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NFL Preview - Minnesota (3-7) at Washington (5-5)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Though the Vikings don't seem to have much chance at getting back to the postseason, owner Zygi Wilf hopes a midseason coaching change can at least give his team some stability going into 2011.
Facing a Redskins team that could be without as many as six starters this weekend should help too.
Less than one week after the firing of Brad Childress, Minnesota will debut Leslie Frazier as his replacement in this Sunday's road game against hobbled Washington, which is trying to give its playoff chances another shot in the arm at FedEx Field.
It is tough to pinpoint where everything went wrong for the Vikings, who reached the NFC championship game last year before losing to the Saints on an overtime field goal, and its a task that even Wilf couldn't do when announcing the coaching change on Monday.
Needless to say an 0-2 start and losses in five of the Vikings' first seven games had Childress on the hot seat. And though he appeared to temporarily save his job with a comeback victory over Arizona on Nov. 7, back-to-back losses to a pair of division rivals in Chicago and Green Bay sealed Childress' fate.
Though Childress went 39-35 with a pair of NFC North titles, rumored dissatisfaction among players with the former head coach as well as the release of wide receiver Randy Moss -- against Wilf's wishes -- on Nov. 1 less than one month after he was reacquired only further tilted the downward slide.
Expected to be contenders once again, the 3-7 Vikings are instead in front of only 2-8 Detroit in the NFC North.
"There wasn't one component that factored into this decision," said Wilf. "We just felt that we made the best decision for the organization moving forward. We have high expectations for this team, and wanted to capitalize on what is left of this season."
In steps Frazier, who has interviewed for numerous head coaching vacancies before finally getting a chance in Minnesota. In his fourth season with the Vikings and 12th overall as an NFL coach, he moves up from his defensive coordinator position to take over for Childress on what at first will be an interim basis.
One of Frazier's first tasks will be getting his team on track on the road. Minnesota has lost all five of its games as the visitor this year and eight in a row in the regular season dating back to last year. The Vikings haven't won on the road since last November 1 in Green Bay.
Frazier must also figure out how to handle quarterback Brett Favre. Now in his 20th season, the Vikings quarterback has accounted for 22 turnovers this year and was picked off once without a touchdown pass in last weekend's 31-3 home setback to Green Bay.
"It sure was hard for me to walk off the field today after a loss like that," said Favre.
Favre is starting to look like a man who will finally embrace retirement this offseason, but is expected to start this weekend as Minnesota hopes to snap a two-game slide and win for just the second time in six games.
While the Vikings are in organized chaos, things are starting to right themselves for Donovan McNabb and the 5-5 Redskins. McNabb was benched in the final minutes of a loss to Detroit on Oct. 31 and was then embarrassed by his former Eagles club, 59-28 on Nov. 15 prior to signing a contract extension.
However, McNabb threw for 376 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception versus the Titans on Sunday and helped drive Washington in overtime to set up Graham Gano's game-winning 48-yard kick, his fourth field goal of the game.
McNabb's ability to move the ball late will hopefully put to rest his benching during the two-minute drill on Halloween.
"So I guess we don't have to talk about that any more," said Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.
Washington was down around nine starters when all was said and done on Sunday, but still stayed within two games of the first-place Eagles in the NFC East.
Washington owns an 8-6 edge on the Vikings in regular-season play and came through with a 33-21 victory at the Metrodome the last time these teams faced one another in Week 16 of the 2007 campaign. That win helped the Redskins edge out Minnesota for the NFC's final Wild Card berth that season. The Vikings had won three of the four most recent meetings between the clubs prior to that loss, including a 19-16 triumph at FedEx Field in the 2006 season opener.
In addition to their regular-season advantage, the Redskins have a 3-2 lead in their all-time postseason series with Minnesota. The Vikings knocked Washington out of the NFC playoffs in 1973 and 1976, and the Redskins earned postseason wins over Minnesota in 1982, 1987, and 1992. The most memorable matchup between the teams is the 1987 NFC Championship, which Washington won by a 17-10 score en route to a Super Bowl title.
Shanahan has a 2-2 lifetime record against Minnesota, with all of those games coming during his 14-year tenure with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008. Shanahan's Broncos defeated the Vikings by a 22-19 count in the 2007 regular- season finale. Frazier, of course, will be making his NFL coaching debut.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Despite having a future Hall of Famer in Favre (2274 passing yards, 10 TD, 17 INT) under center, as well as one of the top running backs in all of football in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings rank just 30th in the NFL with 17.2 PPG and are 18th in total offense (336.8 YPG). Favre completed just 17-of-38 pass attempts versus the Packers for 208 yards. His 22 turnovers this season have led to 71 points for the opposition and Minnesota has a turnover differential of minus-13. Favre struggled despite the return of wide receiver Sidney Rice, who missed the first nine games due to offseason hip surgery. Rice ended with three catches for 56 yards, while leading receiver Percy Harvin (46 receptions, 4 TD) was held to just two catches for 12 yards. After missing the previous weekend's game versus Chicago, Bernard Berrian (18 receptions) was active versus the Packers, but aggravated a groin injury and missed most of the game. He is doubtful for this weekend. A first-half deficit of 17-3 took Peterson (980 rushing yards, 31 receptions, 8 total TD) out of the game as he finished with 72 rushing yards on just 14 carries. Minnesota will be without right guard Anthony Herrera, who could miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (30 receptions, 2 TD) is second on the club with 366 receiving yards.
