THE SCOUTING REPORT
WHAT: Giants (8-4) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
WHEN: Monday, 8 p.m., TBD
SERIES RECORD: The Vikings lead the 21-game series 13-8, with victories in each of the last four meetings. The teams have also played three times in the postseason, with the Giants leading that 2-1. This is the third consecutive season the teams have met in Minnesota.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 3, 2010. This was a 44-7 trouncing the Giants should easily have forgotten because few of them made the mental trip there, anyway. It was a complete no-show, the end to a two-game, season-ending stretch in which the defense allowed 85 points and the team was outscored 85-16. The Vikings outgained the Giants 487-181 in this one, with Brett Favre connecting on four touchdown passes. The loss put the Giants at 8-8 and proved the final straw in the one-year reign of defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.
INJURIES: Giants – OL Shawn Andrews (back) is out. C Shaun O'Hara (foot) is doubtful. WR Steve Smith (pec) and WR Hakeem Nicks (leg) are questionable. S Brian Jackson (hand), DB Will Blackmon (chest), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (wrist), OL David Diehl (hip and hamstring), and DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) are probable.
Vikings – CB Chris Cook (knee) and S Tyrell Johnson (knee) are out. WR Percy Harvin (illness) is doubtful. QB Brett Favre (shoulder), G Steve Hutchinson (thumb), DE Ray Edwards (ankle), and QB Joe Webb (hamstring) are questionable. WR Bernard Berrian (groin), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), WR Greg Lewis (concussion), RB Adrian Peterson (ankle), WR Sidney Rice (hip), and S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are probable.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL WIN: The running game is back in gear after Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw compiled 200 yards against Washington. The Vikings do have a stout front against the run, but the offensive line has started to get healthy again, and the presence of David Diehl should help solidify whatever shortcomings the run-blocking had in the past. It will certainly become more physical now, especially with fullback Bear Pascoe barreling up the middle in front of Bradshaw. Tom Coughlin will probably stick with the same sort of rotation he had against Washington, with Jacobs starting but Bradshaw getting most of the carries. Also, the return of Steve Smith to at least part-time duty gives Eli Manning, in his 100th straight career start, a truly reliable receiver to throw to. Even if Smith doesn't start, look for Manning to find him in his old third-down role frequently, especially against a banged-up Vikings secondary. The Vikings' pass defense is 22nd in the league in yards against, and opponents have thrown 19 touchdown passes against the secondary. In response, the secondary has produced just 10 interceptions, so it's a unit that is eminently exploitable. A Giants defense that created six turnovers last week could have another good day, providing they can get pressure on Brett Favre or Tarvaris Jackson. Both have been prone to mistakes, as a minus-11 takeaway differential indicates. But they'll have to contain Adrian Peterson, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher with 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and a fast-developing Jason Pierre-Paul should supply most of the pressure while the linebackers and secondary concentrate on pass-catching tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. They probably won't have to worry about playmaker Percy Harvin, who has struggled with migraines the whole week, but they should worry about vertical threat Sidney Rice. The three-safety alignment should cover that, however.
WHY THE GIANTS WILL LOSE: Football players are creatures of habit, and the upheavel created by the snows in Minneapolis will certainly upset the Giants' applecart. They were stranded overnight in Kansas City, had one change of date already, and will undergo a change of venue because of tears in the Metrodome roof. Remember, while the Giants are holed up in a hotel, the Vikings are sleeping in their own beds. Advantage, Vikings. Then there's history. If ever there was a team that had Manning's number, this is it. He's 0-4 against them, and it's not even close. Nine interceptions against just two touchdowns. Just horrible. One has to wonder now whether the Vikings are in his head. He hasn't needed any help in throwing 17 interceptions this year, so a mental monkey like that can only make things more perilous. One or two turnovers could make the difference in this game, especially if Manning throws up another rock in the end zone. The Vikings are going through a resurgence since the firing of Brad Childress, and a re-commitment to the running game behind Adrian Peterson has lit a two-game fire. The Giants will have to be sure of their tackling, for Peterson is a bull who can break away from defenders. The Vikings only have 22 sacks and don't blitz much, but that doesn't mean they can't crank it up for a game.
PREDICTION: There is one line of thought that calls this game a trap game, what with division co-leader Philadelphia coming up next week. We don't subscribe to that here. This is December, and there are no trap games when a team is fighting for a division title. Still, that doesn't make this game easier to pick. The Vikings have raised their game, and the Giants need to keep going. The weight of history rests with Minnesota, but the memories of last year's embarrassment might be enough to motivate the Giants to better things. Giants win a close one, 24-21.