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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (8-4) at Minnesota (5-7)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The two straight wins the Minnesota Vikings have delivered following a change in leadership have indeed been impressive, albeit far less so than Brett Favre's incredible run of 297 consecutive starts.
The Vikings are hoping both streaks can continue this week, when the revitalized team takes the NFC East co-leading New York Giants in a Monday night encounter that will now take place in the neutral setting of Detroit's Ford Field due to the effects a severe winter storm that has rendered the Metrodome unplayable to host this revised Week 14 game.
These two combatants were originally slated to lock horns on Sunday, but a blizzard that dropped 17 inches of snow upon the Minneapolis area damaged the Metrodome roof in several places while causing the 28-year-old facility's ceiling to collapse.
Since it would have taken a few days to repair the structure and make the Metrodome safe for playing, the NFL chose to move the contest to Detroit and keep it in an indoor venue. The game had already been pushed back to Monday because the Giants were unable to fly in to Minnesota due to the storm's shutting down of all local airports.
As for the participants, both teams will be entering this rescheduled affair carrying two-game win streaks.
Though still a longshot for a return postseason trip, Minnesota is 2-0 since replacing the unpopular Brad Childress with Leslie Frazier as head coach following a forgettable 34-3 home loss to rival Green Bay on Nov. 21. It's the first time the disappointing Vikings have put together back-to-back victories this season, and the defending NFC North champions seem to have displayed both a renewed energy and camaraderie with the necessary switch.
The most one-sided of the Vikings' five 2010 wins came in Week 13, a 38-14 shellacking of downtrodden Buffalo that marked the club's highest scoring output of the year. That eruption of points was even more noteworthy due to the fact that Favre spent the majority of the game on the sidelines after the legendary quarterback was forced to exit with a shoulder injury on the opening series after taking a hard blind-side hit from Bills' linebacker Arthur Moats.
An MRI taken the following day revealed a sprained SC joint in Favre's throwing shoulder, and he sat out this week's early practice sessions while experiencing considerable discomfort and a limited range of motion. All those factors have raised the possibility that the three-time league MVP may not be under center on Monday for the first time since Sept. 27, 1992, Favre's second professional season and first as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
If the 41-year-old, whose status likely won't be determined until game time, is unable to go, the Vikings will turn the offense over to one-time starter Tarvaris Jackson. The athletic former Childress protege produced mixed results after taking over in the Buffalo game, throwing three interceptions but connecting on a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Sidney Rice while completing 15 of his 23 attempts.
Favre isn't the only valued member of the Minnesota offense who's questionable to play, as dynamic wideout Percy Harvin dealt with a recurrence of migraine headaches that also kept him out of the Buffalo triumph during the week and is considered a game-time decision as well.
The Giants enter this weekend's clash with some injury issues of their own, though they've received mostly positive news regarding their ailing players in recent days. Wide receivers Steve Smith (pectoral tear) and Hakeem Nicks (leg), who have missed the team's last four and two outings, respectively, returned to practice this week and appear on track to suit up on Sunday, while offensive tackle David Diehl is also expected to return from a four-game absence caused by a partially torn hamstring.
New York was able to withstand its depleted receiving corps by utilizing a run-based approach in its Week 13 matchup with Washington, and wound up steam- rolling the disinterested Redskins by a 31-7 score behind a combined 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns from the backfield tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The win was the second in a row for the Giants and kept Big Blue tied with Philadelphia atop the NFC East standings prior to the Eagles' 30-27 win at Dallas on Sunday. New York will host Philadelphia in a critical divisional showdown next week.
Minnesota has a 13-8 advantage in its all-time regular-season series with the Giants and has defeated New York at the Metrodome in each of the past two years. The Vikings walloped the Giants by a 44-7 count in the 2009 regular- season finale and came through with a 20-19 decision during Week 17 of the previous campaign, though Big Blue rested many of its key starters for all or part of that game in preparation for the playoffs. That result snapped a three-game winning streak for New York in Minnesota, with the Giants posting victories there in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The Vikings subsequently won at Giants Stadium in 2005 and 2007.
The Giants own a 2-1 edge over Minnesota in the postseason, including a 41-0 home blowout of the Vikings in the 2000 NFC Championship. New York also won an NFC First-Round playoff tilt at home versus Minnesota in 1993, and lost an opening-round bout with the Vikes at Giants Stadium in 1997.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is 2-5 against the Vikings during his career, registering a 1-4 record since coming to New York in 2004 and a 1-1 mark during his prior stop in Jacksonville. Frazier will be taking on both the Giants and Coughlin for the first time since his recent promotion.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
New York's offense can be a very difficult one to keep in check when all its parts are in place and operating in sync, as evidenced by the team's No. 5 overall ranking in both total yards (384.6 ypg) and scoring (25.7 ppg). Besides the injuries, the Giants' biggest problem as often been a tendency to stop themselves, having committed a league-worst 31 turnovers that includes 17 interceptions thrown by quarterback Eli Manning (2982 passing yards, 23 TD, 17 INT). That hasn't been as much as issue the past two weeks due to the heavy emphasis on a ground attack that's churning out an average of 142.9 yards per game, with both Bradshaw (1013 rushing yards, 7 TD, 33 receptions) and the powerful Jacobs (577 rushing yards, 7 TD) having been very effective in a timeshare. The two backs have benefited by the work up front from a line that hasn't allowed a sack in a club-record five straight contests despite having been without Diehl and Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara for the majority of that period. The impending return of the physical Nicks (62 receptions, 800 yards, 9 TD) and the savvy Smith (47 receptions, 3 TD) should greatly bolster a receiving group that's relied heavily on inconsistent wideout Mario Manningham (43 receptions, 5 TD) and tight end Kevin Boss (26 receptions, 3 TD) as of late.
