arm strength — holstered. Lombardi spent years coaching late-stage Drew Brees, and it’s proof that old habits die hard.

Early in the year, Lombardi restrictions on Herbert weren’t as prominent. Yet, as the season has worn on, those old colors have shown up more often.

The biggest takeaway from watching the Chargers is that they need a downfield threat. They require a genuine speed weapon. It’s why they should have done everything in their power to sign DeSean Jackson as a free agent.

Mike Zimmer’s hot seat

Zimmer’s success in Minnesota is undeniable. Despite playing in a division with Aaron Rodgers, his career record is 67-52-1. That’s an impressive résumé. Nevertheless, after having a few successful offensive coordinators, he gave the job to Gary Kubiak for a year before handing the gig to Kubiak’s son, Klint.

We know that no job is as meritocratic as we’d like, but this nepotistic act could be the one that gets Zimmer the axe at the end of the season. Minnesota’s offense was 11th in expected points added per play last season and ranked eighth in DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric). Now, just one season later and with little change personnel-wise, they’re sitting at 19th and 15th, respectively.

This is a team that just needed an improved defense to compete. They accomplished that, but their offensive consistency fell off a cliff. With the loss of Hunter stacked on the injuries to Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith, it’s not easy to see a path toward success for the Vikings.

Kirk Cousins is also to blame

We can assign some blame to Minnesota’s offensive line allowing pressure, causing Cousins to get the ball out faster and closer to the line than ever. The front five is not very good, particularly on the interior. But Cousins isn’t testing downfield windows the way he has in the past, and the Vikings aren’t doing enough schematically to allow him the space and time to do so.

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One is probably causing the other. The poor OL play and schematic disadvantages have impaired Cousins’ confidence in attempting downfield throws. But it’s still in there, hiding somewhere inside him. Against a Los Angeles team lacking much pass-rush upside aside from Joey Bosa, Cousins could be in line for a big game.

Minnesota vs. Los Angeles betting line and game prediction

The Chargers are 3-point favorites against the Vikings. Despite the game taking place in Los Angeles, it doesn’t appear betting markets feel there is much of a home-field advantage for the Chargers. I’m surprised the line is so close, even if I believe this game ends up in Vikings’ hands at the end of the day.

Minnesota has played in so many close games. I still don’t believe the Vikings are a bad football team, and a 3-5 record doesn’t accurately portray their ability. In what feels like a must-win for Minnesota, I believe they pull out the victory, opening the parity-ridden NFC even more.

Vikings vs. Chargers Prediction: Vikings 31, Chargers 28

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch

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