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The New Orleans Saints haven’t been afraid to express themselves over the years, especially when it comes to describing their opponents. While New Orleans players have been relatively quiet this year, Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan opened Pandora’s box when asked about the Minnesota Vikings and their upcoming wild-card matchup.

While appearing on “The Rich Eisen Show,” Jordan answered a question about whether the outcome against the Vikings would depend on how healthy Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook is for the game.

Jordan deferred the question for the most part, but he laughed as he offered a few words on his evaluation of Minnesota’s quarterback.

Jordan: “The issue is knowing what kind of Kirk Cousins you’re gonna get”

Eisen: “So what do you mean by that, Cam?”

Jordan: “At times he looks to be a very proficient quarterback.”

Jordan stopped after that comment, but that could be the statement that motivates Cousins ahead of his second playoff start. Cousins ended his regular season with a 10-5 record, completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,603 yards, 26 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 107.4 passer rating (a career-high). While Cousins is in the midst of his best season, he still struggles in primetime games, including an 0-9 record in “Monday Night Football.” In “late” time slots (7 p.m. or later), Cousins is 7-15 while completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 40 touchdowns and 18 interceptions for a 98.2 rating.

The last time Cousins had a defensive player take a shot against his play was when linebacker Zach Brown proclaimed “the weakest part of their offense is him.” Cousins would go on to complete 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a 138.4 passer rating in a 38-20 win and the Eagles released Brown days later. The Vikings are hoping for more of the same this Sunday.

Jordan was dismissive when asked about the Minnesota Miracle — the Case Keenum Hail Mary play to Stefon Diggs that knocked the Saints out of the playoffs two seasons ago (the last time the Saints and Vikings met in the playoffs).

“That was two teams ago and like five quarterbacks ago for them, right?,” Jordan said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Cousins was the replacement for Keenum, who signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in the following offseason. In two seasons with the Vikings, Cousins has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 56 touchdowns and 16 interceptions with a 103.0 rating.

Jordan’s comments may motivate Cousins and the Vikings Sunday as they look to become the third consecutive No. 6 seed to win in the NFC wild-card round.

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Custom C.J. Ham Jersey Large

When Vikings fullback C.J. Ham laces up his cleats Sunday morning, he’ll feel a little extra motivation – and emotion – ahead of taking the field at U.S. Bank Stadium.

It’s not because this weekend’s game is a divisional matchup and a hopeful bounce-back for Minnesota after a tough loss to Seattle on Monday Night Football.

Rather, C.J.’s custom-designed kicks for the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats game feature a portrait of his mother, Tina, who currently is fighting pancreatic cancer.

C.J. surprised Tina with the cleats after a recent Saturday morning walk-through. Sharing the first look, mother and son each were taken aback by the detail as they lifted the box’s lid and picked up the shoes.

C.J. Ham Surprises His Mom with His “My Cause, My Cleats”
Vikings running back C.J. Ham surprised his mother with his cleats for “My, Cause, My Cleats.”

On one, Tina is painted with a wide smile and in Vikings gear, a photograph snapped pregame at the Crucial Catch game in October; You are the strongest person in the world is written in white across the toe. The other reads, I love you, Mom. A purple ribbon for pancreatic cancer wraps across the outside panel of each cleat.

“These are made specifically for you,” C.J. told Tina. “I know you’ve been through a lot in this past year, and I just wanted to make these special for you.”

“They’re so cute,” she said, breaking into a matching smile.

C.J.’s cleats represent the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which is dedicated to fighting “the world’s toughest cancer” through research, clinical initiatives, patient services and advocacy.

Tina was diagnosed in March 2018 initially with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, but surgery revealed that it actually was Stage 4.

C.J. has been inspired by his mother and felt strongly about dedicating Sunday’s game to her ongoing battle.

“With everything she’s been through, staying strong this entire time, I just wanted to honor her,” he explained. “I love my mom, and I just want to do all I can for her.”

