With the NFC playoffs heating up, every game now counts even more for the major contenders. Which means Thursday night’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals could be the most important Thursday Night Football game of the season. Minnesota are currently tied with rivals Green Bay for the NFC North, and would make the playoffs as the NFC’s 5th seed if the season ended today. But the Vikings have been beaten twice by the NFC’s best. They lost to Green Bay in Week 11 and Seattle last time out. If they can’t win against Arizona, you can write off Minnesota’s Super Bowl hopes. The Cardinals are rolling atop the NFC West and are the favourites to secure the NFC’s second seed. But with the Seahawks hitting their stride, Arizona need every win they can get to ensure that they have home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Minnesota’s injuries
The Vikings were completely outclassed by Russell Wilson and Seattle’s offense last week. They were missing several key defensive players for most of the game; linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, and safety Harrison Smith. All three will also be absent this week against Arizona, as well as safety Andrew Sendejo. Against the league’s leading offense in both yards per game and points, the Vikings are shorthanded and will face an uphill battle to stop Carson Palmer and Co.
2. Adrian Peterson
Peterson had just eight carries for 18 yards against Seattle. While running the ball isn’t the first option when trailing in games, the Vikings would’ve been more competitive if Peterson had more carries. Peterson complained about the coaching staff after the game, and will likely see a lot more carries this week. But the Cardinals rank fourth in the league against the run, allowing just 89 yards per game. The Vikings need to establish the running game early to take pressure off Teddy Bridgewater, but that will be tough against the Cardinals.
3. Pressuring Teddy Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewater has been hit a lot this season, especially when the running game isn’t working. He was sacked four times by the Seahawks last week behind a subpar offensive line. Could Arizona have the same success? The Cardinals don’t have much of a pass rush in the traditional sense. Their sack leader is linebacker Dwight Freeney, who has three total sacks. Freeney is used mainly as a rotational player. The Cardinals lack a true pass rusher, instead focusing on using defensive backs to blitz opposing quarterbacks. This is where the Cardinals are strongest, with players like Tyrann Mathieu and Deonne Buchanan able to bring pressure. It will be a long day for Teddy Bridgewater.
Match-up to watch: Minnesota’s secondary vs Arizona’s receivers
With their secondary banged up, there will be plenty of opportunities for Carson Palmer to spread the Vikings out and pick on replacement players. Arizona have recovered from several injuries at the wide receiver position. With a wide variety of options like Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd and Jaron Brown, the Cardinals will have several favourable match-ups.
Prediction: Arizona Cardinals
The Vikings have three costly injuries that jeopardise their defense. Against an offense like Arizona’s, that is not a recipe for success. A big game for Carson Palmer and his receivers beckons as the Vikings lose more ground in the NFC playoff race.