Minnesota rolls into Ford Field on Sunday a much different team than they were last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Now, they're fundamentally the same in terms of personnel--Jerome Simpson was activated and Allen Reisner was released, but other than that, it's the same 53 players. The uniforms are the same, the coaching staff is the same, too.
So what's different, then?
The perception of the Vikings. All of a sudden, Minnesota looks like a legitimate player in the NFC North, and with the issues everyone else is having, it's not difficult to imagine the Vikings being in the thick of the division race all season. So let's look at the keys to victory for the Vikes this Sunday.
Don't Get Lost On The Way To The Stadium. Detroit is a crazy dangerous place. Look, I live in St. Louis, of all places, and I think to myself "My God is Detroit a shithole combination of a tire fire, a Superfund cleanup site, and old man farts." A wrong turn could lead to a mass mugging, mayhem, and no tires left on the bus within 45 seconds. This would cause the Vikings to have to forfeit.
Seriously, Let's Find A Pass Rush. Matthew Stafford is hobbled and won't be at 100%, but is still balls on money accurate with his arm, and he has the best WR in the NFL to throw to in Calvin Johnson. Even if he can't move in the pocket, he won't need to if his offensive line can protect him. The Vikings must disrupt his rhythm and make him EXTREMELY uncomfortable early. If not, he'll be able to pick apart the secondary, and with Mistral Raymond and Erin Henderson out (probably), guys like Jared Allen and Brian Robison are going to need to step up.
Don't Get Aggravated When Megatron Gets His. Calvin Johnson is the best WR in the NFL, and he's going to get his catches. He'll probably make a ridiculous catch or two, and there's also a decent chance that even if the Vikings cover him like a blanket, he'll make a play or two. Don't get frustrated when it happens, and try to minimze the damage--don't give him a lot of yards after catch, and tackle him when he makes a catch.
Take Jerome Simpson Out Of The Garage And For A Spin. Simpson returns from suspension, and the expectation is that he will stretch the field and open things up underneath. Well, he'll stretch the field, but the underneath stuff has been there the first three games. I'd like to see the first offensive play be a rollout with a deep throw to Simpson, just to send the message that there is a legitimate vertical threat that Detroit needs to worry about and plan for accordingly.
It's Time For Adrian Peterson To Go HAM. Adrian Peterson has played three decent to good games, but it's time for AP to go off. 150 yards, two TD's, just because it's something we haven't seen in awhile, and it'll be nice to send the message to the rest of the NFL that AP is all the way back. Peterson in vintage form also opens up things for QB Christian Ponder, who I'm starting on my fantasy team this week because Michael Vick decided to set himself on fire. So I'd like Detroit's defense focusing on Peterson, which will further expose their already suspect secondary (seriously, they're like 2011 Vikings secondary terrible) and allow Ponder to rack up some serious yards in the air and a couple of passing TD's.
Keep Toby Gerhart Away From The Football In The Closing Minutes. Like far away. Like the kingdom of Far, Far Away.
Kyle Rudolph, Red Zone (sniffs underarm BO from fingertips) Superstaaaaaarrrrrrrrr. Seriously, Rudolph is becoming a monster in the red zone, and is becoming Ponde's primary target, a la Brett Favre and Visanthe Shiancoe in 2009. It's easy to see why--he's a big target, has great hands, and gets open. He's going to get opportunities on Sunday, and the Vikings will need to capitalize.
This can be another defining moment for the 2012 Vikings, and they haven't been known as Road Warriors in recent years. They had a great opportunity to win in Detroit late last year, and you can argue that the Vikings are better now than the Lions. They'll have to play a good, mistake free game, and if they do, they'll be 3-1 come Sunday evening.
And we'll all be going bonkers.