He gave Tina a hug and kiss and then was joined by his wife, Stephanie, and daughters, Skylar and Stella.

“That’s Granny!” Skylar exclaimed excitedly, pointing to the portrait.

“It’s way better than I even imagined. Words can’t even really explain,” C.J. said. “Just the portrait itself – there’s so much strength in that picture.

“She truly is the strongest person I know, and I know when I’m wearing these cleats, it’s going to help me,” he added, his voice wavering.

As the family continued to admire the uniquely designed cleats, Tina reiterated how much she loved them.

“But I don’t get to wear them,” she said, laughing.

“No, you don’t get to wear them,” C.J. agreed with a smile. “But I get to wear them for you.”

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EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings know full well they’re the underdogs heading into New Orleans.

In all honesty, that might be putting it lightly.

“I don’t think anybody believes that we can win this game, so we go in there and slug it out,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday. “All I really care about is that 53 guys believe.”

The Vikings are prepping for a Saints squad that is only the third 13-3 team to play in the Wild Card round since 1990, when the NFL expanded to a six-team field for each conference.

So, sure, the task is a tall one. But as Zimmer said after the Week 17 game, “Why not us?”

Minnesota has been considered the underdog before, but the team welcomes the challenge.

That oversight tangibly surfaced earlier this week, when the NFL released a postseason hype video that included 10 of the 12 playoff teams but omitted the Vikings and Eagles.

Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs was asked during his session with Twin Cities media members if he had any sort of reaction to the omission.

“I don’t make the videos. We don’t make the videos,” he answered. “We’ve got to play ball.”

Five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith has been with Vikings teams that have been underdogs and favorites. He doesn’t much mind the underdog.

“That’s how it is,” Smith said. “All that matters is what we believe, how we prepare in this building and how we go out and play. All that other stuff doesn’t really matter.”

Fellow safety Anthony Harris thought for a moment when asked if the Vikings “enjoy” being looked at as the weaker team.

“I think we like having the opportunity to play another week,” Harris said. “I think guys like the preparation and like competing.”

Quarterback Kirk Cousins doesn’t buy too much one way or another into Minnesota’s perceived chances at New Orleans.

He’s really only concerned about one thing.

“You understand that you’re seeded and you go play a game, but all that really matters is it’s one game. We’ve just got to go play in a tough environment,” Cousins said. “Whatever people need for motivation, so be it, but in the NFL Playoffs, I don’t probably need too much more motivation. You’ve got everything you need, just from the fact that you’re in the playoffs.”

In the playoffs or not, there doesn’t seem to be much confidence in the Vikings outside of the building. But Diggs pointed out that the Vikings locker room is full of “guys that have a lot to prove.”

“You can see the makeup of this team. We’ve got a lot of late-round guys,” Diggs said. “Even Dalvin Cook, I think Dalvin Cook should have been the first back off the board. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot to prove that came in with that mindset.

“It’s a good spot to be in,” he added. “Some people don’t like it, but it’s a great spot. We’ve got a lot to prove, and we look forward to it.”

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The Bears took advantage of the shorthanded Vikings to finish the 2019 season with a 21-19 win Sunday afternoon. Mitch Trubisky orchestrated a scoring drive inside the final two minutes to salvage the victory with Eddy Pineiro’s go-ahead field goal.

The Vikings, having already clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC, benched many of their key players ahead of the game. Instead of Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook, the Bears’ defense had to stop Sean Mannion and Mike Boone.

Mannion struggled throughout the game, but Boone blew up with 17 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown. It’s the most rushing yards by a player against the Bears’ defense since Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery ran for 162 in 2016.

The Bears wrap up the 2019 season with an 8-8 record.

Final score: Bears 21, Vikings 19
Bears 21, Vikings 19: With 12 seconds to go, Eddy Pineiro hits the go-ahead field goal. He’s 4-of-4 in the game.

