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Vikings remain focused on big picture as they near NFC North title

Only six teams in the Super Bowl era have clinched a division title with five games remaining in the regular season.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the Super Bowl era, only six teams have clinched their division with five games remaining in the regular season. The Minnesota Vikings have a chance to become the seventh.

With a win over the New York Jets — the Vikings' Week 13 opponent — and a Detroit Lions loss or tie, Minnesota would have the NFC North wrapped up. But Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks knows there's plenty more work ahead.

"We've been humbled, especially recently, so we know that we're not invincible," said Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, referring to team's 40-3 loss to Dallas two weeks ago. "We've gotta work every day to win in this league. It's not an easy league to win in...so we're going to have to do uncommon things to be great."

A win Sunday could classify as one of those "uncommon" things.

According to NFL analyst Joe Ferreira, if Minnesota clinches the division with five games left, it would be the first time its happened since 2009 when the Indianapolis Colts won the AFC South with more than a month to go. It would also be the second time a Vikings team claimed the division this early in the season, the first time coming in 1973 when they went on to reach the Super Bowl.

"I think if you do have the perspective of the bigger picture, you realize a lot can happen between now and then," said Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks. "You keep the same mentality — it's one game at a time, it's one drive at a time."

The next drive and the next game will be against the Jets, who are coming off a convincing 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears. New York's defense this season has been among the league's best, with the quarterback position being its biggest question mark. However, the Jets may have found an answer in quarterback Mike White, who took over for Zach Wilson last week.

"He was up to the task, " said Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell on the White. "He was getting the ball out of his hands quick, making good decisions."

White led the Jets to a season-high 466 yards on offense, and completed 22 of 28 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. His rating (149.3) was the highest of any Jets quarterback this season.

Despite the offensive efficiency last week, the Jets are a team built around their defense. New York is holding opponents to just 17.8 points per game — fourth fewest in the league — while holding teams to just 308.8 yards per game of total offense.

"It seems like every week is a heck of a defensive challenge for our offense with just the different types of special players, the different levels of defenses we've seen lately," said Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell. "I think our guys understand the challenge again this week."

The Jets will be the fourth top-tier defense the Vikings have played in as many weeks. The Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots all rank in the top six in points allowed per game.

"I feel like a broken record saying this, but another really good defense that we're playing. ... They create turnovers and they're making plays," said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. "It's a good challenge for us and one that we take very seriously."

Cousins is coming off one of his best games of the season, and it came under the bright lights of a national primetime game. Throughout his career, Cousins hasn't had much success in games that kickoff after 7 p.m., but in Thursday night's win over the Patriots, he rose to the occasion. Cousins went 30-for-37 for 299 and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Adam Thielen in the fourth quarter.

"My experience in this league is you've gotta win when you have the chance," Cousins said. "I never think about future weeks — really you can't afford to look in the rearview mirror, either — its got to be all about this week, getting the win. Really, nothing else matters."

Regardless of what the Lions do on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Vikings need just two wins to claim the division. While winning the division this early would be a major accomplishment, O'Connell said he's more concerned with what the team can control.

"One of our main goals of this year for our team was winning our division," said O'Connell. "I do believe that our team can focus on the present and the little things, and also understand if we continue to do the things that we're capable of doing and the things we can control, I think those things will take care of itself."


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