Below are three matchups that could decide the outcome of the game.
These are by no means exhaustive—a horrendous Washington special teams performance is to be expected, for example, while the defense is just as likely to snag a pick-six as it is to give up an 81-yard touchdown.
However, if everything functions as it should, the most crucial battles will be elsewhere.
Although these two players will not meet on the field, both teams are heavily reliant on their production.
Alfred Morris has been underused this year—sometimes because his team have been playing from behind—but when Robert Griffin III has handed him the ball over 19 times a game, the team has won.
NFL RB Leaders: (Rushing Yards) 1 LeSean McCoy 777 2 Marshawn Lynch 726 3 Jamaal Charles 725 4 Adrian Peterson 711 5 Alfred Morris 686— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 6, 2013
Shanahan will be spurred on by the emergence of Darrel Young and Roy Helu in recent weeks, so look for Washington to control the time of possession by splitting the carries and running the ball a lot.
Morris will remain the workhorse—he currently averages 5.2 yards per carry—but Young and Helu offer that extra wrinkle to the offense that should relieve some of the pressure on both Morris and Griffin.
Adrian Peterson has 25 yards more than Morris, but from 20 more carries. Washington’s defense was notoriously poor in tackling to start the year, but the goal-line stand against San Diego demonstrated improvement in that area.
Both defenses will be geared to stop the run, so it’s likely to be a war of attrition.
Jordan Reed vs. Vikings Secondary
With cornerback Chris Cook and safety Jamarca Sanford both questionable for Thursday’s game, Griffin should look to feed Reed wherever possible.
Both Reed and Pierre Garcon have looked to be the only pass-catchers reliable enough to consistently target, so both should see plenty of the ball.
Jordan Reed will have his best game of the year Thursday. Vikings are horrible vs. tight ends.— Nick (@NQS88) November 4, 2013
Reed had a quiet game against San Diego, whereas Garcon broke out for 172 yards from seven catches. Similarly, when Reed put up 134 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears, Garcon was limited to 58 yards.
The banged-up Minnesota secondary looked to be holding against the Cowboys in Week 9, but Tony Romo mounted a game-winning drive that again saw the Vikings lose a close battle.
Reed will be relied upon to make the tough catches across the middle as Washington looks to set up Minnesota with play action and an unpredictable rushing attack.
Robert Griffin III vs. Christian Ponder
Neither player is having the season that their respective fanbases expected of them, but neither can afford any mistakes in Week 10.
Christian Ponder accumulated 236 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the loss to Dallas, while Griffin threw for 291 yards and an interception in the win against San Diego.
Christian Ponder: "such a reliably below-average quantity they should give him a spot on the periodic table" http://t.co/J2SDMMPf6B— SB Nation (@sbnation) November 5, 2013
Griffin has to become more adept at looking off defenders and not telegraphing his throws. Far too often this year has he keyed in on his first read and thrown the ball there, regardless of the situation.
His legs will buy him time, but there’s no way he can get better in the pocket without climbing up, progressing through his reads and keeping his intended target a mystery until the throw.
Granted, the offensive line cannot protect him for long, but that just gives him more of a reason to do the other things better.
Ponder has shown some good things in his recent run with the team, but that’s been the hope for the last two and a half seasons now.
He’ll fancy his chances against a porous Washington secondary, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is likely to dare Minnesota to beat his men via Ponder’s arm.
The way the year has gone for the Vikings so far, the visiting defense looks the more likely winner.