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NFL Preview - Baltimore (3-2) at Minnesota (5-0)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Despite all of his success in the NFL, Brett Favre had never before began a season 5-0. Yet it took him just one season to accomplish that feat with the Minnesota Vikings.
The veteran quarterback will try to lead Minnesota to its first 6-0 start since 2003 this Sunday in a home matchup with the Baltimore Ravens at the Metrodome.
Favre has made the Vikings' decision to place their short-term success in his hands a good one, as he is off to the best start of his career in terms of wins. He had twice before gone 4-0, doing so in 1998 and 2007 with Green Bay, and both of those seasons resulted in playoff appearances.
One day after his 40th birthday, Favre threw for 232 yards with a touchdown pass in last Sunday's 38-10 victory over St. Louis. In winning their sixth straight game dating back to last season, the Vikings remained up on second- place Chicago in the NFC North. The Bears are 3-1.
Minnesota hasn't won seven games in a row since it began 2000 by going 7-0.
While the Vikings remained in the driver's seat in their division, the Ravens fell a game back of the Bengals for the top spot in the AFC North after Cincinnati rallied for a 17-14 victory over Baltimore last weekend.
After the Ravens went up thanks to a 48-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Ray Rice in the final quarter, the Bengals engineered a go-ahead drive of their own that was aided by three Ravens penalties, including a personal foul and pass interference call.
That allowed Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer to hit Andre Caldwell in the end zone from 20 yards out with 22 seconds left, dropping Baltimore into a second-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are also 3-2, in the division.
What was nearly as shocking as how the Ravens' second straight loss ended was the fact that they allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time since October 22, 2006, snapping a string of 38 straight games of holding opposing backs under the century mark.
Interestingly, the Vikings now own the longest streak of not allowing a 100- yard runner, a string of 28 straight games that dates back to November 11, 2007.
The Ravens lead the all-time series with the Vikings, 2-1, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 30-23 home decision on Christmas night 2005. Minnesota took a 38-28 decision in Baltimore in 1998, and the Ravens earned a 19-3 home victory in the 2001 regular season finale. A Baltimore-based NFL team will be traveling to Minnesota for the first time since the Colts played there in 1982, and will be trying to win in the city for the first time since 1966.
The Ravens' John Harbaugh and Vikings' Brad Childress will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective team, for the first time as head coaches. Harbaugh and Childress both served on Andy Reid's staff with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999 through 2005.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Baltimore managed just 257 yards of offense versus the Bengals, dropping them to fifth in the NFL at 382.2 yards per game. Flacco (1289 passing yards, 9 TD, 5 INT) managed a season-low 186 passing yards and posted his first multi- interception game, though he did throw a touchdown pass for a fifth straight contest. Perhaps the most curious thing that happened versus Cincinnati was the lack of touches for running back Willis McGahee (199 rushing yards, 7 total TD), who had just one run for minus-two yards and a single catch for four yards. That could have had to do with the Ravens' lack of red zone opportunities, as well as Rice's 69 yards on 14 carries and seven catches for 74 yards. Rice is now Baltimore's leading rusher (364 rushing yards) as well as its top pass catcher with 23 receptions. Tight end Todd Heap (21 receptions, 2 TD) matched Rice with seven catches totaling 41 yards last week, though wide receiver Derrick Mason, who leads the club 284 receiving yards, did not make a catch versus the Bengals after grabbing 19 through the first four games. Behind a line fronted by former Vikings center Matt Birk, Flacco has been sacked seven times this year, with the Bengals getting to him twice. Birk made six Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons with the Vikings and faces them for the first time. Tackle Jared Gaither missed last week's game after getting carted off the field in Baltimore's previous contest due to a neck injury, but could return for this one.
