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Monday Night Football Preview: Can the Vikings Keep Rolling?

Minnesota looks to move to 4-0 and remain one of two unbeaten teams in the NFC tonight against the Giants.

Expectations were high for the Minnesota Vikings entering 2016 following a season in which they won the NFC North with an 11-5 record but failed to advance out of the first round of the playoffs.

Then Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee before the season even started.

And then Adrian Peterson, in Week 2, suffered a torn meniscus, likely ending his season.

Yet here are the Vikings, now led by Sam Bradford, sitting atop the NFC North at 3-0. With a win over the New York Giants Monday night, they'll be one of two remaining undefeated teams in the NFC -- the other being the Philadelphia Eagles (3-0).

Through three weeks, the Vikings have leaned on their defense, which is allowing only 13.3 points per game and is now tasked with shutting down Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and company. It could be a rough week for Manning as, entering the week, the Vikings lead the league in sacks with 15. Last week against the Carolina Panthers, the Vikings sacked Cam Newton eight times.

The Giants travel to Minnesota at 2-1, a week after their first loss of the season to the division rival Washington Redskins.

After leading the Giants to wins against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, Manning had an up-and-down game in Week 3, throwing for 350 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed two picks against the 'Skins, including a game-clinching interception to Su'a Cravens.

The Giants will look to rebound in Minnesota but face a tough test in the Minnesota defense.

Entering the week, our schedule-adjusted metrics ranked the Vikings' defense as third-best in the league, behind only the Eagles and Houston Texans. The Vikings' run defense ranked second through three weeks, while the pass defense ranked sixth.

Here are four storylines to keep an eye on heading into this matchup.

Who Will Start at Running Back for the Giants?

Rashad Jennings has been deemed a "game-day" decision by head coach Ben McAdoo after missing last week's game. He is listed as questionable on the injury report as he continues to rehab a thumb injury.

If Jennings is unable to go, Orleans Darkwa is expected be the next man up with Bobby Rainey, and possibly Paul Perkins, mixing in.

Shane Vereen had been outperforming Jennings early in the season, averaging 4.7 yards a carry on 31 carries. But he suffered a torn triceps in the Giants Week 3 loss to the Redskins and is expected to miss at least two months after he was placed on injured reserve.

If we look at numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures a player's efficiency based on historical expectation, Darkwa has been the Giants' most efficient back in limited opportunities. His 0.03 Rushing NEP per carry tops both Jennings' (-0.08) and Vereen's (-0.03). Last season, the league-average running back posted a -0.04.

Filling in for an injured Vereen last week, Darkwa had 10 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins. Neither Rainey nor Perkins have notched a carry through three weeks.

Player Carries Yards Touchdowns Rushing NEP per carry Success Rate
Rashad Jennings 31 102 0 -0.08 41.90%
Shane Vereen 31 147 1 -0.03 38.70%
Orleans Darkwa 11 52 1 0.03 45.50%

Regardless of who starts for the Giants, they'll find it a tough go against a Minnesota defense, which has yet to allow a running back to go for more than 50 yards in a game.

How Will Odell Beckham Bounce Back?

Beckham lost control last weekend against Josh Norman and Washington, memorably losing a fight against the sideline kicking net.

This week, McAdoo went as far as to say Beckham needed to "become less of a distraction to himself and his teammates."

Now, Beckham will square off against a Vikings secondary that just stifled Kelvin Benjamin, who logged zero catches on only one target.

On the season, Beckham ranks ninth in the league in catches with 19 and eighth in receiving yards with 280, but he has yet to score a touchdown. Among the 49 wide receivers with at least 30 targets, Beckham's 0.63 Reception NEP per target ranked 30th entering the week, falling below of last year's league average of 0.67.

Sam Bradford's Impressive Start

Just a little over a month ago, Sam Bradford was preparing to open the season as the starting quarterback for the Eagles. But following Bridgewater's injury, the Vikings and Eagles pulled off a blockbuster trade that sent Bradford to Minnesota with the expectation that he would eventually supplant Shaun Hill as starter.

Hill started Week 1 for the Vikings, leading them to a 25-16 win over the Tennessee Titans, but Bradford replaced Hill in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. Through two starts, Bradford has been impressive, completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 457 yards and 3 touchdowns, all while not turning the ball over.

Through three weeks, Bradford has been a top-10 signal caller. Bradford's 0.22 Passing NEP per drop back ranked 10th among all quarterbacks to start at least one game. Note that Hill (0.29) ranked eighth in the same metric.

Now, Bradford will take on a Giants defense that ranks 18th overall and 22nd against the pass, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics.

Will the Stefon Diggs Takeover Continue?

Through three games, Stefon Diggs, a fifth-round draft pick in 2015 out of Maryland, has 20 receptions for 325 yards and 1 touchdown. Entering the week, he was near the league lead for receptions and yards, ranking fifth and second, respectively.

Diggs also ranks highly, according to our metrics. Among the 49 wide receivers with at least 20 targets through Week 3, Diggs (1.05) ranked fourth in Reception NEP per target, trailing only Marvin Jones (1.13), Kelvin Benjamin (1.12), and Tyrell Williams (1.07).

Diggs is expected to be shadowed by Janoris Jenkins Monday night, and it makes sense considering how banged up the Giants' secondary is. Eli Apple is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is listed as questionable with a groin injury.

Our projections peg Diggs to catch 5 passes for 65 yards and 0.48 touchdowns in Week 4.

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