Vikings 19, Bears 18: The Vikings just ran out of timeouts and the Bears should have a chance to take the clock inside 20 seconds before setting up a field goal attempt.

Vikings 19, Bears 18: Trying to milk the clock, Mitch Trubisky hits Allen Robinson for a 3-yard gain on third-and-2 to keep the offense on the field. Big play.

Vikings 19, Bears 18: Mitch Trubisky delivers! The QB finds a streaking Riley Ridley on the right side for a 34-yard gain before the receiver gets tripped up. The Bears will have first down at the Vikings’ 17 when play resumes after the two-minute warning.

Vikings 19, Bears 18: After converting a couple first downs to get near midfield, the Bears are facing a fourth-and-9 that could decide the game.

Vikings 19, Bears 18: The Bears’ defense holds up on a short field, but Dan Bailey stays perfect with a 34-yard field goal to put Minnesota ahead.

Bears 18, Vikings 16: Wow. Mitch Trubisky fumbles on the second straight play and this time it’s recovered by Ifeadi Odenigbo. The lineman returned it all the way to the end zone, but it was ruled that he was down by contact at the Bears’ 23.

Bears 18, Vikings 16: Mitch Trubisky fumbles in the backfield after being sacked but manages to recover it.

Bears 18, Vikings 16: After the Bears get the stop, Dan Bailey hits the 39-yard field goal to cut the lead to two points.

Bears 18, Vikings 13: The Vikings go backwards as Oli Udoh gets called for unnecessary roughness following a post-play scuffle. That puts them in a tough third-and-18 situation down a score.

Bears 18, Vikings 13: Alexander Hollins makes a huge catch for 35 yards to put the Vikings at the Bears’ 13. That’s the biggest pass play of the game for Minnesota.

Bears 18, Vikings 13: A brutal unnecessary roughness penalty on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gives the Vikings a free first down after they’d be stopped on third-and-2.

Bears 18, Vikings 13: On third-and-10, the Bears yet fail to pass beyond the first down line, and Tarik Cohen gets taken down a yard short.

Bears 18, Vikings 13: Mike Boone completes the eight-play, 43-yard drive with the Vikings’ first touchdown of the game.

Third quarter: Bears 18, Vikings 6
Bears 18, Vikings 6: Mitch Trubisky gets stuffed on a QB sneak on fourth-and-1, giving the ball back to the Vikings late in the third quarter.

Bears 18, Vikings 6: Allen Robinson with an amazing catch on third down, but he gets whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct for yelling in the face of a Vikings defender afterwards.

Bears 18, Vikings 6: The Vikings go three-and-out after a good run by Mike Boone on third down gets called back for holding.

Bears 18, Vikings 6: What a drive from David Montgomery, who finishes off a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 14-yard rumble up the middle. The linemen did a good job of shoving the pile into the end zone to complete the play.

Bears 11, Vikings 6: David Montgomery keeps getting the rock to open the third quarter and it’s working as he’s ran for 43 yards on five carries.

Halftime: Bears 11, Vikings 6
Bears 11, Vikings 6: A good tackle by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on third down forces the Vikings to settle for a 38-yard field goal.

Bears 11, Vikings 3: Mike Boone takes off for 41 yards to give the Vikings a shot to score inside the final minute of the half. He’s up to 126 rushing yards in the first half.

Bears 11, Vikings 3: Eddy Pineiro hits from 34 yards for his third field goal of the afternoon.

Bears 8, Vikings 3: Taking advantage of the safety, the Bears are slicing into Vikings territory on the subsequent drive. A 17-yard pass to Javon Wims was one of their biggest of the game so far.

Bears 8, Vikings 3: Mike Boone gets taken down for a safety to give the Bears a couple points and possession.

Bears 6, Vikings 3: Bears announce Anthony Miller is questionable to return (shoulder) and Cordarelle Patterson is out for the game (concussion).

