EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants will attempt to keep pace with the rest of the contenders in a crowded NFC playoff race when they meet the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Mall of America Field. Both teams bring two-game winning streaks into the game. The Giants' victories over Jacksonville and Washington improved their record to 8-4, leaving them tied with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East. Minnesota, 5-7, defeated the Redskins and Buffalo Bills in their first two games under interim head coach Leslie Frazier. This is the third consecutive year the Giants are making a late-season trip to Minnesota. They lost their season-finale there in 2008 and 2009 and trail in the regular season series, 13-8.
The Vikings are ranked 18th in the NFL in offense with an average of 337.8 yards a game. They are eighth in rushing (127.7 yards per game) and 20th in passing (210.2). Minnesota has thrown an NFL-high 21 interceptions. The Vikings are 27th in the league in scoring, averaging 18.9 points a game. Minnesota is a run-first team that would prefer to have a 60/40 run/pass ratio on offense. The Vikings' minus-11 turnover differential is tied with Jacksonville for the NFL's worst.
Quarterback Brett Favre suffered a sprained right shoulder in last week's victory over Buffalo and it is not known if he will extend his record streak to 298 consecutive starts. At 41, Favre is still a supremely talented quarterback who possesses all the tools to be an outstanding player. He can make all the throws and he plays with uncommon courage and daring, which is one reason he has thrown 18 interceptions, the league's highest total. If Favre can't play, Tarvaris Jackson, a former second-round draft choice with 19 career starts, will step in, as he did last week vs. the Bills. Jackson threw for 187 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. He has the arm strength to throw accurate deep passes and the mobility to make plays with his feet.
Adrian Peterson is arguably the NFL's finest running back. He leads the NFL with 1,455 yards from scrimmage and is fourth with 1,123 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Peterson is the fourth player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and score at least 10 touchdowns in each of first four seasons. Peterson is an explosive, physical back with special cutting ability and the speed to run away in the open field. He also has very good receiving skills and is strong in blitz pickup. Fumbles have been a problem for him in the past, but he has not coughed up the ball once all season. His backup is rookie Toby Gerhart, who ran for 76 yards two weeks ago in Washington after Peterson hurt his ankle. Gerhart is a throwback, a big, strong power runner whose confidence has grown in recent weeks. The Vikings this week signed another runner in Lorenzo Booker, a former NFL player who played in the United Football League. He could assume some of the team's third down duties.
Fullback Naufahu Tahi is a steady blocker with strength and smarts in both the run and pass games.
Percy Harvin, the Vikings' leading receiver, did not play last week because of the migraine headaches that have plagued him in his two pro years. A first-round draft choice in 2009, he brings great versatility to the offense. Harvin leads the team in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. He is a lump-in-your-throat player who has 11 catches of 20 or more yards. Harvin lines up all over the formation and has 13 rushing attempts. Sidney Rice has returned to the starting lineup after missing the first nine games following hip surgery. A big, strong receiver, he is a big inside target with excellent hands. Rice made two highlight-show catches last week. Bernard Berrian, who started six games this season, is a solid No. 3 receiver with very good speed and awareness. He is at his best running inside routes. Greg Camarillo was obtained in a trade with Miami when Rice was injured. He is Minnesota's most targeted red zone receiver. Camarillo is a smart, savvy receiver who gets open in zone defenses. Greg Lewis (a good underneath possession receiver) and Hank Baskett (an excellent blocking wideout) are former Philadelphia Eagles who now contribute for Minnesota.
The Vikings' tight ends are interchangeable, because they all go in motion. The leader is former Giant Visanthe Shiancoe, who is second on the team with 35 receptions and two touchdowns. Shiancoe is in all the tight end groupings and is a legitimate threat both down the field and in the red zone. Twelve-year veteran Jim Kleinsasser is still one of the NFL's most dominant blocking tight ends in both the run and pass games. He is also a very good underneath receiver. Jeff Dugan plays some fullback and has two short-yardage carries this season.
