It is also a game featuring the league's two top sack leaders from the defensive end position (linebackers DeMarcus Ware of Dallas and Joey Porter of Miami lead the way overall with 19 and 17.5 sacks, respectively). Atlanta's John Abraham has 15.5 sacks and Minnesota's Jared Allen is just one sack behind after leading the league with 15.5 last year.
Abraham didn't make the Pro Bowl and Allen did. The reasoning, according those who know how Abraham operates within the Atlanta defensive scheme, is that he's more of a specialty pass rusher.
"They are both fast. They both have counter moves and everything like that to get off the ball. Jared is more an every-down player. (Abraham) is just a pass rusher now," said Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who will be charged with blocking Abraham most of the time when the defensive end is on the field.
McKinnie said that Allen's ability to play the run makes him "more of a complete player," and the Falcons may be limiting Abraham's playing time because of his injury history. Meanwhile, it's been Allen that has fought through a variety of injuries this season and still has made every start.
One of the more important tasks for the Vikings will be to figure out where Abraham is lining up. He will usually play on the right side of the defense, where McKinnie will face him, but the Falcons do move him around. Four of his sacks this year have come from the left side of the defensive line.
"I'm sure they have rhyme and reason to it. You're going to see him suffice on both sides. He's going to probe and test. I guess he's probably a natural coming off the right side – at least that's where he starts. Nothing says he won't swing left, which people are going to do," said Vikings coach Brad Childress. "They do the same thing with (Julius) Peppers, on the right and over to the left so that maybe you're not sliding your protection. He's over there and you slide your protection that way, then he's on the other side. Not a lot of rhyme and reason to it."
McKinnie said it doesn't make a big difference to him if he's facing Abraham, backup Chauncey Davis or anyone else.
"I've got to do the same thing and block whoever is there. You just have certain techniques (against certain players), but that's why you watch film too. You watch film and see what they like to do to see their tendencies," McKinnie said.
"I might have a different game plan for John, but if he's not in there, then I go back to whatever else there is to work on."
One similarity between the two, besides the sack numbers, is that both Allen and Abraham spent Wednesday and Thursday not practicing while dealing with knee and thigh/shoulder injuries, respectively.
JOINING THE TREND?
A win on Sunday would push the Vikings into their first season with double-digit wins since 2000, when they went to the NFC Championship game before getting blown out 41-0.
The NFL has a chance to set the league mark for the most teams with double-digit wins this season. So far, five teams – the Titans, Panthers, Giants, Steelers and Colts – already have at least 10 wins. In Week 16, eight more clubs could join them, including either the Vikings and Falcons, who join Baltimore and Dallas as 9-5 teams that are playing each other.
The record number of teams with double-digit wins in a single season is 13, which happened in 2003 and 2005. Incidentally, when the Vikings did it in 2000 they were joined by 11 other teams.
PETERSON SPEAKS UP
Running back Adrian Peterson told Atlanta reporters that it is easier for him to be a vocal leader this year than it was in his rookie season.
"Last year, I felt that the way that I go out and perform should say enough. I really wasn't that vocal last year," he said. "Now, I feel more comfortable around the guys. I am more outspoken. I am on the sidelines talking to the guys, telling them how I feel about a certain play or whatever we can do better the next play."
Peterson made his NFL debut against the Falcons and rushed for 103 yards and had a 60-yard touchdown reception last year. Now he has 1,129 rushing yards (125.4-yard average) and six touchdowns in the last nine games, including seven 100-yard games.
Peterson characterized his ankle injury as "normal wear and tear of the season" and said he didn't have any concern about it."
"We're just trying to spot him in practice, just to take a little stress off him," Bevell said. "It's just your regular wear and tear from the game."
Peterson's backup, Chester Taylor, has a touchdown in each of the past four games.
NO CHANGE FOR GREENWAY
Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said his role hasn't changed much since middle linebacker E.J. Henderson was lost for the season.
"Maybe more than anything, just more of a leadership role, knowing you have to step up when you lose a guy like E.J. Ben (Leber) has obviously done a great job of that, making the calls in nickel and in base," Greenway said. "… I'm playing the same position I've always played. Just more opportunities."
Greenway was called out by Fox Sports' Troy Aikman during Sunday's game as having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but Greenway didn't make the honorary game and said it wasn't a disappointment.
"I've come a long ways from when I hurt my knee a couple years ago and I don't need someone to send me to the Pro Bowl to tell me I've done a good job or that I'm playing on a good team," he said. "When you have the defensive players that we have on this team that are going over to the Pro Bowl, every one of them deserves it and there are more players on our defense that deserve it as well. You're not going to send the whole team over and I understand that."