Bears 6, Vikings 3: The drive stalls out near midfield, but Pat O’Donnell bombs away a 57-yard punt that’s downed at the Vikings’ own 1-yard line. A good play by the special teams unit.

Bears 6, Vikings 3: The Bears get gifted a first down with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Andrew Sendejo.

Bears 6, Vikings 3: After a good pass over the middle to a wide open Allen Robinson for 18 yards, the offense line gets overwhelmed for an easy sack on Mitch Trubisky.

Bears 6, Vikings 3: Anthony Miller, stepping in for Cordarrelle Patterson while he’s in concussion protocol, goes down on the kick return. Team personnel helped him off the field and into the blue medical tent.

Bears 6, Vikings 3: After the Bears get the stop at their own 19, the Vikings’ Dan Bailey hits a 37-yard field goal to cut the lead in half.

Bears 6, Vikings 0: The Vikings converted a pair of third-and-7 situations, then turned to Mike Boone for a 14-yard run to put them into field goal territory.

First quarter: Bears 6, Vikings 0
Bears 6, Vikings 0: Another trip to the end zone ends with a short field goal from Eddy Pineiro.

Bears 3, Vikings 0: Mitch Trubisky goes down the middle to Allen Robinson for a 15-yard gain on third-and-15. The Bears are now 3-of-4 on third downs so far.

Bears 3, Vikings 0: Another takeaway! Dalvin Cook bobbles a pass and Kevin Pierre-Louis is right there to catch the ball for the first interception of his NFL career.

Bears 3, Vikings 0: The drive stalls out at the Vikings’ 8, so the Bears settle for a 26-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro.

Bears 0, Vikings 0: A couple third-down conversions have the Bears on the move on their first offensive drive of the game.

Bears 0, Vikings 0: On the next play, Sean Mannion and Mike Boone screw up the handoff, leading to a fumble recovered by Bilal Nichols. That’s the first takeaway by the Bears in a few weeks.

Bears 0, Vikings 0: Mike Boone takes off on the Vikings’ first offensive play of the game for 59 yards to put them at the Bears’ 16. Not a good start.

Before the game
The Bears try to end their 2019 regular season on a high note with a Week 17 matchup against the Vikings on Sunday afternoon. It’s a low stakes game for both sides as Minnesota gets ready for the playoffs while Matt Nagy’s squad takes the field one last time before a long offseason.

Nagy lived up to his claims throughout the week that he’d play his healthy starters by listing all of them active Sunday morning. The same couldn’t be said for the Vikings, who won’t be playing quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and several other key players as they turn an eye toward their Wild Card Round matchup in a week.

The Packers clinched the NFC North title with last week’s win over Minnesota and can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Lions on Sunday. The Vikings are already locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC, so they’ll be unaffected by the results of Week 17.

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Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has earned the right to void his contract for the 2020 season and become a free agent this offseason, league sources told ESPN.

Griffen’s contract, which runs through the 2022 season, contains a clause that was set to grant him the option of voiding the rest of the deal if he had six or more sacks this season, according to league sources.

Griffen, who has eight sacks entering Sunday’s season finale against the Chicago Bears, is scheduled to make $12.9 million next season. The three-time Pro Bowler turned 32 last week and has 74.5 career sacks in 10 seasons, all with the Vikings.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported on the clause that allows Griffen to void the remainder of his deal.

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears announced their list of inactives for Sunday’s matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota is locked into the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and will find out its opponent for wild-card weekend later today. Since Sunday’s regular-season finale has no bearing on positioning, the Vikings made six starters inactive and will use others sparingly, according to league sources. Minnesota’s inactives include running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, both of whom are dealing with injuries, linebackers Eric Kendricks (quad) and Anthony Barr, offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen.

Chicago’s inactives include wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, offensive guard Rashaad Coward, defensive back Michael Joseph, right tackle Bobby Massie, tight end Bradley Sowell and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks.

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Luke Inman contributed video to this story.

