It's not like I have a crystal ball. But I do think evaluating circumstances sometimes reveals motivations or other advantages a player brings into a particular game, above and beyond the question of who's a better football player on paper.
Last week it was Ray Edwards getting out of the pile. His motivation was fueled by enduring a week's worth of fan and media hype thrust at his former Purdue teammate, Cowboy's OLB Anthony Spencer. Despite being drafted later (fourth round for Edwards vs first round for Spencer) and having a much smaller contract, Edwards has had a much more consistent and productive career:
Edwards (four seasons): 21.5 sacks, 18.5 run stuffs, 6 forced fumbles
Spencer (three seasons): 10.5 sacks, 12 run stuffs, 3 forced fumbles
However, Spencer came into the Vikings game on a hot streak, having racked up 5 sacks over the previous four games. Quite a big turnaround considering many thought he was a 1st round bust as recently as mid-December. So all week Edwards had to simmer in his own house and watch as the football world idolized the visiting Spencer.
That would motivate just about anyone. Result: A career game for Edwards. Three sacks, two run stuffs, and a forced fumble in less than three quarters of healthy play. It seemed like he knocked down Cowboys QB Tony Romo most of the time even after Romo was able to get the ball out, too.
So given the circumstances, who will be this week's Ray Edwards, this week's standouts?
1. Brian Robison
Robison will get more reps at LDE after Edwards dinged his knee in the Cowboys game. But one match up few people are noticing is inside at three-technique, John Randle's old position. Robison's played a little there this year, with some success when lined up against a LG who has some trouble with quickness.
The Saints' Carl Nicks is an outstanding LG who many have suggested should have made the Pro Bowl this year. But at 343 lbs., Nicks might not be able to handle the 259 lb. Robison's quickness and athleticism.
I'm hoping DC Leslie Frazier lines up Robison on Nicks for five to 10 passing downs today not only as a change of pace, but to exploit that matchup. The inside rush will be an important component to neutralize the outstanding ability of Saints QB Drew Brees to get rid of the ball quickly, and to step up to avoid the outside pass rush even if he doesn't get the ball out right away.
2. Percy Harvin
It shouldn't surprise anyone when the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year plays well. Many Vike fans have been calling on coach Brad Childress to make more creative use of Harvin when the offense is on the field.
But few have noticed that when he goes back to return kickoffs today, the guy kicking to him will be Thomas Morstead, another rookie. Morstead has had some outstanding kickoff numbers this year, placing fourth in the NFL this year in touchbacks. He has the ability to boom them, at least horizontally.
But you have to wonder how consistently he gets air under his kickoffs. Other teams averaged almost 25 yards per return when he kicked off this year in the regular season, 28 yards per run back so far in the playoffs.
If Morstead kicks them out of the end zone, there's not much Harvin will be able to do. But if he lines one or two, or if in the interests of kicking away from Harvin the Saints put too much on rookie Morstead's plate and confuse him enough for him to shank another, those are the kinds of mistakes that could put the Saints coverage unit in terrible position to contain Harvin.
Like Harvin, "All Day" Peterson shouldn't surprise anyone with a big game. But he hasn't had one in a half season. Some Vike and FFL fans are so disgusted by AD's falling short of astronomical expectations this year (including fumbling at the wrong time), they've suggested a new nickname for him: "Part-time" Peterson.
Closer to home, AD's own position coach Eric Bieniemy "defended" his player earlier this week by pointing out that AD will help keep Brees off the field. By toughing out small gains and keeping defenses honest, AD is an important cog in the Vikes' goal to control the ball and keep opposing QBs off the field.
In other words, AD's a great 12th man for the defense.
But that's how you describe a great punter or kickoff specialist, not one of the most physically imposing RBs in the universe.
Bieniemy's backhanded compliment may prove to be a stroke of genius, something that coupled with the unfamiliar territory of getting dissed by fans, may ignite a bonfire in AD's belly this week.
Also keep in mind that the Saints pass D can be exploited by a receiver coming out of the backfield. Between them, RBs Kevin Smith and Steven Jackson caught 16 balls in two games against the Saints this year. And despite all the fan disappointment in AD, this was a breakout year for him catching the football.
He caught more balls for more yards than his previous two seaons combined, and placed 5th amongst NFL RBs in receiving yards this year. Not bad considering Chester Taylor got a ton of passes thrown his way, too.
Also Keep An Eye On
Punter Chris Kluwe had a major meltdown in Week Five at the Superdome last year, almost singlehandedly losing the game for the Vikes by setting up Reggie Bush very nicely on two punt return TDs. He got dressed down by Childress both on the sidelines and in press conferences, then two days later saw the team work out four free agent punters. Adding insult to injury, Kluwe is a UCLA alum, and Bush is from USC.
Kluwe is coming off a terrific, clutch performance against the Cowboys last week. He has all the reasons in the world to have a great game today.
QB Brett Favre and DT Pat Williams are among a handful of Vikings from the region who will be playing in front of a good sized personal cheering section. That can bring out a lot of emotion for players, especially at this point in their careers.
Again, I don't have a crystal ball. If I did, I'd be out placing big bets or buying lottery tickets.
But I believe the circumstances are set up for some of these guys to get out of the pile this week. To beat the Saints at the Superdome, they'll have to.