It’s December–the time of the NFL season when push comes to shove, the rubber meets the road, when the going gets tough and the tough continue to read articles littered with hackneyed clichés. One more: it’s how you are playing in December that counts. Well, for the Minnesota Vikings this season, that last trite expression doesn’t necessarily apply. As the 4-7 Vikings face the 2-9 Buffalo Bills on Sunday at the Metrodome, it’s just about all over but the crying, so it’s time to get those hankies and sponges ready.
It sure feels like it was over this week. The Vikings have a new head coach in interim HC Leslie Frazier, and many of the players were giddy this week in the wake of his first NFL win. But there was more talk of retirement for Brett Favre than there was about how to beat a team that has pushed three potential playoff teams to overtime, have lost by only three points in each of their past four losses and have won two of their last three. The Vikings had better come down off that victory cloud quick or they will drop their third home game in six this season. The Bills are a formidable challenge.
The Vikings have plenty of personnel concerns coming into the game. Adrian Peterson and Ray Edwards suffered sprained ankles in last week’s win over Washington. Edwards did not return to practice until Friday, while AP has been lobbying to play on Sunday. He would like to get in the game versus the worst rushing defense in the NFL, but the coaching staff is still saying it will be a game-time decision. If he doesn’t go, look for Toby Gerhart to get his first start, coming off a nice performance last week filling in for AP against Washington.
Left guard Steve Hutchinson also joined Edwards (questionable) and Peterson (questionable) in the MRI room and found that his right thumb is broken. He has had casted and taped up, but his effectiveness will surely be diminished if he is to play. If not, Frazier said that rookie offensive lineman Chris DeGeare is next in line to step in. Once again, the injury riddled offensive line will have more questions entering a game.
The revolving carousel that has been the wide receiver position this season is spinning again as Sidney Rice was held out of practice on Thursday (but appeared in a limited role on Friday) as a precaution and Percy Harvin (questionable) missed time due to another migraine headache. In addition, Greg Lewis (questionable) has not practiced due to a concussion but could play Sunday–which left the receiver corps at Thursday’s practice down to Greg Camarillo, Hank Baskett and the return of Bernard Berrian. Expect Rice and Harvin to get on the field by Sunday, though their lack of reps might limit the broader range of plays they may be able to run.
The other year-long trouble spot for the Vikings has been the defensive secondary, and Chris Cook, once again, is hurting. He experienced swelling in both of his surgically repaired knees and may see limited time (if any) on Sunday. Add to that the concussion to Husain Abdullah a couple weeks ago and hamstring injuries to Jamarca Sanford and Eric Frampton and the secondary is definitely less than 100 percent . The Vikings will need a strong pass rush to give them a hand.
No matters who lines up behind Favre, expect a heavy dose of runs as the Bills do struggle in that area. While ranked 32nd against the run, the Bills are 11th against the pass, so look for Favre to be in game-manger role unless AP can’t get on the field and Gerhart can’t get it done.
On offense, the Bills are ranked (25th) behind the Vikings (20), but Buffalo has put more points up on the board: 20.8 per game to the Vikings 17.2–which is ranked 30th in the league. The Bills are a better rushing team (compiling 110.1 yards per game) than passing (208.4 yards per game), but don’t expect quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to come out and sit on the ball. He will try to exploit some holes in the Vikings Cover-2 defense and is nimble enough to keep plays alive with his feet–something the Minnesota defense has struggled with.
Ultimately, it will come down to which team takes care of the football –save for last Sunday, that’s been the Vikings’ problem all season. And it will also matter who manages their emotions better–which means no crying and no blaming deities for missed opportunities. The crying will hold off for one more week for Vikings fans: Minnesota–21 (they really will score in the 20s) Buffalo–13.