Cincinnati has never made the playoffs three consecutive years, but can do so with a win over the Vikings and losses by either the Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Should the Bengals and Ravens both win, they will square off for the AFC North crown in Week 17.
Minnesota is quietly finishing out its season, a disappointing campaign after making the playoffs as a wild card in 2012. The Vikings have been long eliminated from the playoff race but have continued fighting hard, going 3-2-1 in their last six games.
Meet the Vikings
As usual, Adrian Peterson is the beginning, middle and end of this offense. Despite missing last week, Peterson has put together another excellent season with 1,221 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Even with defenses stacking the box against him on almost every down, Peterson is still averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Why can the opponents stack the box? Awful quarterback play. Minnesota has gotten plenty of that, dealing with the likes of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman. Cassel did have a very nice game last week however, throwing for 382 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 of 35 passing.
The biggest problem on the team has been the defense, or lack thereof, The Vikings rank 30th against the pass, and in a division with Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers, that is usually a death blow. Jared Allen and Brian Robison have been good at getting to the quarterback at least, each with nine sacks.
Meet the Bengals
Cincinnati has one of the most talented rosters in football. One of the only real questions remaining on this team personnel-wise is can Andy Dalton lead you to a Super Bowl? This season, the red-head from Texas has thrown for 3,649 yards and 27 touchdowns. However, he has also tossed 16 interceptions.
His main target is lanky wide receiver A.J. Green, who is among the elite at his position. Green has 87 catches and 1,268 yards, by far the most on the team. Green's eight touchdowns are shockingly not leading the Bengals, with that honor going to Marvin Jones who has nine.
Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap are leading the charge up front defensively, helping to fill the void left by Geno Atkins. Gilberry paces the team with 7.5 sacks while Dunlap has seven. Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been a vacuum cleaner, getting to everything and everybody for 151 tackles on the campaign.
Local take: Minnesota
At the Daily Norseman, the conversation has turned to whether Leslie Frazier deserves to keep his job:
What it boils down to for me is that Leslie Frazier tied a franchise record for worst season in wins and losses AND worst start to an NFL season for the Vikings. And after 3 and a half years, he hasn't' been able to turn around the franchise. It's not been all bad though. We had a nice little run to close out last season (although that could just as easily be a string of luck), and Frazier still hasn't lost the locker room. But, there are enough other glaring issues in practice preparation, game management, and staff management that his tenure in Minnesota has to be labeled a failure, and therefore he should be fired.
Local take: Cincinnati
Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle believes the Bengals will take care of business:
In the end, I see the Bengals finishing 10-6 with the division title and the No. 3 seed.
Unless the Bengals and Ravens game is flexed to the 8:30 p.m time slot for the regular season finale, they won't know what happens between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills (since they're playing at the same time). I see the Bengals placing more valuing in resting their starters (this defense is exhausted) in the regular season finale rather than going full-go for four quarters and hoping for a favorable return in New England.
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Minnesota is playing tough, solid football right now. However, Cincinnati is more talented and in desperate need of a victory to strengthen its hold on a playoff spot. The Bengals are a perfect 6-0 at home and have blown out a few inferior opponents in their building. The Vikings will keep the game competitive, but it's hard to see Cincinnati coughing this one up.
Pick: Cincinnati 27, Minnesota 19
The Bengals are favored by 7.5 points at home. The over/under is 48, according to Oddsshark.com.
Cincinnati closes the regular season at home against Baltimore while Minnesota faces the Detroit Lions at home.