No defense has been able to slow AP during the second half of the season. He’s almost single-handedly carried the Vikings on a two-game winning streak that has them thinking playoffs. Houston, though, is a complete team and will look to expose one-dimensional Minnesota.
Will Houston cover the spread?
Where: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas
When: Sunday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 112 or online at Audio Pass
Betting Line: Houston by 9, according to Bovada
What’s at Stake?
Houston can clinch home-field advantage with a win on Sunday. And you better believe it would love to avoid playing in the mountains of Denver in January.
While the Texans have much to gain, the Vikings will enter the contest with more to lose. Right now, they’re on the wrong half of the playoff bubble. At 8-6, Minnesota is in win-or-go-home mode.
Vikings Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 17)
Chris Cook (arm), CB, Injured Reserve
Kyle Rudolph (shoulder), TE, Probable
Texans Injury Report (via ESPN, as of Dec. 18)
Tim Dobbs (thumb), LB, Questionable
Brian Cushing, LB, Questionable
Alan Ball, CB, Questionable
Fantasy Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em and Sleeper
Start: Matt Schaub
Minnesota’s secondary made Sam Bradford look all-world last week. Bradford completed 35-of-55 pass attempts for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
Schaub isn’t embarrassing defenses like he did in 2009, but he’s in position to explode against the Vikings.
Sit: Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph should be a fantasy stud, but Christian Ponder is his quarterback.
He ha scored eight touchdowns this season, but when he doesn’t score, your fantasy team suffers. Rudolph hasn’t recorded more than seven receptions or at least 70 receiving yards in a single game.
He isn’t worth the risk.
Sleeper: Kevin Walter
Walter has been extremely quiet this season. However, against the Vikings’ 23rd-ranked pass defense, he could wake up.
Last week, four different St. Louis Rams receivers caught at least five passes for 55 yards. In a PPR format, Walter is valuable.
What They’re Saying
Among the many who want to see Peterson shatter the rushing record is Greg Jennings. He said on the Dan Patrick Show Tuesday:
“I want him to do it. It’s impressive to see a player dominate like that. It’s almost devastating if he gets that close and doesn’t get it.”
Perhaps Jennings forgets that his team, the Green Bay Packers, is scheduled to play the Vikings in the season finale, and if Peterson breaks the record the Pack would forever be on AP’s highlight reel getting trampled.
In other news, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle noted that the Texans don’t have a history of being in this position, to say the least:
Texans are in good shape physically going into Minnesota game. Road to Super Bowl has never gone through Houston.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) December 17, 2012
Vikings Player to Watch: Harrison Smith
If Smith were still at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish just might be favored against Alabama.
The rookie safety has been a stud for the Vikings this season. He’s tied for first on the team in interceptions with three, two of which he took to the house, and third in tackles. Because of Smith’s ability to not only slow the Texans’ top-notch rushing attack but create turnovers when Schaub takes shots downfield, he’s perhaps Minnesota’s most influential player not named Adrian Peterson.
Texans Player to Watch: Arian Foster
Everyone is talking about Peterson, but the Texans have a halfback who isn’t too bad as well.
Foster is not only talented enough to match AP’s effort on Sunday; considering Peterson will be facing a much stiffer defensive front, Foster could even outperform him. He’s fourth in the NFL in rushing this season with 1,313 yards and last week, he racked up 161 on the ground against the Indianapolis Colts.
Key Matchup: Adrian Peterson vs. J.J. Watt
Minnesota vs. Houston could very well be featuring the Offensive Player of the Year vs. the Defensive Player of the Year.
Peterson may be gunning for the rushing record, but Watt is putting up some gaudy numbers in his own right. He sacked Andrew Luck three times last week to bring his total up to 19.5 on the season. Watt leads the Texans in tackles too with 74—62 of which were solo take downs.
Whoever dominates more between the two most dominant players in the league will give his team the edge.
On the Hot Seat: N/A
Gary Kubiak has the Texans competing for the best record in the NFL. The only way he’d get fired is if he lost in the first round and A.J. Smith was his GM.
While Leslie Frazier’s job was in jeopardy this past offseason after the Vikings went 3-13 in 2012, he’s turned the ship around and has some temporary job security. Somehow, someway he managed to win eight games and make a playoff push with arguably the worst starting QB in the league under center, which is a tremendous accomplishment
My heart is telling me to pick the Vikings. They’re the hotter team and the Texans nearly blew their lead against the Colts last week to drop two straight. But my brain is telling me otherwise.
An upset wouldn’t be shocking, but Houston is simply a superior all-around ballclub. And at home, it should be able to chalk up a W.
Peterson will keep it close, though.
Houston by 3
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.