"Thursday Night Football" returns in Week 8 from the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and of 60,000 people screaming "Skol" in unison). In the midst of a three-game winning streak, the Minnesota Vikings (5-2) are looking to extend it to four against a Washington Redskins (1-6) ball club looking for its first win over a non-winless team.
Here are four things to watch for ahead of kickoff at 8:20 p.m. ET on FOX, NFL Network and Amazon Prime Video:
Can Minnesota keep up its offensive onslaught without Adam Thielen?
Think back just three weeks ago when Kirk Cousins was apologizing to his receivers for not throwing the ball downfield, Stefon Diggs was supposedly maneuvering a move out of Minnesota and the Vikings were trending toward the NFC North basement? Feels like months ago, right?
Minnesota has righted its ship over the last three weeks, averaging a league-best 36 points per game in wins over the Giants, Eagles and Lions. Cousins is averaging 3.4 more passing yards per attempt and leading the league in passer rating (142.6) since Week 5; Diggs is one game removed from a three-score showing against Philadelphia; and Thielen's four receiving TDs are tied for most on the league over that span.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, Thielen will be unavailable against D.C., as the wideout is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered in the back of a Ford Field end zone.
Who will shoulder the load with Thielen out? Look no further than Dalvin Cook, who will be cooking with gas against Washington's 27th-ranked rushing defense. The league-leader in rushing yards through seven weeks (725 yards), Cook has been the engine to Minnesota's success all season long and is enjoying an historic run of play at least in Vikings history. Robert Smith (1997) and Adrian Peterson (2010, 2007) are the only RBs in franchise history with more yards in their first seven matchups.
Leaning on Cook should help set up Minnesota's lethal play-action passing attack. The Vikings utilize play-action on 35.7 percent of their dropbacks, and Cousins is better for it. The QB ranks first in passer rating (140.2) and TDs (8) when utilizing play-action.
The Revenge Game of Revenge Games
Calling a matchup between any player and his former team a "revenge game" is a comfortable trope I like to fall into during football season. The existence of a "revenge game" reinforces the idea that players hold grudges, take things personally (as personally as fans do) and channel their vindictive rage into controlled performances that feed the narrative of vengeance and one-upsmanship over and again. Of course, usually "revenge games" don't mean anything; it's hard to chalk up Braxton Berrios playing the Patriots on Monday night as anything more than happenstance. But Thursday night's meeting between Washington and Minnesota features three truly compelling revenge games all wrapped in one.
Kirk Cousins, drafted by the Redskins in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and quarterback of the franchise for six whole seasons, plays Washington for the first time Thursday night since signing with Minnesota in 2018.
On the other sideline, Case Keenum, author of arguably the greatest moment in Minnesota sports this millennium, "The Minnesota Miracle," returns to U.S. Bank Stadium for his first clash with the Purple People Eaters since the Vikes passed him up for Cousins.
And then there's the return of the greatest Vikings player in recent memory, Adrian Peterson, to the city where he spent the first 10 seasons of his career, compiling franchise-highs in rushing yards (11,747) and rushing scores (97). This isn't Peterson's first game back in Minnesota, though; as a member of the Saints in 2017, the RB carried the ball six times for 18 yards against the soon-to-be-Keenum-led Vikings. In addition to making his return to the Twin Cities, Peterson could make history on Thursday night: The tailback is 38 and 60 rushing yards from passing Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson for sixth and seventh on the all-time rushing list, respectively.
Will the Vikings defense bounce back against one-note Washington?
After holding opposing offenses in check through its first five games, Minnesota has allowed over 400 total yards in its last two to attacks led by Pro Bowl-caliber passers in Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford. Now perhaps that's a reaction to Minnesota building big leads on its side of the ball. But with Kansas City and a possibly healthy Patrick Mahomes looming next week, the Vikings can't afford to experience setbacks on defense as they attempt to keep pace in the NFC North.
Playing zero-time Pro Bowler Keenum and Washington should be the ultimate get-right game. The Redskins offense, ranked 29th in yardage, 30th in scoring and 31st in third-down percentage, rolls mainly through Peterson and rookie receiver Terry McLaurin. Keenum has slowed following a hot start and a benching and, while not turnover-prone, figures to be a sitting duck with Danielle Hunter (seven sacks) and Everson Griffen (four sacks) rushing past a Trent Williams-less offensive line.
Will we see Dwayne Haskins?
Probably not. Interim coach Bill Callahan and company have not intimated that the rookie quarterback's first start or next in-game appearance is imminent. After last week's sloppy loss to San Francisco in which Washington scored zero points in a downpour, Callahan expressed "total faith" in Keenum, adding, "Dwayne's still learning." However, if by chance, Keenum struggles in pristine conditions inside U.S. Bank Stadium or the game gets out of hand, would Washington throw Haskins in there and provide a nationwide audience a glimpse at the No. 15 overall pick? Post-Jay Gruden, the 'Skins appear directionless. Giving the young Haskins prime-time playing time, the NFL equivalent of a "proof of concept," could dissuade critics.