The Chiefs face a mad and angry Minnesota Vikings team on Saturday. After losing on the road last week to the Bears, the Chiefs understand they will have to avoid the disaster of their Broncos road loss two weeks ago. For the Vikings, they face their fourth must win game in a row. They stand 1-2 in the previous three games and Kansas City has to win this game to gain momentum for the playoffs.
Dick Vermeil said he wanted the Chiefs to win three of their last four games. Since they opened the final quarter of the season, Kansas City stands 1-1 with two games left. At the beginning of the season, the Vikings game appeared to be a sure fire loss for the Chiefs. But since both teams stood 6-0 on the season, the Chiefs have maintained their course for the Super Bowl with a 12-2 record while the Vikings have struggled to get to 8-6.
Minnesota will be a desperate bunch of banditos on Saturday. They will either come out with a sure fire attitude or they will lie down and allow the Chiefs to steam roll them into another home loss. The Vikings have been inconsistent all season. Their offense has been either lights out with Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss or they've been unable to sting a series of first downs that leads to putting their terrible defense back on the field.
The key to the Vikings game will be to stop the run. Outside of Denver the Minnesota offensive line might be the best the Chiefs face all season. They're big, strong, fast and very overpowering. That does not bode well for the Chiefs front seven.
However all is not lost. The line needs to get into a rhythm, when they don't that running game is ineffective. The Vikings can feature up to three separate running backs. Michael Bennett is the starter; Moe Williams and rookie Onterrio Smith are the relief corps. Smith was lights out against the Bears last week rushing for over 100 yards. Bennett who has been injured did not look very good on the practice field on Thursday so his status is still questionable.
A considerable amount of discussion leading up to this game has centered on the Chiefs inability to stop the run. They won't have middle linebacker Mike Maslowski this week nor will Monty Beisel and that hurt their cause. But the key to blowing up the run this week is not to be suckered by the Vikings down blocking. They force opponents to an area and the running backs are very good at being patient for the holes. If Kansas City, especially Ryan Sims can get in the backfield a couple of times, then that could dent the Vikings chances of operating a successful running game.
If the Chiefs can somehow not give up huge runs, and then they can focus on Culpepper and all-world receiver Randy Moss. Culpepper has a tendency to throw interceptions and get frustrated when the pocket collapses. Even though he has a linebackers body inside his quarterback frame the Chiefs will have to be aware of where he is at all times during the game. Kansas City can't afford to give him time or allow him to roam around the pocket or escape it. They must bring linebackers and safeties and blitz him on obvious passing downs. If Culpepper gets outside, he can run or throw with tremendous effectiveness.
The good thing for the Chiefs is the fact the Vikings outside of Culpepper, Moss and Bennett doesn't have any other real playmakers. So they'll be able to cheat by double covering Moss and being aggressive with some run blitzes to stop the run. Of course the Chiefs will have to deal with the stadium noise but that really shouldn't be a factor.
On offense, Kansas City must play like they did against the Lions last Sunday. The Chiefs offense was on all cylinders and they'll need to be on that same freight train on Saturday if they want to beat the Vikings.
The Chiefs offense is the best in the NFL. The Vikings defense is probably one of the worst. So the advantage for the Chiefs will be to soundly pick apart the Vikings defense with a steady diet of Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez and Trent Green.
Green, who was elected to his first Pro Bowl on Thursday, might be the hottest quarterback in the NFL outside of the Colts Peyton Manning. Green has had the luxury of working with a great offensive line and serviceable wide receivers. Eddie Kennison has stepped up his game the last two weeks while Johnnie Morton has struggled. The X-Factor Dante Hall is going to play a lot against the Vikings because of the injury to Marc Boerigter.
