On paper, Sunday's game would appear to be pretty evenly matched when comparing offenses and defenses. For the Vikings, a loss could signal the start of looking ahead.
The importance of today's game may not seem to be that vital to most Vikings fans. At 2-7, even if the Vikings could somehow run the table the rest of the way, their divisional losses alone would require the Bears and Lions to hit bottom like a lawn dart. But what makes today's game important is that it would all but officially eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention.
It's strange how an NFL locker room works. They're convinced they should be 7-2, not 2-7 (even they will admit they had no chance in road losses to Chicago and Green Bay). The coaching staff and the players still cling to the belief that they can turn things around and finish strong. But once the day comes that the coaches know there is no hope of the making the playoffs, a much different Vikings team may emerge.
Veterans with injuries will sit instead of playing through it or, more likely, see the number of snaps they take during games decreased.
NFL teams never tank games for better draft picks – that's why the NBA has a lottery – because they do have a lot of pride in what they do and 4-12 is better than 3-13. But, once the Vikings aren't in rational contention in the minds of the coaches – believe it or not, that point hasn't come yet – things will change. We will see more of Kyle Rudolph
and Christian Ballard
and other young Vikings players. In the final couple of weeks, veterans will get put on injured reserve and the Vikings will loot other teams' practice squads. They're going to start the process of moving to the future and not focusing 100 percent of their energy on the short-term.
The Raiders have the chance to make that theory a reality today. The Vikings are still holding out hope that a 9-7 season is possible. The longer they can avoid that, the better, which makes this in many respects, an important game of the 2011 season as it stands with the benefit of hindsight and foresight.
VIKINGS-RAIDERS BY THE NUMBERS
The Vikings have the 18th-ranked offense (5th rushing, 28th passing) and the 23rd-ranked defense (6th rushing, 30th passing).
The Raiders have the 9th-ranked offense (4th rushing, 16th passing) and the 23rd ranked defense (25th rushing, 20th passing).
The Vikings are averaging 325 yards a game (180 passing, 145 rushing). The Raiders are averaging 385 yards a game (229 passing 156 rushing).
Defensively, the Vikings are allowing 367 yards a game (273 passing, 94 rushing). The Raiders are allowing 379 yards a game (246 passing, 133 rushing).
While both teams are in the top five in rushing yards, the Vikings are third in average gain per rushing attempt and the Raiders are fifth.
The Vikings are tied for seventh in giveaway-takeaway ratio at plus-4 (12 takeaways, 8 giveaways). The Raiders are tied for 24th at minus-5 (13 takeaways, 18 giveaways).
The Vikings are tied with San Francisco at eight giveaways for fewest in the league.
Only four teams have more giveaways than the Raiders – Washington, San Diego, Philadelphia and Indianapolis.
The Raiders are tied for eighth in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 57.7 percent of their drives (15 of 26) that make it inside the 20-yard line. The Vikings are 12th at 53.3 percent (16 touchdowns in 30 drives.
The Vikings allow touchdowns on 15 of 33 drives (45.5 percent). The Raiders are 27th, allowing TDs on 17 of 28 drives (60.7 percent).
The Vikings are 27th in sacks allowed per pass play, surrendering 25 sacks, but seventh on defense, recording 27 sacks.
The Raiders offense is second in the league in sacks allowed per pass play, letting their QBs get sacked just 14 times in nine games. Only Buffalo has seen its QB sacked less frequently.
The Vikings are 11th in the league in third-down efficiency on offense, 48 of 119 chances (40.3 percent). The Raiders are 15th, converting 38.9 percent (44 of 113). The league average is 38.5 percent.
Defensively, the Vikings are 30th on third down, allowing opponents to convert 44.5 percent (53 of 119). The Raiders are 19th, allowing conversions on 40. 5 percent (51 of 126).
The Vikings are fifth in the league in average yards per rush against their defense, allowing just 3.7 yards a carry. The Raiders are 31st, allowing 5.2 yards a carry.
The Vikings are 31st in points allowed with 244. Only winless Indianapolis has allowed more (300). The Raiders are tied for 27th, allowing 233 points.
While 16th in yardage passing, the Raiders are sixth in average gain per pass attempt (7.8 yards).
The Raiders have had three 300-yard passing games – two from Jason Campbell and one from Carson Palmer. The Vikings have had none.
The Raiders and Vikings have both three 300-yard games passing.
The Raiders have had four 100-yard receiving games. The Vikings have had just one with Michael Jenkins.
The Vikings have allowed five 100-yard receivers, while the Raiders have allowed four.
Both the Vikings and Raiders have three 100-yard rushers – Adrian Peterson getting all three of the Vikings, while Darren McFadden has two and Michael Bush has one.
The Raiders have allowed three 100-yard rushers. The Vikings have yet to allow one.
Neither starting quarterback has been good in the fourth quarter. Christian Ponder is 29th in the league with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 71.8, which is Rodgers-like compared to Palmer, who has a passer rating of just 24.5 – completing 14 of 33 passes for 211 yards with no touchdowns and five interceptions.
Peterson is fifth in the league in rushing with 846 yards – eight yards behind Maurice-Jones Drew, 23 yards behind Matt Forte, 60 yards behind LeSean McCoy and 71 yards behind league leader Fred Jackson.
Peterson leads the league in third-and-1 rushing, converting all six of his attempts.
Peterson is tied for second in scoring among non-kickers with 11 touchdowns, trailing only Calvin Johnson of the Lions, who has 12 TDs.
Sebastian Janikowski is tied for 16th in scoring among kickers with 64 points. Ryan Longwell is tied for 23rd with 59 points.
Peterson is seventh in the league in total yards from scrimmage with 971 – 338 yards behind Fred Jackson.
Oakland's Shane Lechler leads the NFL in punting average with a whopping 51.7-yard average – more than a yard more than any other punter in the league.
Jared Allen remains atop the league in sacks with 13.5 – a half-sack ahead of DeMarcus Ware of Dallas.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.