Live Fantasy Playoffs Advice: Watch Fantasy Football Live
Both teams try to remain in the playoff picture Sunday when they meet at the Metrodome for the first time in over 12 years.
The Jets started the season 2-3, but bounced back with wins in five of their next seven games. They had outscored Houston and Green Bay 64-21 in consecutive wins entering last Sunday’s matchup with Buffalo, but lost 31-13 to the Bills and now have a tougher road into the postseason.
“It’s key to not just be able to string two weeks together, but three weeks, four weeks, that type of thing,” Jets coach Eric Mangini said. “You’re always fighting human nature. You come off a big win, you fight the human nature of, ‘Everything’s OK, things are good.’
“If you come off a big loss, you fight the human nature of, ‘The sky is falling, things are so bad.’ It’s never the case in either of those scenarios.”
With just three weeks left in the regular season, New York (7-6) is two games behind AFC East-leading New England, which lost 21-0 to Miami last week. The Jets trail Cincinnati and Jacksonville by one game and share the same record as Kansas City and Denver in the wild-card race.
Minnesota (6-7), meanwhile, is still alive in the NFC wild-card race following a 30-20 win at Detroit last week, but a dismal four-game slide from Oct. 30-Nov. 19 may prove costly. The Vikings began the skid with a defeat to the Patriots, but then lost three straight to San Francisco, Green Bay and Miami — teams that all have sub-.500 records.
“We don’t take care of business, then what everybody else does is moot,” said Vikings center Matt Birk, whose team closes out the season against Green Bay (5-8) and St. Louis (5-8).
Minnesota’s top-ranked rush defense has taken care of business this season, holding opponents to 703 yards (54.1 per game). The Vikings set a franchise record by holding the Lions to minus-3 rushing yards last week, which was also the fewest allowed by a team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
They are on pace to break the team record for fewest yards allowed in a 16-game season, set in 1994 when they gave up 1,090. Baltimore is the only team to give up fewer than 1,000 yards on the ground since the AFL-NFL merger with 970 in 2000—the same season the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
“I’ve been on tough defenses, but everybody always keeps it balanced and everything,” Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams said. “But I’ve never been on no defense where they rush 10 or 12 times and say, ‘Quit.”’
The Jets’ running game ranks 17th in the NFL and boasts just one 500-yard rusher in rookie Leon Washington, who has carried the ball 127 times for 566 yards and three touchdowns. New York will likely look more to quarterback Chad Pennington, who is coming off a shaky performance against the Bills.
He completed 22 of 35 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown to Laveranues Coles, but threw two interceptions with one being returned 58 yards for a TD. Pennington has thrown a career-high 15 interceptions this season, and said taking better care of the ball is one of his primary concerns.
“That’s something that I need to improve on, something that in the past that I’ve been relatively good at, and this year I haven’t done a good job of that,” Pennington said. “Even when our offense isn’t being as productive as we would like for it to be, you still have to take care of the football and make sure at the end of the game you have a chance to win. That’s all you ask for.”
The Vikings have been dealing with quarterback struggles of their own.
Brad Johnson has also been intercepted 15 times this season and has thrown only eight TDs. He nearly lost his starting job after throwing four interceptions and posting a 10.3 passer rating in a loss to Chicago two weeks ago.
The veteran signal caller had a better outing against the Lions, however, completing 14 of 22 passes for 159 yards and one interception. He also rushed for one touchdown.
“Aside from that one that went the other way, I thought that Brad did a nice job orchestrating that offense,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said.
Backup quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury, was a sixth-round draft pick by the Jets in 2003 and played three seasons with New York before being traded to Minnesota on Aug. 31.
Vikings running back Chester Taylor missed last week’s game with a rib injury, but said he is planning to play Sunday. Taylor is averaging 91.5 yards per game, but Artose Pinner proved to be a solid replacement last week, posting career highs with 125 yards and three touchdowns.
The Jets have won five straight against Minnesota and boast a 6-1 overall mark in the series, but the teams haven’t met since Oct. 20, 2002. New York, trying to win three in a row on the road for the first time since a five-game run to start the 2001 season, hasn’t played in Minnesota since a 31-21 victory on Nov. 20, 1994.