With the Giants having clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, that could turn out to be a big break for the Vikings as they again try to wrap up a division title on Sunday at the Metrodome.
As was the case going into last weekend, Minnesota (9-6) can clinch the NFC North with either a victory or a loss by Chicago. The Vikings had a four-game winning streak snapped with a 24-17 home loss to Atlanta last Sunday, and the following night, the Bears beat Green Bay 20-17 in overtime.
Minnesota fell into a tie atop the division with Chicago, which visits Houston on Sunday afternoon, but owns the tiebreaker. The Vikings haven’t won a division crown since taking the NFC Central in 2000.
“Our guys have come back looking to improve every single week, and there’s plenty we can improve on,” Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “It’s important that as Barack Obama said, ‘Our destiny won’t be written for us. It’ll be written by us,’ and our guys understand that.”
The Giants (12-3) already have written their destiny, having earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 34-28 win over Carolina last Sunday night.
The big question this week for New York is who will play and for how long. In last year’s regular season finale, coach Tom Coughlin went all out to try to beat the then-unbeaten New England Patriots despite securing a playoff berth a week earlier.
The Giants lost 38-35, but the performance gave them momentum during a playoff run that ended with a 17-14 upset victory over the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
“Our basic philosophy is that we want to win every game and that’s where our mentality should be,” Coughlin said. “We will be smart about any advice we get from our medical people.”
Coughlin said he planned to talk with his coordinators and team medical personnel before deciding what players - if any - will sit out. Cornerback Aaron Ross will miss the game after he was hospitalized overnight Sunday because of a concussion suffered against the Panthers.
Top rusher Brandon Jacobs could sit out all or part of Sunday’s contest because of a nagging knee injury. Receiver Domenik Hixon, who replaced the suspended Plaxico Burress, has experienced foot and ankle problems for nearly three weeks. Defensive end Justin Tuck (lower leg) and defensive tackle Fred Robbins (shoulder) could also sit out.
The absence of Jacobs surely would make things easier on Minnesota’s top-ranked run defense, which will be missing Pro Bowler Pat Williams for a second straight game due to a fractured right shoulder. Fellow star defensive tackle Kevin Williams is expected to play, even though on Monday the NFL asked an appeals court to overturn a federal judge’s order that blocked drug suspensions for the Williamses and three New Orleans players.
Even without Pat Williams last week, the Vikings allowed only 98 yards on the ground to a Falcons team which had been tied with New York for the league lead in rushing. They held Michael Turner to 70 yards on 19 carries.
The only player with more rushing yards this season is Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who has run for 1,657 yards and has a 166-yard lead on Turner for the rushing title.
However, Peterson has fumbled the ball five times in the last three games, with two against Atlanta, and the Vikings had seven fumbles in last week’s game, losing four.
“When you look at the position we’re in, it’s getting close to the playoffs so guys are going to do whatever they can do to get that ball out,” said Peterson, held to 76 yards on 22 carries last week.
Though Peterson is the league’s top rusher, it’s the Giants that have the best run offense with 158.9 yards per game.
They ran for a season-high 301 yards last week, with Derrick Ward rushing 15 times for a career-high 215 yards and Jacobs adding 87 with three touchdowns.
With 52 more rushing yards, Ward will post his first 1,000-yard season. With Jacobs already at 1,089 yards, the Giants are on the verge of having the fifth tandem in NFL history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in the same season.
“I want him to get it. I really do,” Jacobs said. “I want him to get out there and run as hard as he can to get those 52 yards. Do whatever it takes to get it. He has a tough defense ahead of him, ahead of us, this weekend in Minnesota, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us both.”
The Giants may rely on their ground game after the Vikings made life miserable for Eli Manning in the past two meetings. Manning has thrown four interceptions in each of his two starts against Minnesota and lost both, including a 41-17 home defeat last season.
Manning’s counterpart will be Tarvaris Jackson, who will make his third straight start Sunday. Jackson threw for a season-high 233 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta, and he has seven TDs and no interceptions in 2 1/2 games since taking over for Gus Frerotte.
In his last meeting with the Giants, Jackson went 10-for-12 for 129 yards and a touchdown as the Vikings won easily despite playing without an injured Peterson.
However, New York has won three in a row at the Metrodome.