There’s never been a doubt that Mike Boone could run the football.

Signed by the Vikings in undrafted free agency in 2018 following a marvelous pre-draft process where he posted a 42-inch vertical, 139-inch broad jump and 4.45 40-yard dash, the Cincinnati grad started turning heads immediately as he looked to solidify a backup spot while Dalvin Cook recovered from a torn ACL.

Sometimes it can be hard as a running back to stand out late in preseason games with third-string offensive lines and no robust passing games to scare defenses. Not for Boone. In his second preseason game as a rookie he ran for 91 yards on 13 carries against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Throughout his first preseason he produced splash plays with gains of 10, 13, 26 and 46 yards, earning a spot on the Vikings’ 53-man roster.

“I think Mike grew up pretty quick because he had all that experience and all those extra reps in OTAs and he’s taken advantage of those,” then-offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said at the time. “He’s a mature guy. He takes pride in his job. He’s very mature for a rookie, very mature for a rookie. Doesn’t say much, just comes out here and does his job.”

For anybody surprised by how naturally Boone ran the football when called into duty last Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers — 56 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns — you may not have watched the second half of Vikings preseason games the last couple years.

Boone, wearing No. 44 back in 2018, was not only effective as a running back but also showed explosiveness in the screen game, where the Vikings have excelled this season. The former Bearcat often lined up as a wide receiver in college and caught 65 passes at Cincinnati. Boone has showcased his hands a handful of times in preseason games, like this 46-yard catch and run at Tennessee.

And this wheel route last fall versus Seattle.

The theme with Boone has been explosive plays. In seven of his eight preseason games, he’s delivered at least one touch that went 10 or more yards. In five of the eight, he’s gone 20 or more yards. His best run against the Chargers on Sunday was nullified by a holding call, a 15-yard scamper that featured an impressive juke of a linebacker.

Boone was limited to just 11 rushing attempts during the 2018 regular season, but look at Minnesota’s Week 6 game against Arizona, for instance, where he took his lone carry for 20 yards.

There weren’t many ball-carrying skills Boone didn’t possess in his rookie season, but pass-blocking was a greater challenge due to his smaller frame. With excellent blocker Latavius Murray on last year’s roster, Boone was often kept on the sideline, but the second-year back said he emphasized protection throughout his offseason and into the 2019 preseason.

“Watching those guys, you learn a lot pass-protection wise,” he said. “Pass pro and just the little things. Being there and correcting the small details.”

New offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was also singing Boone’s praises in August for the improvement he’d shown.

“He’s really worked hard out here, and I appreciate that from that kid,” Stefanski said. “From where he is this moment from back in the spring, the switch didn’t just turn. He’s worked at it. He’s spent some time with Coach [Kennedy] Polamalu, you see him out here in the practice field flying around, and he’s working hard on special teams. Just goes to show you that when you apply yourself and you’re in the meeting room working real hard and out here working hard, good things are going to happen.”

In two preseasons, Boone touched the ball 103 times for 536 yards, a 5.2 yards per touch average that is on par with Alvin Kamara this season. For reference, Dalvin Cook is at 5.5.

Rookie back Alexander Mattison also gained favor with the coaching staff over the summer to claim the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but with Mattison (ankle) and Cook (chest/shoulder) facing uncertain playing statuses, Boone may be a featured back in Minnesota’s battle with Green Bay on Monday.

“If another running back comes in the game I don’t feel like, ‘Oh man, we got a different running back,’” said right tackle Brian O’Neill. “We don’t care because we all know they’re going to do their job at a very high level and the best part of it is you know that they’re going to all be in their assigned spots whether it’s protection or different blocking scheme or running.”

It’s an opportunity that Boone has been pining for, according to head coach Mike Zimmer.

“We knew this kid was a really good runner from what he’s done in preseason and practice,” Zimmer said. “He’s kind of had a chip on his shoulder. He wants to get out there and prove his point that he can go out and run and be that type of back.”