Minnesota blends youth and experience on its offensive line. Left guard Steve Hutchinson is arguably the NFL's best guard. The seven-time Pro Bowler missed the Buffalo game with a broken thumb, ending his streak of 143 consecutive starts, but has returned to practice on a limited basis. Hutchinson is powerful, athletic, smart and tough. If Hutchinson can't play, Chris DeGeare, a rookie fifth-round draft choice, will again step in. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is a big, long-armed player with good movement skills. Center John Sullivan has had calf issues this season, but has good quickness and smarts. Ryan Cook took over at left guard after Anthony Herrera was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Cook has started games at both center and guard this year after playing right tackle his first two seasons. Phil Loadholt is a 6-8, 343-pounder with the strength to impose his will on defensive ends.
Minnesota's defense is ranked seventh in the league, giving up an average of 302.2 yards a game. The Vikings are fourth against the run, allowing only 92.0 yards per game on the ground, and 12th vs. the pass (giving up the same 210.2 yards a game through the air that they gain). Minnesota is tied for 15th in scoring defense, yielding 21.1 points per game, but is second in first downs, allowing 16.0 a game.
The Vikings have an outstanding veteran defensive line. Right end Jared Allen's 81.5 sacks since 2004 are the most in the NFL. He also has 21 career forced fumbles. Allen started slow this season, but has 7.5 sacks in his last five games. Rarely off the field, Allen also plays the run well. Nose tackle Pat Williams has played in three Pro Bowls because of his excellence at stopping the run. He is powerful, athletic and instinctive. Next to him is Kevin Williams, who has been to five Pro Bowls and is a quick and strong disruptive force vs. both the run and pass. Left end Ray Edwards has 5.5 sacks but has been bothered by a high ankle sprain. Solid and steady, he is a productive complement to Allen. Brian Robison started for Edwards vs. Buffalo. He is a high-motor pass rusher that must be blocked until the whistle. Jimmy Kennedy is a good tackle box run defender. Letroy Guion contributes at both tackle spots. Fred Evans and ascending rookie Everson Griffen also play.
Minnesota's linebackers are as good a group as the Giants will see this year. In the middle is E.J. Henderson, who has returned from a fractured femur suffered last season. He is second on the team with 110 tackles (71 solo). Henderson is an attacking middle linebacker who can play the run, drop into coverage or blitz with equal proficiency. Chad Greenway is leading the team in tackles for the fourth consecutive season (117 total, 84 solo, 9.0 for losses). He is an active, aggressive player. Nine-year veteran Ben Leber is a smart, instinctive player who can do everything required of a top-shelf linebacker.
Antoine Winfield, who has played in the last two Pro Bowls, is a complete cornerback who can play press, man-to-man and zone. A 12-year veteran, he plays the left side, where he is a very physical tackler despite being generously listed at 5-8. Right corner Asher Allen is a solid young corner and an effective cut tackler. Rookie Chris Cook, the third corner, missed the last two games with knee issues. When healthy, he plays left corner in the nickel with Winfield moving to the slot. If Cook is again sidelined, former Giant Frank Walker and former Eagle Lito Sheppard, a two-time Pro Bowler, will fill his role. Free safety Madieu Williams is an athletic player who is strong in run support and aware in pass coverage. Husain Abdullah is a first-year starter at strong safety. Tyrell Johnson is the top reserve.
Special TeamsRyan Longwell has missed only three field goal attempts in the last two years – one this season. He is 15th in NFL history with 1,565 points. Longwell has had 18 kicks blocked in his career. Punter Chris Kluwe has a strong leg and his kicks have excellent hang time. He is third in the NFL with a 40.6-yard net average. Harvin, a Pro Bowl kickoff returner as a rookie last season, is averaging 23.3 yards this year, including a 95-yard touchdown. Camarillo has an 8.8-yard average on 28 punt returns.