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Updated: October 6th, 2012 2:27pm
Preview: Can the Vikings handle success? We're about to find out

Preview: Can the Vikings handle success? We're about to find out

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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Who: Tennessee Titans (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (3-1).
When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Metrodome (capacity: 63,725), Minneapolis.
TV: CBS (Ch. 4).
Line: Vikings by 6.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd year, 9-17); Titans -- Mike Munchak (2nd year, 10-10).
Series: The Vikings lead 7-4, including 6-1 in Minnesota. The Vikings beat the Titans, 20-3, in their last meeting at the Metrodome on Oct. 24, 2004. The franchise's only victory at Minnesota was a 17-13 win in 1992 when they were the Houston Oilers.
Last meeting: The Titans took a 20-7 lead en route to a 30-17 victory over the Vikings on Sept. 28, 2008 at LP Field in Nashville. Adrian Peterson rushed for two touchdowns, including a 28-yarder in the second quarter, and finished with 80 yards on 18 carries. Chris Johnson had 61 yards on 17 carries and two scores for the Titans.
At stake: The Vikings have surprised many with a 3-1 start that puts them in a first-place tie with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North. Tennessee is 1-3 coming off a 38-14 loss last Sunday at Houston. So could this actually qualify as a trap game for the Vikings? It sure looks that way but this will give Frazier's team another opportunity to prove its mental toughness and surpass its victory total from a season ago. In the Vikings' next six games, they will face five teams that are currently at or below .500. Only the Arizona Cardinals have a winning record. But the day the Vikings think they can win by simply showing up they are in trouble. This will be a good chance for Minnesota to prove it can win a game in which its expected to be the better team.

Injury report

Titans: QB Jake Locker (left shoulder) is out. LB Patrick Bailey (hand), WR Kenny Britt (ankle), LB Colin McCarthy (ankle), T Mike Otto (finger, knee) and DE Scott Solomon (hamstring) are questionable. TE Jared Cook (shoulder) is probable.

Vikings: S Mistral Raymond (ankle) and S Andrew Sendejo (ankle) are out. LB Marvin Mitchell (calf) is doubtful. LB Erin Henderson (concussion) and Michael Jenkins (ribs) are questionable. DE Jared Allen (groin), G Charlie Johnson (lower back), QB Christian Ponder (knee), CB Marcus Sherels (quadriceps) and CB Antoine Winfield (knee) are probable.

Five things to watch

Getting offensive: The Vikings beat the Lions, 20-13, last Sunday despite the fact quarterback Christian Ponder and the offense did not get into the end zone. That should not be an issue this weekend. The Titans' defense is ranked 31st in the NFL - 27th against the pass and the rush - and has given up an NFL-worst 151 points in four games. That is 20 more than the next closest team. The 37.7 points the Titans are surrendering on average per game puts them on a pace to give up 604 this season. The 1981 Baltimore Colts currently hold the record for most points given up in a season and that was 533. This means the Vikings have a golden opportunity to eclipse the season-high 26 points they scored in an opening-day overtime victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Vikings should have a chance to get off to a fast start as well. The Titans have been outscored 41-13 in the first quarter and each of their opponents has scored on either their first or second possession. The Titans will be hoping to get a boost if middle linebacker Colin McCarthy can returns from the sprained right ankle he suffered in the first half of the season opener.

Percy plan: The Lions' established a way to limit wide receiver Percy Harvin's production on offense by bracketing him when the Vikings had the ball on offense. Harvin was held to only three catches for 22 yards - he was the target of six passes - and rushed for only 12 yards on three attempts. The Titans' defense might be awful but coordinator Jerry Gray got some ideas from the Lions about how to slow down Harvin, who is third in the NFL in receptions with 30 for 299 yards. The question becomes do the Titans have the necessary parts to limit one of the NFL's most exciting players? The Vikings aren't going to give up on trying to get Harvin the ball given how dynamic he can be once it's in his hands. Of course, if the Titans do focus all of their energy on Harvin that's going to be good news for running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Jerome Simpson, who provides Ponder with a down-the-field threat and will be making his Metrodome debut.

Rush to judgment: It was only a few years ago that Tennessee's Chris Johnson sparked a spirited debate by claiming he was the best running back in the NFL. That sent reporters scurrying to ask the Vikings' Peterson what he thought of Johnson's comment. Johnson did have a case given that he rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009. Three years later, Johnson might still make the same claim but it doesn't hold up. Johnson, who was rewarded with a four-year contract that included $30 million in guarantees after a training camp holdout in 2011, rushed for 4, 17 and 24 yards in the Titans' first three games before going for 141 yards at Houston. Part of the issue is that the Titans' offensive line has not played well this season but some of this comes back on Johnson, too. Peterson is coming off reconstructive surgery on his left knee, but has rushed for 146 more yards and has 21 more carries. Peterson remains in the best running back in the NFL argument. Right now, that isn't the case with Johnson, who has rushed for 5,831 yards compared to Peterson's 5,743 since 2008.

Hasselbeck gets the call: This was supposed to be the second matchup this season of two quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2011 draft. Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick in the draft, lost to Ponder, the 12th pick, in Week 1. This was supposed to be Tennessee's Jake Locker, the eighth pick, against Ponder. But Locker dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder for the second time this season last Sunday. That means 37-year-old Matt Hasselbeck will get the start for the Titans. The 14-year veteran started all 16 games for Tennessee last season, passing for 3,571 yards with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He completed 17 of 25 passes for 193 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Texans. Both of those were returned for touchdowns. The Titans scored 44 points in an overtime victory over Detroit in Week 3 but otherwise have scored 37 combined points in their three loses.

Injury issues: If you're a Vikings fan there are three things to keep an eye. The first is how Ponder is able to move outside the pocket. He suffered an injury to his right knee at Detroit and was slowed in practice this week. Ponder was wearing a wrap on the knee on Wednesday and although coach Leslie Frazier said the quarterback showed improvement from Wednesday to Thursday, there is still a chance Ponder's mobility could be limited. Defensive end Jared Allen, who has two sacks through four games, had to leave in the second half at Ford Field for a few snaps because of what was believed to be cramping in his leg. However, it turns out he suffered a groin injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Allen, like Ponder, was a full participant in Friday's practice but that is the lightest session of the week. Erin Henderson has missed the past two games after suffering a concussion but is expected to start at weak-side linebacker. His role, however, will be reduced. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley played well enough in the nickel package that he and Chad Greenway will remain the linebackers on the field on passing downs and Henderson will exit. For the Titans, wide receiver Kenny Britt is not expected to play, according to reports.

Crystal ball

Judd Zulgad: The Vikings did not get a touchdown on offense last Sunday in Detroit but they are coming off back-to-back impressive victories over the 49ers and Lions. Given the struggles of the Tennessee defense, one easily could see the Vikings putting up some points in this one. I've picked against the Vikings the past two weeks and been wrong so I'm changing my tune this time around. Vikings 31, Titans 17

Tom Pelissero: The Vikings haven't been favored by this much since Dec. 5, 2010, when they were six-point favorites against Buffalo in Frazier's second game as interim coach and rolled 38-14 at the Metrodome. That also concluded their last two-game win streak before beating San Francisco and Detroit the past two weeks. Can a team that was supposed to finish dead last have a trap game in Week 5? Vikings 27, Titans 16.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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