By Paul Dottino
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Maybe the players were following coach Tom Coughlin’s lead. Or perhaps they decided to take a realistic approach to their playoff chances in sidestepping questions about their odds of making it this past week.<
Good idea. There’s simply no point in talking about the postseason because the Giants need too many things to happen to worry about it. They’ve had enough trouble winning games this season, and with two regular-season contests remaining on their schedule, they’ll need to grab both of them to finish with a respectable 8-8 record.
And they won’t have WR Odell Beckham Jr. (serving a one-game suspension for targeting to the head) as they visit the Minnesota Vikings (9-5) on Sunday Night Football, either.
Here are three key matchups to watch in the game:
1. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Giants MLB Jasper Brinkley
This ought to be a much more interesting battle to watch once you know the backstory. Brinkley has made a positive impact on the Giants’ rush defense since he became a starter. He has 34 tackles and three forced fumbles in seven games. He played for the Vikings (2009-12 and ’14) and has been Peterson’s workout partner, and he might know him as well as anyone in the league. Suffice it to say that Brinkley has seen that legendary jump-cut move in his sleep and will be ready for it. In fact, Brinkley credits Peterson’s determination to be great as a driving force behind his own play.
Surely you know that Peterson leads the NFL in carries (286) and rushing yards (1,314), but did you know that he also leads the league in rushes for no gain or a loss (44)? The key to slowing down Peterson is penetration and lane clogging at the line of scrimmage BEFORE he jumps through the hole.
2. Giants WRs Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks vs. Vikings CBs Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman
No matter how much the Giants want to remain balanced, it’s clear that this team has to heavily rely on QB Eli Manning’s arm to be in position to win games. Randle and Nicks — and you can add WR Dwayne Harris and TE Will Tye to this equation — have to be flawless in making plays on the other end of Manning’s throws to force the Vikings to play catch up. Minnesota’s only averaging 21 points per game (compared to 19 for its opponents), so it’s unlikely that QB Teddy Bridgewater would win a shootout against Manning.
Rhodes has been beaten for a team-high 6 TD passes and Newman for three. Nicks has caught one pass in each of the four games he’s played since returning to the Giants, but they’ll need much more out of him.
3. Vikings RDE Everson Griffen vs. Giants LT Ereck Flowers
An illness restricted Flowers to limited practice snaps Friday. Although it would be shocking to see this tough rookie come out of the lineup, how might it affect his strength and/or endurance? The Vikings don’t blitz much, yet have 34 sacks (15th in the NFL) and Griffen leads the team with 8.5. He’ll try to use his favorite speedy, powerful spin move to get to Manning. Flowers must employ excellent footwork and strength to counter Griffen’s moves and keep his quarterback in position to dissect the secondary.
There are two huge factors at play leading up to this game, and they may or may not affect both teams’ emotions and lineups. A Washington win over Philadelphia on Saturday eliminates the Giants from playoff contention. Also, there’s no way to tell how they will react to the single-digit temperature in Minneapolis.
The Vikings, who are a bit gimpy, will clinch a playoff spot Sunday afternoon if Atlanta loses to Carolina OR St. Louis loses to Seattle. Also, an Arizona win over Green Bay forces next week’s Vikings-Packers game to be for the NFC North title, no matter what Minnesota does against the Giants. These scenarios could take away some of the Vikings’ motivation to go full force with their bruised roster.