The 12-2 Houston Texans are battling for home-field advantage in the playoffs (Sun., 1EST/10PST), but the 8-6 Minnesota Vikings just for a chance to play in the postseason. In spite of the high stakes, most eyes will be on Adrian Peterson as he takes aim at an NFL single-season record that many thought unbreakable. Here are the matchups to look for:
Adrian Peterson vs. Houston Run Defense
It would be near impossible for Peterson to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2105 rushing yards by the end of Sunday’s contest, but it will likely be the most important game down the stretch in determining whether or not he breaks it. People seem to think it’s a given that Peterson will break this record. He needs almost 150 yards per game over his next 2 to do it, which isn’t a walk in the park. Houston is ranked 5th in rush defense DVOA, but I’ve been critical of their defense since Brian Cushing was lost for the year, and they’ve given up 120+ yards on the ground the past two weeks.
Minnesota’s defense in recent years is generally one of the best in the league, specializing in stuffing the run. This year it’s one of the worst, but is still stout against the run. The Vikings have been pretty good across the board at defending pass-catchers, but are markedly bad against #2 receivers and running backs, allowing 10 more yards per game to each than the average NFL team. If they want to put points on the board, they need to get Arian Foster involved, but they must do so through the air.
Pressuring the Viking Backfield
There’s no question that Wade Phillips needs to bring the goons all game on Sunday, and not just to stop Peterson. Christian Ponder is averaging under 6 yards per attempt this year, a ridiculous number in this era. But his 63% completions rank him as a Top 10 starter. They play the short game, and there’s no reason to keep everyone in deep coverage. As usual, the Viking line doesn’t pose much threat; they’ve allowed 30 sacks this season.
Prediction: I would expect a big game out of Peterson again this week. The Vikings will be forced to lean on him, as Ponder should take at least 3 sacks. Houston’s offense prides itself on its versatility, so don’t expect Dennison to take my prescription. But the high-powered offense should put up a good game on Sunday anyway. This week at Reliant, Houston wraps up home-field advantage.
HOU 24, MIN 17