Those looking to see two polar opposite ends of the NFL spectrum will certainly get their wish when the Tennessee Titans head to Minneapolis to square off against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5 action.
The Titans come into Sunday's contest 1-3 and fresh off their third blowout loss in 2012, a 34-14 walloping by the Houston Texans. To make matters worse, quarterback Jake Locker hurt his shoulder and it seems unlikely he'll play this week.
Minnesota, however, will arrive at Mall of America Field riding high with a 3-1 record and a perch tied atop the NFC North. Those three wins for the Vikings match their total from last season and have some early season Coach of the Year buzz surrounding Leslie Frazier.
Regardless, a loss against a struggling Titans team could derail that train before it even leaves the station.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Sunday's contest.
Where: Mall of America Field, Minneapolis, MN
When: Sunday, Oct. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Line: Vikings (-6), according to Bovada.
Over/Under: 44, according to Bovada.
What's at Stake?
The Vikings come into Sunday winners of consecutive contests against good opponents and tied atop the NFC North with a 3-1 record.
Led by quarterback Christian Ponder, who has been nothing short of a revelation this season, the offense has been an efficient unit that has allowed the defense to thrive. As one of the most surprising stories of the season, the Vikings will simply look to keep the good times rolling on Sunday.
The prognosis for the Titans is far drearier. Locker dislocated his shoulder for the second time in 2012 last week and could miss multiple games with the injury (via the Washington Post's Matt Brooks).
Meanwhile, star running back Chris Johnson is in the midst of a disastrous campaign. Though he ran for 141 yards last week against the Texans, the speedster only had 45 yards on 33 carries prior to that contest.
While a 1-3 record does not necessarily preclude Tennessee from making a playoff run, it's far more likely that the team will be planning its draft rather than playing for a Super Bowl in January.
WR Kenny Britt, Ankle, Questionable
QB Jake Locker, Shoulder, Doubtful
LB Colin McCarthy, Ankle, Questionable
LB Erin Henderson, Concussion, Questionable
WR Michael Jenkins, Ribs, Questionable
DB Mistral Raymond, Ankle, Missed Week 4
DB Andrew Sendejo, Ankle, Missed Week 4
Fantasy Player to Watch: RB Adrian Peterson
While it is nothing short of a miracle that Peterson returned so quickly from an ACL injury, his inability to get in the end zone thus far has to be frustrating fantasy owners.
After scoring twice in the Vikings' season-opening victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Peterson has not reached the end zone in any subsequent contests.
However, hitting pay dirt is the only thing stopping Peterson from becoming a superstar fantasy option once again. Despite missing out on touchdowns, the Minnesota star has still averaged 10 points per week on yardage alone and has seemingly been getting better with each carry.
Don't expect that trend to stop against a Tennessee defense that has given up 136.5 rushing yards per game this season. It's impossible to predict touchdowns, but this seems like as good a week as any for Peterson to reclaim top dog status among fantasy running backs.
What They're Saying
Coming into Sunday's action, the Titans are tied for 29th in the NFL with a minus-six turnover ratio. While those problems are usually indicative of an interception-happy quarterback or fumble-prone running back, that is not the case in Tennessee.
The root cause of the team's ratio comes from the fact the defense has forced just two turnovers through four games. Knowing that is not good enough, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey made it clear the unit needs to start focusing on getting takeaways.
We have to get more turnovers to help our offense get shorter field position. Everybody has to hustle to the ball, one guy wraps up and the next guy in has to come in and strip the ball.
On the other side of the field, things are far rosier for the Vikings. When asked what prompted this unforeseen early season resurgence, wide receiver Percy Harvin gave almost all of the credit to Frazier.
We take on the identity of our coach. His big thing is he wants to emphasize the small things. He says if you take care of the small things, the big things will happen ... Right now everybody's locked in, trying to get their assignments down to the T.
Titans Key Player: QB Matt Hasselbeck
If Hasselbeck's play last week against the Texans is any indication of future performance, Tennessee may need a 2009 season from Johnson to compete.
The signal-caller's overall numbers, 17-of-25 passing for 193 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, simply look mediocre. However, facing up against a ferocious Houston pass rush, Hasselbeck put up most of his solid numbers in garbage time.
For a truer measure of his performance, ESPN's QBR metric graded Hasselbeck's performance a 4.2 on a scale of 100.
On the other hand, Johnson certainly looked rejuvenated in his season-best performance last week. Unfortunately for Tennessee, he faces off against a Vikings defense that ranks as the second-best unit against the run in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
That means Johnson will likely revert to his form from the season's first three weeks, leaving the onus up to Hasselbeck to lead the team to victory.
Vikings Key Player: QB Christian Ponder
Despite the second-year player's early brilliance, Ponder did show some major cracks in performance last week.
Playing against a mostly inept Lions secondary, the Vikings quarterback completed 16 of 26 passes for just 111 yards and was unable to get into the end zone.
Without two special teams touchdowns, Minnesota is likely looking at a 2-2 record and we are having an entirely different discussion heading into Week 5.
Nonetheless, the unbelievable improvement Ponder showed over the first three weeks of the season did not feel like a fluke. After looking overwhelmed for much of his rookie season, Ponder looked poised and confident even against top-tier defenses like the San Francisco 49ers.
A return to his home turf and a matchup against the Titans' porous secondary should spell a return to form for the Vikings signal-caller.
By all accounts, these are teams on two different trajectories. The loss of Locker not only puts the Titans in an untenable position at the quarterback spot, but forces the team to rely even heavier on Johnson, whose performance record is mixed to say the least.
Like most Vikings victories this season, don't expect this to be the most artful form of football. Nevertheless, Minnesota should improve its record to 4-1 with some comfort.
Score Prediction: Vikings 27, Titans 13
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