Vikings vs. Texans: Adrian Peterson and Houston Both Gunning for a Top Spot
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The ultimate team is taking on the ultimate player.
Here's everything you need to know about the game.
What it Means
The Texans lock up the top overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Vikings.
Minnesota is in a scrum with four other teams for the final NFC playoff spot. Given that they finish with the Texans and Green Bay Packers, they'll be hard pressed to bring it home.
Additionally, Peterson is in the middle of one of, if not the greatest, seasons by a running back in NFL history. He's already passed 1,800 yards rushing on the year, but needs nearly 300 more in the final two games to break Eric Dickerson's single-season total of 2,105.
Of course, he's posted at least 150 yards rushing in five of his last six and six of his last eight games, so the record is at least within his grasp.
Matchup To Watch
J.J. Watt vs. Minnesota Offensive Line
It gets old listing Watt as the matchup to watch each week, but then game after game, his play defines the Texans' fortunes.
In this case, it's the perfect opportunity to highlight just how dominant Watt has been against the run.
Normally, it's his pass-rushing ability that gets all the attention, but Watt is outstanding at shutting down opposing backs too.
According to Pro Football Focus, Watt leads all defensive linemen in run stops. It's part of the reason he's going to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Only one player in all of football has more run stops than Watt, and he's an inside linebacker.
Of course, Peterson hasn't piled up his yards running behind chopped liver. He'll have some help keeping Watt off his back. The entire Vikings line, with the possible exception of Charlie Johnson, is high quality.
Watt beat up on the Colts' cupcake line, but Phil Loadholt and Geoff Schwartz will offer more resistance than Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach did.
If Watt can be disruptive to the Vikings' ground attack, this game could be over early. If Peterson gets room to run, an upset could be in the making.
Stat That Matters
In six Vikings losses, they've turned the ball over 14 times. In eight wins, they've turned it over just eight.
Christian Ponder has had a brutal season, passing for under six yards an attempt, despite a high completion percentage. He's just 6-of-31 on passes over 20 yards this season.
Essentially, he can't make plays downfield and when forced to throw long, the turnovers start to flow.
Biggest Advantage for the Texans
The Vikings' offense isn't deep. Percy Harvin is the only target over 500 yards receiving this year, and the Texans play bang-up defense against No. 1 wide receivers.
They are also sixth in the league against tight ends, which takes care of Kyle Rudolph, the second-best target on the Vikings.
Offensively, Houston will do what it always does, but it's hard to see any way for Minnesota to match them. They are too limited in the passing game.
Biggest Advantage for the Vikings
The Vikings have Peterson.
At this point, Peterson is carrying the team. It will be hard for him to claim the MVP award without putting his team in the playoffs, but he certainly deserves consideration.
Vick Ballard of Indianapolis carved up a Texans defense that was playing back for the pass. It's possible Peterson could also run roughshod over Houston, but it would be a far greater accomplishment.
The Texans know he's coming.
Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game
The subtitles alone are gold.
Houston Will Win If...
...they put up 24 points.
Expect another conservative game plan from Gary Kubiak this week.
The Texans will pile up field goals, post a touchdown or two and dare the Vikings to come and get them.
Minnesota Will Win If...
...Peterson really is the MVP.
The Vikings have had some nice wins, but they've mostly come at home. They are 2-5 on the road.
Peterson would have to have a truly special outing to pull his team past Houston and hang on to that playoff spot for one more week.
This is an easy game to flip-flop on. The Texans are demonstrably superior in most respects, but the Vikings are desperate and feature an all-time great player having an all-time great season.
They have a path to victory in this game, but it's a narrow one.
Texans 27 Vikings 19
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