NFL Preview - Minnesota (8-6) at Houston (12-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - There will be plenty to play for Sunday in south Texas when the AFC-leading Houston Texans entertain Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.
The Texans, who have already clinched the AFC South, can secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win against a Vikings team still in the middle of the NFC playoff picture with an 8-6 record.
The Texans have won seven of their past eight games, including last week's 29-17 win over Indianapolis to clinch the AFC South for the second straight season. Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt had three sacks against the Colts and is now tied for the NFL lead with San Francisco's Aldon Smith with 19 1/2, just three shy of Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22 1/2 in 2001.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 261 yards on 23-of-31 passing against Indy as Houston rebounded from one of its two poor performances this season, a 42-14 loss at New England. Arian Foster gained 165 yards on 27 carries and Andre Johnson made 11 catches for 151 yards.
The Texans moved the ball, amassing 417 yards, but scored only one offensive touchdown. Shayne Graham, however, kicked five field goals in Houston's third consecutive win at home against the Colts.
"I liked the way we got back to what we are as a football team today, protecting the ball, running the ball, playing solid defense," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
Minnesota, meanwhile, has a serious MVP candidate in Peterson, who tops the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards. Peterson has rushed for 100 yards in a franchise-record eight consecutive games, and has 1,313 yards during that span, the most by a player in NFL history over any eight-game stretch.
Last week, he rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' 36-22 win at St. Louis. With two games to go, Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 set in 1984.
"The record would be great, but the most important thing is to get a win in Houston," Said Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. "The fact that Adrian feels that way will permeate through the rest of the team.
"He wants to really concentrate on winning this game more so than the record. Our players are pulling for him without question, but I think every one of our guys knows the importance of winning this game."
Christian Ponder threw for 131 yards on 17-of-24 passing and ran for a touchdown against the Rams, while rookie kicker Blair Walsh kicked five field goals for the Vikings, who have won two straight to thrust themselves back into the playoff picture, moving into a second-place tie in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears.
Jerome Simpson led the receiving corps with four catches and 27 yards, and Everson Griffen added a 29-yard pick-six for the Vikings.
"I'm really, really proud of our football team," Frazier said. "Adrian was unbelievable, even with their defense stacking the line of scrimmage against him, and our defense played really well. We didn't turn the ball over and it was just a really well-played game."
The Vikings have never lost to the Texans but the team's have only met twice, a 28-21 Minnesota win back on Nov. 2, 2008 when Peterson ran for 139 yards along with a 34-28 Vikings overtime win in Houston on Oct. 10, 2004.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Peterson's nickname is "All Day."
The Rams stuck nine in the box on Sunday and had some early success bottling up A.P. for just eight yards on his first eight carries.
"This is probably the most I've talked trash in six years. Seriously," Peterson told ESPN Twin Cities. "Because these guys were coming in, hitting late -- not really late, but getting some extra hits in. I love it, because I play with that same passion.
"But I got up in some of the guys' face a couple of times, and I had to get away from that. Get back to being an assassin. Not saying anything. Just hitting them."
His ninth carry was quite the hit -- if fact it was the knockout blow. Minnesota caught St. Louis in a run blitz with a delayed draw to Peterson, who raced 82 yards for a touchdown, producing a look of awe on the faces of Rams defenders Chris Long and Craig Dahl.
"It was kind of a perfect storm for him to hit that run with what we had lined up and the play they called," Long said. "We continued to just pound away at it, but that's a damn, damn good football player and he made some really good plays out there."
When the Rams started showing some life in the fourth quarter Peterson was stacked up in the backfield before cutting right and again gashing the St, Louis defense for 52 yards.
"It was congested, so I was trying to make a way out of no way," Peterson added. "They had got within two touchdowns. We needed something done productive on offense. So, I just kept fighting."
By the end of the win the carnage read 212 yards on 24 carries for Peterson, who still has a real shot at reaching Dickerson's single-season mark.
"It's in the back of my head that I definitely want to accomplish that," Peterson said of breaking Dickerson's record. "So, I'm just going to continue to let the chips fall where they may. I look at (Sunday)'s game -- I could have had 300. You know what? It wasn't meant to happen. We got the 'W'. You got closer. Just move on, keep playing football."
Making Peterson's day against St. Louis even more impressive was the fact the Rams hadn't allowed a rusher more than 65 yards in each of their last four games.
Minnesota has the toughest schedule of any remaining playoff contender, having to play 12-2 Houston this week and Green Bay at Mall of America Field.
Postseason or not, however, Peterson has already captured many MVP votes. Forget the amazing comeback from major knee surgery in eight months. What A.P. has accomplished with a quarterback who struggles to throw for 100 yards each week and against eight- and nine-man fronts designed to stop him on a weekly basis is unprecedented.
"They kept crashing some guys down inside to make us bounce the football to try to get us to go sideways, rather than doing the things we've had so much success with," Frazier said. "And they had some success early, getting us to bounce some plays. But we eventually got what we wanted."
A cross between Earl Campbell, Walter Payton and Bo Jackson, Peterson will force Watt and the Texans to bring their lunch pails in Week 16 because he will be there -- "All Day."
"He's just phenomenal," Kubiak said when talking about Peterson. "So hard to tackle. The thing that's really difficult is I think we've been playing teams that are a lot different. We've been playing teams that spread us out, throw the ball, that's kind of been the way we've been attacked in the last four or five weeks or maybe even longer than that. And now all of a sudden we have to line up and tackle the best in football. We have our work cut out for us."
As good as Peterson is the Texans have really only struggled twice this season, against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, two of the three best quarterbacks in the game.
Both Rodgers and Brady speed things up and make sure defenses are off balance at virtually all times. Even Samantha Steele, the fetching ESPN reporter who married Ponder earlier this week, would have to admit her husband is no Rodgers or Brady.
Expect Houston to get an early lead and Watt to torture Ponder as the Vikings turn one-dimensional.
"He really dominates," Frazier said of Watt. "As a player, that stands out. He's hard to block one-on-one, he has outstanding quickness, he plays hard all the time and, not only is he good against the run, but he's an excellent pass rusher with the sacks that he's gotten and the way he bats down balls. He's just a very, very good player who can take over a game."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 27, Vikings 17
12/20 13:05:34 ET