In fact, I would not be surprised if Hall is the go-to-guy on offense. With the Astroturf surface at the Metrodome, Hall will be able to kick his speed into another gear. The Vikings don't have anyone on defense that can match his speed in the open field. Hall should have a big game. He also will have a chance to break the NFL record of four returns. Hall will be aided by a Vikings team that is awful in their special teams. Vikings punter Eddie Johnson has fumbled three punts in consecutive weeks and his nerves are shot. With the stress of kicking to Hall, Johnson should manage a few short punts that could finally net Hall the NFL record.
This game is big for both teams. The Vikings can control their own playoff destiny with a win against the Chiefs. They currently are tied with the Packers for the best record in the NFC North division. The Vikings hold the tie-breaker. The Chiefs need to throw up the gauntlet with a win on Saturday so the New England Patriots, who will be playing the Jets after the conclusion of the Chiefs game, have something to think about in regards to their quest to win the top seed in the AFC for the playoffs.
The Chiefs on Saturday need to take advantage of this opportunity. This game will send a message to the rest of the NFL and to the teams that the Chiefs might be facing in the playoffs. With eight players selected to the Pro Bowl team on Thursday, a decisive win last weekend and the hope they can still get the top playoff seed, the Chiefs need to treat this game as if it were the Super Bowl.
The team fell on their face against the Broncos two weeks ago and they can ill afford to do the same this weekend. A win and the Chiefs are a certain lock to earn a bye week in the playoffs and with the injuries they have now, they'll need the extra time off. A loss and the Colts could surpass them if they beat the Broncos on Sunday Night. This game will likely determine how far the Chiefs will go in the playoffs.
Now is the time to quiet the critics and put forth their best all around effort of the season.
* Playing against Randy Moss is not an easy chore. Not because he makes the spectacular catches but the fact that he only shows up for some games. If he's taken out of a game early, then he'll not be a factor the entire game. The Chiefs need to knock him around the first half and get him off his game. Who knows, that might be enough to shake up Moss and that would benefit the Chiefs.
* If Culpepper struggles in the first half against the Chiefs, don't be surprised if Gus Frerotte plays in the second half. When Culpepper was out with a back injury, Frerotte led the Vikings to some big wins. It was only when Culpepper came back did the team struggle. Since his return, Culpepper has only led the Vikings to a pair of victories. Those victories were both at home; a 24-14 win over the Detroit Lions and a 34-7 route over the Seattle Seahawks, not exactly impressive victories. The Chiefs pounded the Lions 45-17 last week and the Seattle has yet to win a road game this season.
* The Chiefs stand 8-0 this season when they don't turn the ball over the previous week. Turnovers will play a big part in this game. The Chiefs and their opportunistic defense are built around the turnover and the Vikings have the exact same model. In fact, both teams lead their respective conference in takeaways. The winner of that battle is likely going to win the Saturday's game.
* The eight Kansas City Chiefs players who were selected to the Pro Bowl on Thursday is the third highest total in franchise history. The 1970 team had 11 players and the 1971 team had 10 players selected to the Pro Bowl. This year the Chiefs and Ravens led the NFL with eight selections. Might that be a pre-curser to the AFC Championship game? That would be my guess.
Fearless Prediction : Chiefs 31 – Vikings 16
Season Prognostication Record : 11-3
2003 Game Recaps
Week #15: Chiefs 45 – Lions 17
Week #14: Broncos 45 – Chiefs 27
Week #13: Chiefs 28 – Chargers 24
Week #12: Chiefs 27 - Raiders 24
Week #11: Bengals 24 – Chiefs 19
Week #10: Chiefs 41 - Browns 20
Week #9: Bye Week
Week #8: Chiefs 38 – Bills 5
Week #7: Chiefs 17 – Oakland 10
Week #6: Chiefs 40 – Packers 34 OT
Week #5: Chiefs 24 – Broncos 23
Week #4: Chiefs 17 – Ravens 10
Week #3: Chiefs 42 – Texans 14
Week #2: Chiefs 41 - Steelers 20
Week #1: Chiefs 24 – Chargers 14