Favre does have one edge this weekend as it looks as though the Redskins will be without safeties LaRon Landry (85 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Anderson Russell. Landry did not play in Sunday's 19-16 victory over Tennessee due to an Achilles injury, while Russell landed on injured reserve due to a knee injury. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh (69 tackles, 2 sacks) is also questionable after suffering a thigh injury versus the Titans. Cornerback Carlos Rogers (43 tackles, 1 INT) also did not play due to a hamstring injury while starting defensive end Kedric Golston (20 tackles) is questionable as well with a balky groin. In need of healthy bodies for its 32nd-ranked defense (411.1 YPG) and 29th-ranked pass defense (280.1 YPG), the Redskins signed former Eagles safety Macho Harris this week. Washington did get a sack from defensive end Vonnie Holliday versus the Titans while safety Phillip Buchanon (28 tackles, 1 INT) had six tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. Linebacker London Fletcher (92 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and safety Reed Doughty (53 tackles) led the club with seven tackles each, while linebacker Brian Orakpo (39 tackles, 7.5 sacks) had six. Favre will need to keep an eye on corner DeAngelo Hall (73 tackles), who leads with club with six interceptions.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Washington's offense did not come out of the Titans came healthy either. Running back Clinton Portis (227 rushing yards, 2 TD) returned from a five- game absence due to a groin injury, but aggravated the ailment after taking just five carries for 32 yards and might not play again this season. Keiland Williams (195 rushing yards, 5 total TD) took over the Redskins' 22nd-ranked run game (96.9 YPG) and finished with 68 yards on 23 carries while also making six catches. Also, right guard Artis Hicks is questionable with a thigh injury, center Casey Rabach is doubtful with a knee issue and running back Ryan Torain (391 rushing yards, 4 total TD) remains out with a hamstring injury. Still, McNabb (2642 passing yards, 10 TD, 12 INT) completed 30-of-50 pass attempts and his highest passing yards total since racking up 426 versus Houston in Week 2. Wide receiver Santana Moss (57 receptions, 3 TD) hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass and finished with six catches for a team-best 106 yards, while tight end Chris Cooley (49 receptions, 2 TD) had seven receptions for 91 yards. Still, Washington is scoring just 20.2 PPG.
McNabb will try to duplicate Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers from a week ago after the Minnesota defense surrendered 301 passing yards and four touchdowns to Rogers in last week's loss. Cornerbacks Asher Allen (31 tackles) and Chris Cook (21 tackles) struggled covering Packers wideout Greg Jennings, who had seven catches for 152 yards and three scores. Safety Husain Abdullah (42 tackles, 2 INT) dropped an interception chance at the goal line in the game and Jennings caught a TD pass on the next play. Minnesota's strength remains defending the run as it ranks seventh at 99.1 YPG. The Vikings did post three sacks on Rogers, with end Ray Edwards (23 tackles, 5.5 sacks) getting to him twice and defensive end Jared Allen (35 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT) recording the other sack. Linebacker E.J. Henderson (71 tackles, 2 INT) paced the club with seven tackles and outside LB Chad Greenway (99 tackles, 1 sack) added six. Allen, Cook and Abdullah had to combine to make 13 tackles. Defensive tackles Pat Williams (21 tackles) and Kevin Williams (19 tackles, 1 sack) present a tough challenge for any running back going up the middle.
Rice owners who waited all season for the WR's debut were disappointed last week and might be so again this Sunday given Favre's struggles. Favre is borderline fantasy play and hurts the value of Rice and Harvin. Peterson is always a must-start and Harvin is a big-play threat and probably Minnesota's second-best fantasy option behind Peterson. Minnesota's defense is always a solid option and kicker Ryan Longwell is 11-for-12 this year with most of those coming inside the 40.
Williams appears as if he is in line for the start but is a flex option at best because of the matchup. McNabb has been streaky this year but will have to throw the ball in this one. Cooley and Moss are consistent options and should get their looks in this one. Washington's defense allows too many yards and points, while Gano is coming off a big game, but is just 19-for-26 this year and has missed all three kicks from beyond 50 yards.
Who would have thought it would be the Redskins having the better postseason chance at this point of the season than the Vikings? Still, that is where the home team finds itself in this one. However, it is a dangerous game for Washington as Minnesota will have extra motivation now that Childress is gone. Coaching changes can often spark little runs (see Dallas Cowboys) and the Redskins don't have a healthy enough defense to slow down a focused Favre and Peterson. Though it will take a miracle for the Vikings to reach the postseason, they will play strong down the stretch for pride beginning this weekend in Maryland.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 27, Redskins 20
11/24 14:45:32 ET