Boone has always run with an edge that conflicts with his slighter frame. Each of the last two years he’s shown the ability to run through tackles, much like the other two Vikings backs Cook and Mattison.

Boone showed his power against the Chargers last Sunday with tough yards as well, not facing third-stringers like in the preseason. Zimmer’s first compliment of Boone on Sunday was that he ran “really hard.”

On Boone’s first career touchdown, he showed how well he can follow his blocks, which funneled him into the end zone on this eight-yard score. To be a running back in Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme, you have to know where your blockers are going.

A lot of the Vikings’ biggest runs this season have gone to the edge. Boone proved in the preseason he can reach the edge with a much ferocity as slashing between the tackles. Take a look at the two runs below against Buffalo and Seattle.

Back in the Vikings’ opening preseason game, Boone was the first to demonstrate the capability of Kubiak’s zone scheme with this 64-yard touchdown run that was almost perfectly blocked.

Bottom line, Boone is pretty good. His teammates have taken note, and fans who haven’t realized it yet should come around soon.

“I can’t say enough about Mike,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins. “You guys saw in the preseason. He just hasn’t got enough cracks at it because we have Dalvin Cook and Alex Mattison. The nature of the NFL is there is some really good football players who may not get as many opportunities as others and you have to make the most of the ones that you get. Mike has done that. People around the league have taken notice. He’s going to be a good back in this league for a long time if he stays at because he has all the ability.”

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EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings couldn’t anticipate running back Dalvin Cook suffering two shoulder/chest injuries to either side of his upper body with one win standing in their way of a playoff berth. But they were certainly prepared for any scenario this season in which they would be without their leading rusher.

Cook is unlikely to play Monday night against the Green Bay Packers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and there’s a good chance he will sit out the remainder of the regular season, sources told ESPN.

With a return to the playoffs all but locked up, prioritizing Cook’s health for a postseason run is critical for Minnesota in getting past the NFC’s best.The Vikings can clinch their spot in Week 16 with a win over their division rival or if the Los Angeles Rams lose to the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.

A win by the 49ers will have no bearing on Cook’s status for Monday Night Football, according to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.

Cook, who did not practice Thursday and Friday, said his plan remains the same — to go through his normal routine, spend as much time as he can in the training room and do everything possible to be in the lineup. But even Cook, whose first two seasons in the NFL were cut short due to injury, knows just how important it is to let his body heal from this recent string of injuries.

“It’s just about getting healthy,” Cook said. “Pain and all that comes with the game. You can bare so much. You can do much. But it’s all about being healthy, and I think that’s when I’m at my best for the team.”

There aren’t many NFL teams that carry a stable of backs as deep as Minnesota’s. Behind Cook, the Vikings have Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah and fullback C.J. Ham.

The Vikings are expected to keep Dalvin Cook out of the final two games of the regular season. Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire
The status of Mattison, the rookie third-rounder who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, is also in question for Monday after an ankle injury sidelined him for the Los Angeles Chargers game and kept him out of practice the past two days. Should the Vikings be without Cook and Mattison against the Packers, Boone jumps from RB3 to lead back as he did in Los Angeles following Cook’s third-quarter exit, rushing for 56 yards and two touchdowns.

With so much of their offense predicated on the run game, the Vikings built a running back room that could be more than just functional in the absence of their top rushers. The Vikings generate the fourth-most rushing yards per game (135.9), and Cook’s 13 rushing touchdowns are tied with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry for the third most in the NFL.

Cook, who ranks third in yards from scrimmage (1,654) and seventh in rushing (1,135), also plays an important role in the passing game. The Vikings lead the NFL in yards earned off screen passes to the running back (376, 11.75 yards per attempt). Even in Cook’s likely absence, Minnesota doesn’t expect a drop-off in this area.

“They’re good in protection, they can catch the ball,” Zimmer said. “They’re just different guys. Really, the system doesn’t change much. I mean, you always have plays for guys and defenses for certain guys and things like that that can help, but you don’t wholesale change it.”

