THE CRYSTAL BALL

The Dolphins suffered a 13-7 loss in their last visit to the Metrodome two years ago in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. But these are two completely different teams that will face each other Saturday afternoon. Here's how we think the game will unfold.

Jay Fiedler was making his second start for the Dolphins in that game in September of 2000, and the Dolphins didn't have nearly enough offensive firepower to combat a Vikings offense that was loaded with Pro Bowl players.

The Vikings marched up and down the field that day, but only managed 13 points despite racking up 468 total yards.

This Minnesota offense isn't quite as potent as the 2000 version, but the Dolphins defense will have its hands full nonetheless.

The biggest concern for the Dolphins defense might be matching the intensity they have shown at home. It's no coincidence that the Dolphins give up twice as many points on the road than at home and about 150 more yards per game.

That's what makes this game so dangerous.

If the Dolphins don't show up ready to play on defense, they could be in for a long day because of Michael Bennett, Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss.

Bennett is pretty much a straight-ahead runner, but he has track speed and is gone if he gets a crease. Gap control for the Dolphins defense will never be more important than it will be Saturday.

As for Moss, don't look for the Dolphins to do anything special against him, although they would be well-advised to avoid matching Jamar Fletcher against him. Fletcher doesn't have anywhere near enough speed or size to stop Moss in one-on-one situations.

The Dolphins did well on the road against high-powered teams Denver and Indy, holding them to 24 and 13 points, respectively. But they did give up over 400 yards of offense in both those games.

It would be nice to think the Dolphins can totally shut down the Vikings offense, but their recent history of defense on the road suggests that Minnesota will gain some yardage in this game.

The key will be to force a couple of turnovers to keep Minnesota from racking up the points.

Then it will be up to the offense to take care of the rest.

And the Dolphins are a lot more equipped than two years ago to do just that.

Minnesota is terrible against the pass, so this should be a day when Jay Fiedler puts up some decent numbers and Chris Chambers has a big day, like the one he had against the Raiders.

Ricky Williams will get his yards, although he may wind up playing a complementary role for the second consecutive week. Say Williams gets about 121 yards.

Fiedler, meanwhile, will throw at least a couple of touchdown passes. And we're saying here he will avoid the big mistake that Culpepper will make at some point.

This really should be a high-scoring game, despite the Dolphins' high ranking on defense, but they now have the firepower to play that type of game.

It won't be easy, but we see them leaving the Metrodome with a big victory.

The call: Dolphins 30, Vikings 27.


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