The Minnesota Vikings have the worst passing game in the NFL. They also, however, have the game's best running back in Adrian Peterson, and in large part because of that they are right in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. They'll go on the road in Week 16 to face a Houston Texans team that can wrap up home field advantage through the AFC playoffs with a win on Sunday.
With Peterson and Arian Foster -- who has the fourth-most rushing yards in the league (1,313) and a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns -- this game will feature two of the NFL's premier running backs and rushing offenses. Minnesota ranks fourth (160.2 yards per game) in the NFL in rushing, while Houston (142.0 yards per game) ranks fifth.
Meet the Houston Texans
Houston clinched the AFC South division title by getting past the Indianapolis Colts, 29-17, last Sunday at home. That victory was a solid rebound effort following their 42-14 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Monday night in Week 14.
The Texans have the league's fifth-best rush defense, giving up only 93.2 yards per contest. In Peterson, of course, that statistic should be put to one of its strongest tests of the regular season. By ensuring home field advantage with a win over the Vikings, Houston would have the option to rest key starters for the playoffs in Week 17.
Meet the Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings responded to two consecutive losses to their division rival Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers with back-to-back wins over those same Bears and, last week, the St. Louis Rams. Currently in the sixth and final postseason spot, their two latest victories have them positioned for the stretch run to the playoffs.
Peterson, who has rushed for over 200 yards in two of the last three weeks and has 1,812 yards on the ground in total, now stands only 294 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, vaulting himself into Most Valuable Player consideration as well. Additionally, his 11 rushing touchdowns rank second in the league behind Foster.
Local Takes: Texans
TexansDC from Battle Red Blog says the key Sunday will come in trying to slow down Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson:
"However, it still felt worse than that because Vick Ballard ran for 5.8 yards per carry. This is disconcerting, especially when presumptive Comeback Player of the Year and MVP Candidate Adrian Peterson is headed to Houston for an 'Irresistible Force/Immovable Object' battle with presumptive Defensive Player of the Year and MVP Candidate J.J. Watt."
Local Takes: Vikings
Christopher Gates from the Daily Norseman lays out potential playoff scenarios for Minnesota:
"Basically. . .the Vikings need to get to 10-6, and hope that only one of the three NFC East teams (rather than two) gets to 10-6. In a three-way tie at 10-6 with the Giants and either the Redskins or the Cowboys, the Vikings find themselves on the outside looking in. Remember, the best the NFC East can do is two 10-6 teams, as the Week 17 match-up between Dallas and Washington could potentially serve as an elimination game if both teams enter at 9-6."
Follow the Fun
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@NickScurfield - Texans' insider for the team's website.
"Heck, this could be a 2 1/2-hour game the way they run the ball & hopefully we can run the ball." Kubiak on Vikings #Texans— Nick Scurfield (@NickScurfield) December 17, 2012
@murphPPress - Vikings reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
"I tell you, every game now is a playoff game so every win is a big win." -- Vikings owner Zygi Wilf walking out of a victorious locker room— Brian Murphy (@murphPPress) December 16, 2012
Yeah, two good teams are playing, but this is really about Adrian Peterson. He's 188 yards away from 2,000 yards for the season and 293 away from Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. The Texans currently have the No. 5 ranked rush defense in the NFL. Big test for AP. As for the game, roll with Houston, who is looking to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The pick: 27-20, Texans
Houston opened the week as 9½-point favorites, according to OddsShark, and the line hasn't moved much since, as the Texans are currently favored by nine points at home over the Vikings. The over/under point total of 43½ was the week's opening number, and it remains the same.
The Texans end the regular season on the road against their division rival Indianapolis Colts next Sunday. Minnesota, on the other hand, hosts the NFC North division champion Green Bay Packers in Week 17.