The Minnesota Vikings will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers for Week 14's iteration of Thursday Night Football. The Vikings are reeling from Sunday's embarrassing loss to the previously winless Detroit Lions. It served as a crushing blow for a team that remains in the thick of a cluttered race in the NFC for a wild-card berth.
Minnesota enters Thursday's contest with a 28% chance of qualifying for the postseason. A triumph over the Steelers would catapult their chances to a healthier 36%, and a loss would plummet their playoff hopes to just 13%. Minnesota's margin for error is virtually non-existent going forward, and their latest actions represent a franchise that finds itself deep in desperation mode.
According to multiple reports, superstar running back Dalvin Cook is trending toward playing against the Steelers. It's an unexpected turn of events for a ball-carrier that dislocated his shoulder in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers just 11 days ago. Should Cook play on Thursday, he somehow spent just one game on the sidelines despite suffering a painful shoulder injury. Alexander Mattison, who is widely regarded as one of the best backup running backs in the league, started in Cook's absence against the Lions and rushed for an impressive 90 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Mattison added three receptions for 34 yards, bringing his gameday total to 124 yards.
Mattison was incredibly productive in the defeat to Detroit, but head coach Mike Zimmer will note the unacceptable loss and overall underwhelming team performance suffered in Cook's absence. That is likely the driving force behind Cook's reported attempt to suit up against the Steelers on Thursday.
If Cook does indeed play, he'll encounter a shockingly struggling Steelers run defense that is allowing opponents to rush for an astonishing 130.9 yards per contest. Opportunities to exploit Pittsburgh's fizzling run defense will be there for the taking, but Cook's current health status is concerning enough to question whether or not he'd be capable of taking full advantage of his touches.
Minnesota will undeniably enter Thursday's ever-important showdown with their backs against the wall. Jobs potentially on the line range from the general manager to the head coach. They collectively find themselves in a grim situation and it's the driving force behind Cook potentially suiting up on a short week. It feels borderline negligent, but it's a stark and accurate representation of the space the franchise is currently operating within.