We're at the three-quarter pole for the 2013 NFL season, and for the Vikings, it really can't end soon enough.
But hey, there are plenty of bright sides in an underwhelming season.
Minnesota is 2-1-1 in their last four, Adrian Peterson has returned to 2012 form, and a guy the Purple cut a month ago is suddenly their best linebacker.
Speaking of purple, the Baltimore Ravens wear plenty of it, and they're this week's opponent. Here's our preview as the Vikings attempt to win their first road game of the year.
WHAT'S AT STAKE: This one is big for Baltimore, as they currently hold the final spot in the AFC playoffs, but eight teams are within two games of the final spot. Joe Flacco hasn't been nearly the quarterback he was on the Ravens Super Bowl run last year, a period of play that got him over $120 million from Baltimore. If the Ravens are to make the playoffs they'll need more from Flacco and/or running back Ray Rice, who has been a massive disappointment this year. For the Vikings, finishing the year strong would be nice, though in the end, it may hurt their draft position. Still, with NFL bottomfeeders continuing to win, only Houston has fewer wins than the Purple, so that No. 1 overall pick is still a possibility.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET: It was all the way back in 2009, a 33-31 shootout that saw Minnesota stay undefeated in Week 6 of the season after Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka missed a game-winning 44-yard field goal as time expired. Flacco had 385 yards and two touchdowns, but Brett Favre threw three TDs for the Vikings and Adrian Peterson rushed for 143 yards in the win.
Here's some rough hightlights of the game, including the missed field goal.
PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Quarterbacks. Flacco has been the definition of mediocre this year, posting a 51.4 QBR (measured on a 1-100 scale with 50 being average), and a 78.5 quarterback rating. In one of the more shocking stat lines of the year, Flacco threw five interceptions in a Week 4 loss to lowly Buffalo earlier this season. Should Baltimore miss the playoffs, they will surely turn to that week, and then turn to Flacco for answers.
Matt Cassel looks to be getting the chance this week against Baltimore, his third start of the year. He put up a nice effort in start No. 1 against the Steelers in London, but looked poor against Carolina in his only other start the next week. Leslie Frazier said Wednesday that the starting QB will be chosen based off performance, so Cassel has his chance to put a stranglehold on the position this week.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
-Erin Henderson, who will start at weakside linebacker, when talking about criticism he received for his DWI arrest.
INJURY REPORT: Receiver Brandon Stokley has a sprained ankle and is questionable, but both big contributors on the Ravens defense listed on the injury report, corner Jimmy Smith and linebacker Elvis Dumervil, look likely to play. Meanwhile, Dennis Pitta, Baltimore tight end that has missed the entire year to this point due to July hip surgery, may make his season debut against the Purple.
The Vikings, aside from Christian Ponder, look pretty good, with Kyle Rudolph, Harrison Smith, and Josh Robinson still at least another week away from returning to game action.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: The Baltimore Sun gives us five stats on the Ravens that may be turning points in the game, while veteran Ravens defenders recount their experiences facing Adrian Peterson in the past.
Linebacker Jameel McClain called Peterson the best running back he's ever played against, saying "you need five or six guys running to the ball to try and get him down."
LATEST LINE: According to Bovada, the Ravens are seven-point favorites.
PREDICTION: We love our Purple, they're hot lately, and we're not fooled into thinking Baltimore's recent run of play indicates they're back to 2012 form. Yes, they've won three of four, but those three wins were against fraudulent Cincinnati in overtime, the awful N.Y. Jets, and the Steelers who are only noteworthy because of Mike Tomlin's attempt to insert himself into the game last week. All that said, our prediction is based more on the Vikings. They haven't won a game on the road all year and are 7-22-1 the last four seasons away from the Metrodome. Yes, they've gone loss-less three of their last four, but a still-messy quarterback situation and depleted defense will cost the Vikings on the road. Baltimore 28, Minnesota 17.