An NFC matchup closes out Week 7 between the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.
The 49ers (5-1), one of the NFC powerhouses, are looking to get back in the win column after an upset loss in Cleveland. Kyle Shanahan's squad saw its 15-game regular-season winning streak snapped, but the good news is San Francisco has won its last six prime-time games heading into Monday Night Football.
As for the Vikings (2-4), they have had a tough draw to start the season. Kevin O'Connell's team has gone against the Buccaneers, Eagles, Chargers and Chiefs (all losses). But Minnesota has taken care of business against the easier part of its schedule in wins over the Panthers and Bears. The Vikings hope to turn things around and snag their first home victory on Monday.
Here are four things to watch for when the 49ers visit the Vikings on Monday night:
- How different will the 49ers’ offense look? One of the storylines heading into Week 7 was the health of star running back Christian McCaffrey, who suffered an oblique injury against the Browns. Not only did CMC leave with an injury, but wide receiver Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (ankle) exited the Week 6 game dinged up. Unfortunately, San Francisco will be without Samuel, who was ruled out. All signs point to McCaffrey, who is questionable, trending in the right direction to play Monday. During the time McCaffrey missed in Cleveland, Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason split carries, with Mason scoring a touchdown. With Samuel not suiting up, Brock Purdy will lean on Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings a little more than usual. This season, Aiyuk leads the team with 25 receptions on 37 targets, while Jennings has averaged 18.1 yards per catch. This past Friday was the one-year mark of McCaffrey getting traded to the 49ers, and if he’s able to suit up, San Francisco’s offense could be too much to handle for Minnesota.
- Can Minnesota’s offense get rolling against a tough defense? Entering Monday’s game, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is tied for the league lead with 14 touchdown passes. Cousins leads all quarterbacks with 26.3 completions per game and 39.2 pass attempts. However, in his first game without Jefferson, Cousins only threw for one touchdown in the win in Chicago. Rookie Jordan Addison was the one who caught the lone touchdown. Addison, a first-round pick in the 2023 draft, ranks sixth among rookie receivers with 277 receiving yards. With Jefferson out, Addison is now the top receiver in Minnesota. However, the Vikings cannot rely solely on Addison to fill Jefferson's shoes. Cousins’ task doesn’t get any easier with Nick Bosa, Javon Hargrave, Drake Jackson and Fred Warner opposing him. San Francisco ranks first with an eight-plus takeaway differential this season, while Minnesota is near the bottom at 29th (negative-seven).
- The battle of tight ends: George Kittle vs. T.J. Hockenson. Sunday marked the fifth year the NFL celebrated National Tight Ends Day. Monday’s matchup will feature two talented tight ends, with Kittle and Hockenson. Hockenson, who became the highest-paid tight end on a per year value, has delivered five-plus receptions in five out of the six games this season. But Cousins hasn’t been able to connect with Hockenson in the end zone since Week 2. Meanwhile, Kittle has a team-high three receiving touchdowns (all in Week 5 against the Cowboys). It will be the second time Kittle and Hockenson go against one another in the NFL. The last time the tight ends faced each other it was a treat in Week 1, 2021. Kittle had four receptions for 78 yards, while Hockenson recorded eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Both former Iowa Hawkeye tight ends will look to hit pay dirt and share the spotlight in prime time after National Tight Ends Day.
- Is it time for Cam Akers to get more involved in the run game behind Alexander Mattison? Minnesota's run game has been a roller coaster with more drops than highs. This past offseason, the team parted ways with Pro Bowl RB Dalvin Cook, and the Vikings’ running game has relied heavily on Mattison. The Vikings are the first team in NFL history with 14-plus pass TDs and zero scores on the ground through six games, per NFL Research. That wild stat shouldn’t fall all on Mattison, as the offensive line has been inconsistent in helping establish the running game. Minnesota traded for Akers after Week 2, and he has only run the ball 11 times for 63 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and caught all five of his targets for 21 yards. Mattison, however, has averaged 3.9 yards per carry and contributed two receiving scores. A change in the backfield could be a spark, one thing is clear: The Vikings need the run game to open up the passing game on Monday night.