Minnesota Vikings (8-7) at Denver Broncos (6-9)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
SERIES: 12th meeting. Vikings lead series, 7-4, although seven of the 11 games have been decided by five points or less. Minnesota has a 3-2 record in Denver.
PREDICTION: Vikings 21-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Vikings need to win and have Washington lose to reach the playoffs. Just as important, they need QB Tarvaris Jackson to start hurting opponents for loading up with eight- and nine-man fronts against Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. That won't be an easy task against arguably the league's best tandem in Broncos CBs Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly. ... The Broncos' offensive line has not played well down the stretch, and Denver could struggle to move the ball on the ground against the league's top run defense. QB Jay Cutler has taken a lot of shots, but he is playing as well as anyone on the offense and should be able to do some damage against the Vikings' secondary.
KEY INJURIES: Vikings: CB Antoine Winfield (pectoral strain) and WR Sidney Rice (ankle sprain) are uncertain. Broncos: Cutler (knee) has been limited in practice, but should play; WR Brandon Stokley (knee) and TE Daniel Graham (ankle) won't play unless they're close to full strength; LB Ian Gold (knee) is likely to miss his second straight game.
FAST FACTS: Peterson (1,305 rushing yards) seeks to become the first rookie to lead the NFC since Detroit's Barry Sanders in 1989. ... Broncos rookie RB Selvin Young needs 83 yards to reach 1,000 combined.
--LB Vinny Ciurciu did not participate in Wednesday or Thursday's practice after suffering a sprained ankle last Sunday.
--CB Antoine Winfield did more work in Thursday's practice but was still limited after sitting out last Sunday because of a pectoral strain.
--LB Dontarrious Thomas was limited in Wednesday and Thursday's practice after sitting out last Sunday because of a groin injury.
--WR Sidney Rice was limited in Wednesday and Thursday's practice after sitting out last Sunday because of a sprained ankle.
--LB David Herron was limited for a second consecutive day in practice Thursday after suffering a concussion on Sunday against Washington.
--DE Darrion Scott, who has been on injured reserve for most of the season, was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Charleston, W.Va. He also was cited for failure to signal after he was pulled over Wednesday afternoon by officers with Charleston's Metro Drug Unit. Scott will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
--WR Bobby Wade did not practice Thursday because of a sore knee that has troubled him since late October. Wade had practiced Wednesday.
--QB Jay Cutler returned to a full practice Thursday. He has a sore knee but should play on Sunday.
--TE Daniel Graham didn't practice Thursday because of a sprained ankle. Graham tried to play through the injury last week but had to come out of the game. He is unlikely to play this week, which will hurt Denver's run game against a stout Vikings front seven.
--WR Brandon Stokley hasn't practiced this week. His knee is still hurting and he could be held out of the season finale.
--LB Ian Gold is likely to miss the final game of the season. He has a knee injury, and the team is getting a look at Jamie Winborn at outside linebacker.
--K Jason Elam will be dealing with his third holder of the season. Elam spent most of the year with Todd Sauerbrun holding, and Paul Ernster held last week. But Ernster was released. Denver's plan right now is for Jay Cutler to hold for Elam.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Pro Bowl nose tackle Pat Williams sat out a second consecutive day of practice Thursday because of knee and elbow injuries.
"He's got multiple nicks and knacks from playing on the defensive line," coach Brad Childress said. "He just doesn't need to be out here on his feet. He can do more inside."
There is no reason to believe Williams won't be on the field Sunday when the Vikings play at Denver.
Williams has not missed a start in the past six seasons, a span of 95 consecutive games that dates to the 2002 season.
The streak would be longer but a leg injury cost Williams the final three games of the 2001 season when he was a member of the Buffalo Bills.
Williams left the Vikings' loss to Washington on Sunday for four plays because of what appeared to be a problem with his knee but was able to return.
Last season, he also was bothered with a knee injury but did not miss any games.
The Broncos didn't need any more problems before the end of the season, but then snow started pounding Denver. Preparations for the final game of the season, against Minnesota, were hindered. There is an indoor practice bubble about a mile from Denver's headquarters that it rents when weather is inclement, but it was being used on Thursday.
So the Broncos moved into their conditioning facility and held a practice on a field that is only about 35 yards long. They couldn't hold a normal practice, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was pleased with the walkthrough-type workout.
"I think we got done what we needed to get done," Shanahan said. One other way the weather hindered the Broncos plans on Thursday was that punter workouts had to be canceled. Shanahan said the Broncos, who were planning on working out six punters Thursday, would work them out on Friday.
Denver will sign one of the punters to finish the season and perhaps give the signee a leg up to win the job in 2008. If none of the punters impress the team, the Broncos will turn to kicker Jason Elam to handle punting duties. Elam has two punts in his career.
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