Birk and company could use Gaither, seeing as the Vikings lead the NFL with 18 sacks this season. The unit accounted for two sacks versus the Rams, with tackle Kevin Williams (11 tackles) posting his second of the season. End Jared Allen (20 tackles) is third in the NFL with 6 1/2 sacks, while reserve tackle Jimmy Kennedy (6 tackles) also has a pair of sacks on the season. The constant pressure on the Rams led to the Vikings recovering three fumbles, with Allen getting two of those. He took one fumble 52 yards for a touchdown as well. Allen has posted 21 sacks in his last 17 games, including the playoffs. Safety Tyrell Johnson (22 tackles) capped the turnover barrage with his first interception of the season, giving Minnesota an NFL-best plus-eight turnover ratio on the year. Rice and McGahee likely won't see a lot of room to run this weekend, as Minnesota ranks 10th (96.0 ypg) versus the rush, meaning Flacco will have to use his arm while trying to avoid the Minnesota pressure at the same time. Leading tackler E.J. Henderson (41 tackles, 1 sack) and fellow linebacker Chad Greenway (25 tackles, 2 INT) both notched six stops last weekend, while corner Cedric Griffin (26 tackles, 2 INT) led the way with seven tackles.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
While Favre (1069 passing yards, 9 TD, 2 INT) gets most of the headlines, it is running back Adrian Peterson that earns most of the defensive attention in Minnesota's games. The playmaking back leads the NFL with seven touchdowns and is second with 481 rushing yards. His play has kept the pressure off Favre's veteran arm and allowed the quarterback to have to force less plays. Peterson had just 15 carries versus the Rams, but posted 69 yards and two scores. Reserve running back and former Raven Chester Taylor (69 rushing yards, 21 receptions) added nine runs for 20 yards and also scored. Eight different receivers hauled in passes versus the Rams, including Favre. Wideout Percy Harvin (18 receptions, 2 TD) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (13 receptions) both had four catches, with Shiancoe grabbing his team-best third touchdown grab. Sidney Rice (17 receptions, 2 TD) led the team with 61 yards on three catches and could be in for a bigger role this weekend, with Harvin missing practice time because of a shoulder injury. Favre has been sacked 11 times this season and could be without starting right tackle Phil Loadholt for a second straight week. Artis Hicks started in Loadholt's place last weekend.
Normally Peterson would be sweating a matchup with the Ravens' run defense, but the unit showed some holes last weekend in allowing Bengals running back Cedric Benson, now the NFL's leading rusher, to post 120 yards with a touchdown on 27 carries. Despite that performance, Baltimore still ranks fifth in the NFL versus the run at 76 yards per game. The Ravens will also need to get themselves under control after last weekend's late penalties. One of those came from leading tackler Ray Lewis (45 tackles), who notched a game-high 10 stops against the Bengals. Safety Ed Reed (19 tackles, 2 INT) added six tackles and in addition to forcing a fumble, he took an interception 52 yards for a score. It was the sixth interception return for a touchdown in Reed's storied career -- a team record -- and his 12th regular-season touchdown. Baltimore, which is tied for third in the NFL with seven interceptions, also got six tackles and a sack from linebacker Jarret Johnson (20 tackles, 4 sacks). Johnson posted the Ravens' 11th sack of the year, tied for 12th in the NFL, last week.
This game presents a tough challenge for owners, as the Ravens face a less- than-desirable matchup but options may be limited due to bye weeks. For starters, even versus a stout defense, Ray Rice should get enough touches on the ground and through the air to be a must-start. McGahee's reduced role makes him a shaky play, while Mason owners should get better numbers this weekend. Heap is also a good play, as is Baltimore's defense.
Though Peterson is always a must-start, owners can cling to the performance of Benson from last week as a hope of things to come. Minnesota's air game could also put up some numbers, as Baltimore ranks 25th versus the pass. That makes Favre, Shiancoe, wide receiver Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice decent fill-in players. The Vikings' defense always deserves a look, while both kickers (Minnesota's Ryan Longwell and Baltimore's Steve Hauschka) could do well against stingy defenses that may limit the scoring to field goals.
Defense should rule supreme in the Twin Cities this weekend. Fans all over the country will find out the answer as to what will come out on top when a pressure-based Vikings stop unit counters a hard-hitting physical Ravens defense. That being said, both clubs also have their weapons on offense. Ray Rice appears to have the edge between the two main ball-carriers because he can make plays with his feet and hands, while Peterson makes his money on the ground. If last week showed us anything, it is that Baltimore is vulnerable through the air, especially late in the game. That is all captain comeback, aka Favre, needs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 20, Ravens 16
10/15 18:08:32 ET
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