Preview: Vikings vs. Jets
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (1-2) vs. New York Jets (3-1).
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Where: New Meadowlands Stadium (82,566), East Rutherford, N.J.
TV: ESPN (Channel 5 locally).
Line: Jets by 4.
Coaches: Vikings -- Brad Childress (fifth season, 38-32); Jets -- Rex Ryan (second season, 14-9).
Series: Jets lead 7-1.
Last meeting: The Jets won 26-13 on Dec. 17, 2006, at the Metrodome.
At stake: The Vikings return from a 15-day bye layoff to take on the season's toughest four-game stretch, which continues at home Sunday against Dallas and then goes to Green Bay (Oct. 24) and New England (Oct. 31). Upsetting the Jets -- who have won three straight and are among the AFC favorites -- would go a long way towards turning around a season that so far has disappointed. Losing would set up a critical matchup with the Cowboys to avoid heading to Lambeau Field at 1-4.
Vikings: CB Chris Cook (knee surgery) is out. C John Sullivan (calf) is questionable and may be a game-time decision. TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring), QB Brett Favre (ankle/right elbow) and LT Bryant McKinnie (finger) are probable. WR Sidney Rice (hip surgery) is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.
Jets: CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring), DE Shaun Ellis (knee), T Wayne Hunter (shin), C Nick Mangold (shoulder), RB John Conner (neck), LB Calvin Pace (foot), LB Jason Taylor (elbow) and G Brandon Moore (hamstring) are probable. Backup OLB Jamaal Westerman (ankle) is questionable. Veteran DT Kris Jenkins (knee) is one of three players on injured reserve.
Five things to watch
Randy returns: Five days after arriving in a trade from New England, WR Randy Moss will make his second Vikings debut against a team he saw plenty during three-plus seasons in the AFC East Division. Childress cited Moss' familiarity as an advantage on such a condensed timeline, but the reality is the Jets -- and All-Pro cover man Revis in particular -- have had the 33-year-old receiver's number. In their past five meetings, Moss has a combined 16 catches for 144 yards (9.0 average) and three touchdowns. Nonetheless, Moss' presence probably can't hurt a Vikings passing game that has been remarkably unproductive through three games. His ability to put vertical pressure on the defense still causes coordinators to guard against big plays, limiting extra-man boxes and opening the middle of the field. WR Percy Harvin should see more action in the slot, while the deployment of WRs Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo, Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett will depend in part on who's active.
Ailing Favre: In 2008, Favre's season with the Jets deteriorated when he suffered -- and then struggled to play through -- a torn biceps tendon in his throwing arm. Wavering accuracy and last week's reduced practice time make it worth wondering if Favre's tender throwing elbow is bothering him more than he's letting on, too. An MRI revealed only minor inflammation, according to Childress, but standard aches and pains surely are harder than ever for Favre to get over at age 41. He's been icing the elbow and began wearing a compression sleeve in practice on Friday. Favre's velocity, aim and body language all will be worth monitoring -- especially if he takes any hard shots to the right side of his body.
Big three-plus: To beat the Jets offense, defenses have known they needed to stop three players: TE Dustin Keller, WR Braylon Edwards and RB LaDainian Tomlinson. The only team that succeeded was Baltimore, which held the trio to 100 combined yards in the opener. In Jets wins over New England, Miami and Buffalo, they've combined for 262, 273 and 269 yards, respectively. This week, the Jets get WR Santonio Holmes back from his substance-abuse suspension, adding a vertical threat to the offense, too. And that will post matchup challenges to a Vikings defense that will be without Cook, who made a promising NFL debut as the No. 3 cornerback on Sept. 26 against Detroit but also hurt a knee. The more the Vikings play nickel, the more Asher Allen or Lito Sheppard will have to take on Edwards and Holmes on the perimeter, and that's a matchup the Jets surely will target.
Winds of change: The Vikings' first trip to New Meadowlands Stadium means a new challenge for the Vikings' specialists, who have spent the season's first three weeks indoors. Film study has shown the wind moves relatively consistently toward the Jets bench, whereas it tended to change directions and swirl more in the old building. P Chris Kluwe has been accurate and fairly consistent so far, ranking second in the NFL in net average (41.9) and sixth in pinning opponents inside the 20 (42.9%). PK Ryan Longwell is 3-for-3 on field goals, but the Vikings' kick-coverage unit as a whole has been mediocre -- they're eighth in gross average (67.5), 19th in opponent return average (24.9) and tied for 23rd in touchbacks (one), with an average starting field position of the 27-yard line. Neither coverage unit has given up a big return, but adding elements to the mix can mean enhanced unpredictability.
Center stage: Sullivan's injury means Ryan Cook probably will get the start at center -- an expected opportunity for the 27-year-old former second-round pick, who started parts of three seasons at right tackle before losing that job when the Vikings drafted Phil Loadholt. Cook (6-foot-6, 328 pounds) held up admirably after taking over for Sullivan on the second snap against Detroit's 4-3 front, but can he keep it up with big NT Sione Pouha (6-3, 325) playing over the nose? Play well, and Cook probably will get a chance to keep the job against upcoming 3-4 foes Dallas, Green Bay and New England. Play poorly, and the Vikings will have to keep looking for answers at the position -- perhaps giving Jon Cooper a shot at the job as well.
Until the Vikings offense starts throwing the football and executing in important situations, it's tough to bet on them against a quality opponent, particularly on the road. As always, one X-factor is turnovers. The Jets have forced eight and committed none -- an NFL-best plus-8 margin, compared to the Vikings' minus-3 (tied for 23rd). Those numbers almost have to reverse themselves for the Vikings to avoid a 1-3 start.
Prediction: Jets 23, Vikings 17.