Preview: Vikings vs. Giants
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (5-7) vs. New York Giants (8-4).
When: 6:20 p.m. Monday.
Where: Ford Field (capacity: 65,000), Detroit.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (interim, 2-0); Giants -- Tom Coughlin (7th year, 59-36; 15th year overall, 136-112).
Series: The Vikings lead 14-10 and have won four straight since 2005.
Last meeting: Brett Favre threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns as the Vikings rolled 44-7 in the 2009 series finale at the Metrodome.
At stake: The Vikings continue to cling to the faintest of playoff hopes, but the greater significance of this game is it's their first against a contending team since Frazier replaced Brad Childress. Against the teams that currently are .500 of better, the Vikings are 0-7. So, facing the Giants, Chicago (9-3) and Philadelphia (8-4) in a 14-day span will provide a more accurate gauge of the team's apparent improvement. The Giants are tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East Division and with Green Bay for the second wild-card spot. In that regard, the roles are reversed from a year ago, when the Vikings needed a win to clinch a first-round playoff bye and the Giants had been mathematically eliminated the previous week.
Vikings: CB Chris Cook (knee) and S Tyrell Johnson (knee) are out. WR Percy Harvin (illness) is doubtful. QB Brett Favre (chest/ankle/right shoulder), LG Steve Hutchinson (thumb), LE Ray Edwards (ankle) and QB Joe Webb (hamstring) are questionable. WR Bernard Berrian (groin), HB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), WR Greg Lewis (concussion), HB Adrian Peterson (ankle), WR Sidney Rice (hip) and S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) are probable.
Giants: T Shawn Andrews (back) is out. C Shaun O'Hara (foot) is doubtful. WR Hakeem Nicks (lower leg) and WR Steve Smith (pectoral) are questionable. S Brian Jackson (hand), DB Will Blackmon (chest), HB Ahmad Bradshaw (wrist), LT David Diehl (hip/hamstring) and DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) are probable.
Five things to watch
Wild weekend: Early Saturday, the line favored the Giants by 3. That was before 24 wild hours saw a storm dump 17 inches of snow on the Twin Cities, the Giants' plane get rerouted to Kansas City, the NFL switch kickoff to Monday night and the collapse of the Metrodome roof send the game about 700 miles east. Now the game is off the board in Las Vegas and seems likely to boil down to who better manages this unique and challenging situation. Players have credited Frazier for his calming influence over a locker room that had been thoroughly stressed out before the firing of coach Brad Childress, who was known to be easily rankled by even minor travel hiccups. And Frazier said Sunday's walkthrough practice was focused and productive, despite uncertain circumstances and players' frustration with being held at the team hotel overnight. It's anyone's guess whether all of that will make a difference on Monday, though. There are plenty of reasons the Giants were favored on the road in the first place.
To streak or not to streak?: The 30-plus hour delay surely didn't hurt Favre, who is expected to test his ailing throwing shoulder on the field before inactives are due at 4:50 p.m. CT. The 41-year-old quarterback told ESPN's Ed Werder he couldn't have played if the game remained on Sunday, and multiple reports on Sunday afternoon indicated Favre was leaning against playing on Monday, too. However, Frazier denied knowledge of any change in Favre's status, and it's worth remembering the Vikings can only benefit from the perception in the Giants' meeting room that their quarterback situation is unsettled. Tarvaris Jackson took the bulk of practice reps and is coming off an encouraging -- thoough uneven -- performance in a blowout win over the Bills. But Favre took the first reps with the No. 1 offense during Friday's jogthrough, suggesting he's continued to approach the week as if he'll make a 298th consecutive regular-season start.
Protection game: Whether Favre plays or not, generating offense will be a substantial challenge. The Giants defense entered the week ranked No. 1 in first downs allowed; No. 2 in total defense, pass defense and sacks per pass play; No. 3 in third-down efficiency; and No. 7 in rushing defense. It all starts with a line anchored by DE Justin Tuck, DT Barry Cofield and DE Chris Canty, who are enjoying exceptional seasons. And that could spell trouble for a Vikings offensive line that's playing one backup (Ryan Cook) at right guard and will start another (rookie Chris DeGeare) at left guard unless Hutchinson defies the odds and plays with a painful broken thumb. DeGeare was brutal in the running game in his first NFL start last week against Buffalo, but the Vikings nonetheless ran the ball well because of Peterson's big day. He made need another for the Vikings to have a chance.
Getting to Manning: No team has faced Giants QB Eli Manning more times without a loss than the Vikings, who are 4-0 with an average margin of 16.25 points. In those games, Manning has completed only 51.8% of his passes for 824 yards with two touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 47.8 passer rating. He's also been sacked nine times. But the Giants have allowed an NFL-low 12 sacks this season, and if they can protect -- an easier task in a muted environment at Ford Field, rather than in front of 65,000 partisan at the Metrodome -- Manning will find favorable matchups against the Vikings' depleted secondary. Nicks (62 receptions for 800 yards and nine touchdowns) and Smith (47-517-3) are expected to be back in the lineup, joining WR Mario Manningham (43-597-5) to form one of the NFL's best trios. Coming off a strong effort last week against Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom they hit a dozen times, the Vikings have to find some way to keep the heat on this week.
Playoff buzz: No, a win wouldn't put the Vikings back into the heart of the NFC playoff race -- but it would make that possibility just a bit more tangible. Beat the Giants, and the Vikings would pull to 6-7, two games back of Green Bay (8-5) and New York for the second wild-card spot with three games to play. (Atlanta and New Orleans appear shoe-ins out of the NFC South at 11-2 and 10-3, respectively.) The Packers lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to his second concussion in Sunday's stunning loss at Detroit, perhaps sidelining him for next weekend's game against New England. The Giants and Packers meet on Dec. 26 in Green Bay, so the Vikings would have to hope the Giants win that game in between losses to Philadelphia and Washington. That would pull the Vikings and Giants even at 9-7, with a tiebreaker in the Vikings' favor -- if Green Bay also lost to New England and to Chicago. A lot to hope for? Of course. But hope is really all the Vikings have.
The Giants haven't forgotten how the Vikings embarrassed them in January. Coughlin discussed the game in a Wednesday morning team meeting as "just a reminder of how poorly we played and how focused we have to be." Now, the tables are turned and it's the Giants who have everything to play for. The guess here is they'll find a way to win.
Prediction: Giants 27, Vikings 20.