From the time the Minnesota Vikings hit the sun-drenched fields in Mankato for training camp, they had their sights set on becoming NFC North champions. With two games remaining, all that stands between the Vikings and a “winner take all” matchup a week from Sunday against the Packers is a Sunday night prime time matchup against the New York Giants.
The Vikings have made the rise from pretender to contender in one season and are looking to close out the season on a roll, against a Giants team that has had some epic fourth-quarter collapses this season.
These are the 10 points of emphasis that will determine whether the Vikings are heading into Lambeau Field with a title on the line or getting ready to make a return trip the week after that.
I’m a Board Watcher – If things fall as the boys in Vegas expect, the Vikings will be getting good news when they look at the TV screens in the locker room. If Carolina beats Atlanta to remain unbeaten, the Vikings officially make the playoffs. If Arizona beats Green Bay, there will be a roar going through the stadium that could greatly impact the game itself.
On The Seventh Day They Rest? – If the Packers lose, technically Sunday’s game won’t count in the standings in terms of the Vikings playing Green Bay Jan. 3 for the NFC North Division title. The Vikings will have to submit their inactives before the end of the Packers game, but there is the potential to dial back some players who are coming off injury or get dinged during the game, going as high as Adrian Peterson.
Bend It Like Beckham – Not having Odell Beckham Jr. will have a huge impact on the Giants offense. Not only are his 91 receptions almost double the next highest total on the team, his 1,396 yards are more than double anybody else and his 13 touchdowns are more than the rest of the wide receivers on the Giants combined.
Throw Out the Records – Few teams have been snake bit like the Giants. Of their eight losses, they include defeats by one, four, three, one, six, three and three points. Despite a losing record, the Giants have actually outscored their opponents 373-358.
The Fourth Protocol (a.k.a. The Heimlich Maneuver) – The Giants have choked leads in the fourth quarter of games five times this season. In Week 1, they had 10-point lead with less than six minutes to play and lost. In Week 2, they had a 10-point lead with less than 13 minutes left and lost. In Week 8, they had a seven-point lead with 1:20 to play and lost. In Week 10, they had the Patriots on the ropes 26-24 with 1:50 to play, but lost. In Week 13, they led by 10 with nine to play and lost the game. That’s not to mention their massive comeback against Carolina that fell short. They aren’t as bad as they look.
Run to Daylight – News flash! Adrian Peterson has something of an ego. He enters Week 16 as the NFL’s rushing leader and wants to win his second rushing title in four years. He once had a lead of almost 200 yards. Now his lead over Doug Martin is just nine yards, so he will likely have to hit it hard in both games (with a bum ankle) to win the title.
Auld Lang Syne? – Depending on what happens Sunday and at Lambeau Field the following week, Sunday may well be the final outdoor home game the Minnesota Vikings ever play. It’s unlikely the roof on U.S. Bank Stadium will collapse like the Metrodome did, prompting the first outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium for the Vikings. Expect the fans to do their part to cheer on the Vikings the last time heavy winter coats will be required wearing during a home game. If the Vikings beat the Giants and go on to beat Green Bay, either the Packers or the Seahawks will have to come back to The Bank and try to make another withdrawal in the playoffs.
Eli’s Coming – While the Giants have been no great shakes this season, Eli Manning has taken the mantle of the most influential Manning brother after a lifetime of being the lesser Manning QB. In his last 13 games, he has thrown two or more touchdowns in 10 of them, three or more in the last 11 and eight in the last two. He won’t have OBJ at his disposal, but he’s firing on all cylinders and will still be dangerous.
It Takes Two – The Vikings continued their streak of defensive dominance last week by limiting Chicago to 17 points. Through 14 games, the Vikings have allowed two touchdowns or less in all but the Seattle debacle. If the Giants don’t score more than two TDs, it’s doubtful their defense (or special teams or offense on a Pick-6) can say the same.
No Ordinary Joe – Although he’s been non-committal about the significance of playing against his former team, Linval Joseph is expected back in the lineup Sunday after missing three games due to injury. Keep a watchful on him, because if anyone is motivated to blow up the Giants running game, it’s big No. 98.