Frazier's promotion seems to have had the most impact on the elevated defensive coordinator's charges, as the Vikings have been a shutdown operation on that side of the ball in his two games in charge. After holding Washington to a paltry 216 total yards and generating four sacks in a Week 12 win, Minnesota yielded a mere 239 yards and had a season-best five takeaways against the Bills. The charge has been led by end Jared Allen (46 tackles, 8.5 sacks), with the premier pass rusher on a five-week tear in which he's amassed 7 1/2 sacks and forced a fumble, and the run defense has been superb as well during that stretch. The Vikings are permitting just 92.0 rushing yards per game (4th overall) and 3.6 yards per attempt, mostly due to the performance of a stout interior core that features two Pro Bowl tackles in Kevin Williams (25 tackles, 1 sack) and Pat Williams (23 tackles) and a quality middle linebacker in E.J. Henderson (80 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT). Minnesota has been somewhat suspect in the secondary, however, and may not have second-leading sacker Ray Edwards (24 tackles, 5.5 sacks) available for a second straight week due to a high ankle sprain, so opportunities may exist for Manning and his pass- catchers.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Regardless of whether Favre (2446 passing yards, 10 TD, 18 INT) drags his ailing and aging body out for another go-around or if it's Jackson (223 passing yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) calling the shots, expect the Vikings to give New York a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson (1123 rushing yards, 33 receptions, 12 total TD) come Monday. The NFC's leading rusher abused Buffalo for 107 yards and three touchdowns on only 16 carries last week despite dealing with a sprained ankle, and with rookie understudy Toby Gerhart (216 rushing yards, 16 receptions) hobbled by a gimpy hamstring, expect Peterson to see an increase from his Week 13 workload. Harvin's (51 receptions, 5 total TD) possible absence may be offset by the return to form from Rice (9 receptions, 2 TD), a 1,300-yard receiver in 2009 who compiled 105 yards and two scores on five catches in just his third game back from offseason hip surgery. He's the lone healthy standout of an otherwise pedestrian allotment of passing-game targets, though tight end and ex-Giant Visanthe Shiancoe (35 receptions, 2 TD) is a solid safety valve underneath. Like its opponent this week, Minnesota has been plagued by miscues throughout the season, owning a troubling minus-11 turnover ratio that's tied for worst in the NFL. The quarterbacks have been the primary culprits for that poor margin, with Favre and Jackson having combined for 21 interceptions.
Though the Giants stand seventh in the league in run defense (98.0 ypg), they were gashed for 207 rushing yards in a narrow win over Jacksonville two weeks back, so it's imperative that players such as linebackers Michael Boley (67 tackles, 1 sack) and Jonathan Goff (53 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and tackle Barry Cofield (43 tackles, 3 sacks) win their battles and tackle well to prevent the dangerous Peterson from going wild on Monday. New York's goal will be to put the Vikings into obvious throwing situations in order to unleash a slew of strong pass rushers that have teamed up for 36 sacks, tied for the third-most in the NFL. Ends Osi Umenyiora (38 tackles, 9 sacks) and Justin Tuck (59 tackles, 8.5 sacks) are tremendous disrupters who have forced an eye-opening 14 fumbles between them, while 2010 first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul (22 tackles, 4 sacks) has racked up a pair of two-sack efforts over the past couple of weeks. The Giants' knack for creating pressure is a big reason why they've surrendered the second-least passing yards this season (192.8 ypg), though the steady play of cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (70 tackles, 5 INT, 17 PD) and Corey Webster (42 tackles, 3 INT, 8 PD) has helped as well.
Peterson has certainly lived up to his lofty draft status in fantasy leagues and is an absolute must-start, especially in a week where many leagues are beginning the playoffs. New York's backfield split of Bradshaw and Jacobs could hinder the prospects of both players, however, as may a tough draw against a sturdy Minnesota run defense. Bradshaw has generally been the better option of the two this season. Manning's value gets a nice boost with Nicks and Smith back in the fold, though the latter will probably see a secondary role off his long layoff and isn't recommended. Feel free to re-insert Nicks, the Giants' best red-zone target, into starting lineups, and Manningham has decent potential as a second receiver or flex play. On the Minnesota side, Harvin's situation needs to be monitored up until game day, but give him the go-ahead if active, while Rice is now safe to use and should definitely be played if Harvin is again held out. There's no reason for Favre owners to sit around and wait on his status, however, as he's no longer starting material at this point, and Jackson would be a huge roll of the dice. Both defenses are worthy of a lineup spot, particularly when factoring in each offense's propensity for turnovers.
Minnesota has given the Giants -- and Manning in particular -- fits in recent years, and that trend could very well continue if the Vikings can reprise their two strong efforts under Frazier. New York is a considerable step up in class from the Redskins and Bills, however, and its high-pressure defense is more than capable of creating havoc upon an opponent that's real shaky at the quarterback spot right now. The feeling here is that Favre will start but won't finish, and Minnesota will make at least one too many pivotal mistakes that a solid defensive showing won't be able to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 27, Vikings 17
12/13 13:04:26 ET