Two of the NFL's most surprising teams face off on Sunday as the Arizona Cardinals (4-2) take on the Minnesota Vikings (4-2). It's a game that should be a lot more intriguing than most people expected prior to the season.
Arizona will be looking to put an end to its recent slide. The Cardinals started the season 4-0, including victories over the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles, but have lost their last two. They must turn things back around before they spiral out of control.
The Vikings are coming off a loss of their own to Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. Minnesota needs to do a much better job of pressuring the quarterback this week after the talented rookie carved up the defense.
Neither team was expected to survive even this long in the race for a playoff berth, but now expectations have begun to rise. It's a tipping point game for both sides. With that in mind, here's all the key information for Sunday along with game predictions.
Where: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn.
When: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Vikings -6.5 (via Vegas Insider)
This is a good matchup for the Vikings. Arizona's horrendous offensive line will allow Jared Allen and Everson Griffen to wreak havoc and its shaky run defense should give Adrian Peterson a great chance to control the pace for Minnesota on the ground.
The Cardinals' recent struggles were summed up last week against the Bills. Buffalo basically tried to hand them the game with a series of late mistakes, but they couldn't capitalize and eventually lost by a field goal in overtime.
Even though they have the same record, Minnesota has been a little more consistent. The Vikings also have more playmakers on offense, which will be key in a game with two top-10 defenses involved.
Expect them to cover the spread.
Over/Under: 40 (via Vegas Insider)
The Cardinals offense was an absolute mess after John Skelton took over for an injured Kevin Kolb last week. He's not the type of quarterback who can have success behind a porous offensive line, and that's exactly what he's dealing with.
Add in the fact Arizona is missing its top two running backs and it's hard to imagine a scenario where the underdog is able to generate much offensive production. The Vikings defense is going to make it a long afternoon for Skelton.
While the Vikings should be able to outscore the Cardinals, it won't be a points bonanza. They are still working on finding the balance on offense now that Christian Ponder has proven himself. Despite the low line, under is the safer selection.
Key Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Cardinals: Kevin Kolb (doubtful, ribs), Todd Heap (questionable, knee), Kerry Rhodes (questionable, back), Paris Lenon (probable, knee) and Darnell Dockett (probable, hamstring)
Vikings: Jared Allen (questionable, groin), Antoine Winfield (questionable, knee), Jerome Simpson (probable, back), Adrian Peterson (probable, ankle) and Christian Ponder (probable, knee)
Fantasy Big Plays
Arizona: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is the only member of the Cardinals offense that should be in fantasy lineups every week, and that's only because of his track record of success. He's surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for five straight seasons and is on pace to do it again.
Just imagine the type of numbers he would put up in a more explosive offense. It's amazing even to think about it. But he still finds a way to produce in Arizona even though the talent around him is subpar.
He's scored at least nine fantasy points in four straight games.
The best part about Fitzgerald, at least from a fantasy standpoint, is that he rarely gets completely shut down. He sees a large percentage of the team's targets and turns them into solid numbers more often than not.
He should be in all lineups for Week 7.
Minnesota: Percy Harvin
While he doesn't get the same amount of attention as Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson or the league's other elite receivers, Harvin is a special talent. His ability to change the game in so many different ways makes him an invaluable resource.
That's true for both the Vikings and fantasy owners. He's scored at least eight points in every game, mostly because the team is focused on getting the ball in his hands as much as possible.
As if owners needed even more incentive to start Harvin on a weekly basis, he also returns kickoffs, giving him a chance to score points that way as well. He should continue to thrive against the Cardinals on Sunday.
Keys to Cardinals Win
The biggest key for Arizona remains more consistency from its offense line. The group has allowed an eye-popping 28 sacks in six games and has also struggled to open running lanes for the myriad of different rushers the Cardinals have played.
Minnesota's defensive line will eat Skelton for lunch if the Cardinals line doesn't protect him better than they did late in last week's game. And it doesn't matter which backup running back gets the call if there's no lanes for him to utilize.
On defense, the Cardinals have to focus on slowing down Peterson first and foremost. If he gets going early it opens up the passing game and suddenly the game has blowout potential. Shut him down and Arizona has a chance.
Keys to Vikings Win
Facing a Redskins offense led by Griffin is a unique task to say the least, but the Vikings defense didn't respond well. The unit must ensure there are no lingering effects from that poor performance when it takes the field on Sunday.
If the defense plays up to its ability, it should be able to contain the Arizona offense pretty well. That takes a lot of pressure off Ponder and the rest of the offense.
It starts with getting pressure on the quarterback, as usual.
As long as the Vikings execute their defensive game plan, Peterson and Harvin should have no problem handling the rest. A victory would be another big step toward establishing themselves as legitimate playoff contenders.
Vikings 24, Cardinals 14