Added quarterback Kirk Cousins: “Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah are getting a lot of reps throughout the practice week. Dalvin doesn’t take every single rep, so all season long I’ve been handing off to Ameer, handing off to Alex, handing off to Mike, throwing the ball to all of them. They get a lot of reps in walk-throughs as well throughout the year, and that’s why you rely on OTAs and training camp and just keep building up experience every day.”

What they’ve seen from Mattison (22 rushing yards, 51 receiving yards when Cook went down in Seattle) and Boone when each has had to step into lead roles alleviates trepidation about the run game without Cook.

“We’ve got some guys that can play,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. “As you guys know, throughout this season they’ve had spurts and they’ve had moments, but if they’re called to step up, I feel like we have 100 percent confidence in them to do their job. Nobody’s Dalvin Cook, but we’ll see how it goes.”

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Bears coach Matt Nagy shouldn’t be the only one taking a glance toward 2020 on Sunday.

Of the 15 pending free agents on the Vikings active roster, 10 are reserves who could start — or at least see more playing time — during the Vikings’ season finale against the Bears. Sunday’s result will only affect the NFL draft order. The NFC’s sixth seed is in Minnesota, but Vikings executives and coaches will be watching closely ahead of offseason negotiations.

For defensive end Stephen Weatherly, who made six starts last year for Everson Griffen, getting his seventh start and a full-time role at his normal position would be no small matter. Weatherly has played a part-time role this season, primarily as an interior pass rusher.

“It would mean everything,” Weatherly said. “Just going out there and playing more. If for some reason I got the start, just to show the Minnesota Vikings that if push came to shove, I’d be able to do that kind of like I did last year.”

Other Vikings reserves with expiring contracts who could see substantial playing time are quarterback Sean Mannion, tackle Rashod Hill, receiver Laquon Treadwell, running back Ameer Abdullah, linebacker Kentrell Brothers and safety Jayron Kearse, who is listed questionable due to a foot injury.

Coach Mike Zimmer entertained questions this week about playing the second-team offense and defense but has stopped short of saying quarterback Kirk Cousins and Co. will sit. Indications are many starters will rest ahead of an NFC wild-card game on Jan. 4 or Jan. 5.

Deliberations haven’t been easy, according to Zimmer, who alluded to some starters lobbying to play.

“It’s always a Catch-22, because you always want to go out and you always want to play well,” Zimmer said Friday. “These guys like to play. You don’t want to get anybody hurt. You want to start focusing on the new season that is coming up here in a week. There has been a lot of consternation, I guess, on trying to figure everything out.”

Mannion led a quarterback drill during the portion of Friday’s practice open to reporters. He took snaps this week from reserve offensive lineman Dakota Dozier, another pending free agent who has already started four games this season at left guard and right guard.

With 10 offensive linemen on the roster, the Vikings offense could field a different line with Hill, guard Dru Samia, Dozier, guard Aviante Collins and tackle Oli Udoh. Playing time would also be crucial for Samia and Udoh, the two drafted rookies who have combined to suit up for one game this season. Dozier, who typically stays after practice for more work, was joined this week by Mannion for more snapping reps.

“It’s like when you literally get on a bike — like, ‘OK, we’re steady, and now we’re good,’” Dozier said. “You just have to get back on the bike and roll with it.”

It would be Mannion’s second NFL start, again in a regular season finale; the former 2015 third-round pick first started in the Rams’ final game two years ago. He threw for 169 yards in a loss. He’s been precisely what the Vikings coaching staff wanted in another veteran set of eyes on the sideline to help Cousins. Mannion said he’d like to stay, and playing well could go a long way.

“Me, my wife, my daughter, we love being with the Vikings and in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. This organization has been awesome since Day 1, it’s felt like home,” Mannion said. “A lot of things can change in this league, but we’ve enjoyed every minute here and would definitely love to be back.”

