When: 1 p.m. ET Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: CBS
The last time the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets played each other, the stage was slightly bigger; Brett Favre and Randy Moss were playing their first game together, in a "Monday Night Football" battle of two teams that had lost in their respective conference championship games the season before. The game was delayed by lightning, and the Jets sealed the win by returning a Favre interception for a touchdown.
This year's matchup won't have quite as much sizzle. The Jets are 2-10, trying to win for just the second time since opening day against a 5-7 Vikings team. Former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin will face his old team for the second time -- and University of Minnesota product Eric Decker will return to his old college stadium -- but the matchup is largely a battle of two teams trying to build around young quarterbacks (Geno Smith and Teddy Bridgewater).
ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini analyze this week's matchup.
Goessling: Rich, there will be plenty of intrigue from Vikings fans this week about Harvin and how he's doing with his new team. How has he fit in so far, and what does his future look like with the Jets?
Cimini: Harvin says he's loving life with the last-place Jets. Go figure, right? Two reasons why he's enjoying life after Seattle and Minnesota: Unlike the Seahawks, the Jets have made him an every-down player. They've also given him a chance to be a traditional wide receiver, not just a gadget guy used on bubble screens and jet sweeps. He does some of that stuff, plus a handful of snaps at running back each week, but he's more of a complete player than in the past. He hasn't been very productive, though. In the five games since the trade, he has only 19 catches for 182 yards and no touchdowns, most of it coming in one game. I can't imagine the Jets bringing him back next year under his current contract, which pays him a non-guaranteed $10.5 million in 2015. They could try to renegotiate. Otherwise, I suspect he'll be playing elsewhere.
How are the Vikings managing without Adrian Peterson in terms of personnel adjustments and X's and O's? What about the off-the-field impact?
Goessling: It's certainly changed things on the field. The Vikings have run the ball well at times with rookie Jerick McKinnon, but now he's nursing a lower back injury and they don't have a running back who is much of a threat for explosive plays. Perhaps the biggest change, though, is how defenses play the Vikings. There's no need to stack the box, like teams did when Peterson was here, and you've got to think Bridgewater would get some more favorable defensive looks if teams were still worried about taking away Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson hasn't had much of an impact this season, either, and while there are a few factors involved in that, it's worth noting the Vikings haven't used him on the jet sweep without Peterson after he gained 36 yards doing it twice in Week 1. Off the field, the team has done a good job of blocking it out and staying focused, as least as far as we can tell, though players certainly want him back, and several have said they thought he should have been allowed to play. Even if Peterson successfully appeals his suspension, his future in Minnesota is in doubt.
The Vikings had some trouble last week with the Panthers' read-option plays, and gave up some big plays on the ground to both Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. How much read-option do you expect to see from the Jets, and what's the key to slowing down their run game?
Cimini: The Vikings should be worried because if there's one thing the Jets do well, it's run the football. They do it in a variety of ways -- read-option, jet sweeps, end around and an occasional wishbone look, if you can believe that. On Monday night, they rushed for 277 yards, becoming only the fifth team in the past 30 years to rush for that many yards and lose. Chris Johnson, coming off a season-high 105 yards, is fresh because he hasn't been used much. Expect another heavy ground attack, in part, because the coaching staff has little confidence in Smith's decision-making and throwing ability.
The Vikings are going through what the Jets did last season, playing a rookie quarterback. Is Bridgewater a keeper?
Goessling: I'll give you the old magic-8 ball response: Ask again later. Seriously, it's hard to make a definitive assessment of Bridgewater, because the Vikings weren't planning for him to be on the field this early, and they certainly weren't planning for him to be playing without several key pieces on offense (Peterson, most notably). Bridgewater doesn't seem fazed by what defenses throw at him; he's a student of the game and he has improved as he learns to trust what he's seeing at the line of scrimmage. The question I have is whether he'll be able to consistently make the tough throws he'll need to win at this level. The Vikings believe his arm is good enough, but being able to put the ball in tight spots when he's under duress is still something he needs to improve.
Is this the last we'll see of Rex Ryan in New York? Does he still have the attention of players, or do you see the team starting to check out on the season? What kind of an effort should the Vikings expect on Sunday?
Cimini: Yes, Ryan's days are numbered. There's no way he will survive a season this bad, his fourth straight season out of the playoffs. He's handling it exceptionally well, although there are times when he gets frustrated and emotional. The pulse of the team changes from week to week. You don't run for 277 yards unless the players are focused and determined -- a testament to Ryan's ability to keep them motivated. On the other hand, the Jets were a no-show the previous week against the Bills, losing by 35 points on the road. I have no idea which team will show up. A lot will depend on the first quarter. If they experience early success, it could carry them. But I wouldn't bet on it.
How are the Vikings at stopping the run? Reason I ask is because, based on Monday night's performance, they won't see too many passes from the Jets.
Goessling: They've had trouble with it; Mike Zimmer talked on Wednesday about how he wasn't happy with the run defense as a whole, and how the tackling specifically needs to improve. The Panthers got 50 of their 178 yards after contact last week, and the Vikings will certainly be focused on slowing the Jets' running game down this week. They signed former Giants nose tackle Linval Joseph to plug up the middle of their defensive line, and Joseph has played well at times this season, but the front has been leakier in the past few weeks than Zimmer would like. It suffices to say that'll be the biggest priority for the Vikings' defense this week against the Jets.