Weatherly, a 2016 seventh-round pick by the Vikings, gave credence to Sunday’s stakes, even if the final score doesn’t carry much weight.

“I do have a second family here and it does feel like home,” Weatherly said. “So, to be able to go out there [Sunday] and play, and then play here even longer would be outstanding.”

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Vikings rookie tight end Irv Smith Jr. played his first preseason game in his hometown of New Orleans. Now, he’s fired up to be playing his first playoff game there, too.

Minnesota opened the preseason against the Saints on Aug. 9, when Smith caught three passes for 21 yards on his 21st birthday. Obviously, the stakes will be much higher when the Vikings return to the Superdome for Sunday’s postseason opener.

“I’m very excited,” Smith said. “It’s crazy, having this opportunity, first making the playoffs and now going back to my hometown.”

Smith realizes it will be a tough chore rounding up tickets for the game.

“I told my mom, I was like, ‘Everybody can’t come,’ ” he said. “But close family, close friends, I’m sure we’ll make something work. But I’ll have a lot of people, definitely.”

Smith, a second-round draft pick out of Alabama, caught 36 passes for 311 yards this season. He broke the team record for most catches by a rookie tight end, previously held by Andrew Jordan, who had 35 in 1994.

“It’s a blessing,” Smith said. “I come to work every day and just try to get better.”

Smith’s father, Irv Smith Sr., was an NFL tight end from 1993-99, playing with New Orleans his first five seasons. He didn’t reach the playoffs with the Saints seasons, but he did make it for the only time with San Francisco in 1998.

“It really is crazy. … For me, as a rookie, coming in my first year, making it to the playoffs, is amazing,” Smith said.

If the Vikings win, Smith would go against another former team of his father’s. They would play at San Francisco on Jan. 11.

SLOWING THOMAS
Michael Thomas’ Twitter handle is @Cantguardmike. The Vikings at least will try.

The Saints receiver had an NFL-record 149 receptions for 1,725 years this season. With star quarterback Drew Brees throwing the ball, slowing down Thomas will be a major focus for the Vikings.

“Obviously, he’s one of their main guys, if not their guy,” safety Anthony Harris said. “He’s been pretty productive. He’s had his days, pretty big workload that the numbers reflect. It’ll be a good challenge.”

The Vikings have faced Thomas, a four-year pro, three times, all at U.S. Bank Stadium. He had five catches for 45 yards in the 2017 opener, seven for 85 yards and two touchdowns in a 2017 divisional playoff and five receptions for 81 yards in Week 8 in 2018.

Coach Mike Zimmer, though, knows the Vikings can’t just look for Brees to throw to Thomas. Running back Alvin Kamara had 81 catches, and tight end Jared Cook had 43.

“(Saints coach Sean Payton has) always been very innovative with what they’re doing offensively,” Zimmer said. “They move guys around in a lot of different spots. Brees is having an outstanding year, completion percentage-wise (74.3), and so he’s going to get the ball to the guys that he feels are open.”

ODENIGBO’S FINISH
Vikings reserve defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo made the most of his extended playing time late in the season. He had four sacks in the final five games, and finished with seven sacks for the season, third on the team behind Danielle Hunter’s 14 1/2 and Everson Griffen’s eight.

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Odenigbo played 300 snaps, and averaged a sack every 42.9. Hunter played 881 snaps, and averaged a sack every 60.8. If Odenigbo had been in for 881 plays and maintained the same average, that would have equated to 20 1/2 sacks.

With the Vikings resting most starters in last Sunday’s 21-19 loss to Chicago, Odenigbo was in for a career-high 68 plays, including one in which he sacked Mitchell Trubisky and forced a fumble that he recovered. In the final four games, Odenigbo played 171 of 285 snaps, 60 percent.

“I feel comfortable in my role,” he said. “There is great depth in the defensive line, and I think this is the most depth we have ever had.”