Romilly Evans reckons Adrian Peterson can put his individual pain and collective team problems behind him and provide Minny with a rare home win...
"Like a clapped out Trans-Am, Minnesota are rusting up on blocks outside a derelict garage waiting for a mechanic who won’t return their call"
Washington Redskins @ Minnesota Vikings
Start-time: Friday, 01:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1
Tonight's late match-up is another nail in the coffin of primetime Thursday Night Football. Yes, ladies and gents, presenting the Minnesota Vikings versus the Washington Redskins, two teams struggling for form and consistency and fading from the play-off picture. Suddenly, dinner and a movie sounds like a preferable alternative.
Both sides would presumably like to wallow in their sordid grief-holes away from any national spotlight which shines a light on their respective failings. However, those crazy NFL schedulers take the contrarian viewpoint: I know, let's put them on the telly!
At first glance, it's a relatively easy game to call. Like a clapped out Trans-Am, Minnesota are rusting up on blocks outside a derelict garage waiting for a mechanic who won't return their call. In gridiron parlance, that means they're all banged up with nowhere to go and are already planning for next season with a dismal 1-7 record.
As for Washington, well, even though they stand at a deeply disappointing 3-5 (given they were undefeated in pre-season), they at least have a glimmer of fixer-upper hope. Give them a lick of paint and they could even make the postseason, mostly because they hail from the aggressively average NFC East where all four contenders are engaged in a courteous game of After You Claude.
Consequently, although the Vikes enjoy homefield advantage during Friday's small hours, the Skins are the logical choice. They have more to play for, fewer injuries and are coming off the back of a faith-restoring victory over the capable San Diego Chargers.
Robert Griffin III, Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2012, has struggled to deliver on the hype in 2013. True, RG3 been slowed this term by his recovery from ACL surgery. However, only nine touchdowns for nine interceptions have cancelled out that promise. Furthermore, for all his dual-threat versatility, Griffin has spilled the ball three more times when scrambling and has no rushing TDs to his name.
While I've always maintained that the youngster's game is predicated on gameday reps and confidence - and both columns received a boost from the Bolts last week - he is still making too many reckless decisions. Ask even the most irresponsible quarterback and they will agree that throwing cross-field on the run, or deep downfield into double coverage aren't the smartest moves. Yet both wildcard meanderings have defined Griffin's play this campaign. His match fitness may have returned, his match mentality has not.
Griffin's opposite number tonight, Christian Ponder, seems similarly lost. The roundabout of doubt at QB in Minny has returned full circle to Ponder. He hasn't shaken off the attentions of Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel for the starting berth. Instead, Freeman and Cassel have handed Ponder back the role via a tortured process of comparative elimination.
When your head coach admits that you're technically flawed and doesn't see any reason not to start you, it's understandable if Ponder isn't feeling that special at the moment. Perversely, though, it is that very realization which Leslie Frazier wants to instill in his starter under center. Ponder is the lesser of three evils, whose decision-making is sufficiently risk-averse that he appreciates he should minimalize the mistakes and hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson instead.
Peterson himself hasn't come out of third gear this season. The reason for this is probably two-fold - a long-standing hamstring injury coupled to private agony off the pitch (the death if his infant son). While those blows, one professional the other personal, have understandably slowed his ground gains, there are signs that the legendary running back in rediscovering his focus and form. AP took a manly 25 carries against Dallas last week and is on record as playing without pain for the first time in a long time in midweek practice.
In a team ravaged by injury, Peterson's offensive line remains surpsingly solid. They demonstrated ability and commitment despite going down to Green Bay, before their D blew it again in Dallas (conceding 90 yards in a pathetic last-ditch surrender). Minnesota have now blown a late lead three times this season. So while you can certainly question their bottle, they remain competitive as a collective unit.
With Greg Jennings still a prolific poucher and rookie Cordarelle Patterson showing speed and verve on kick-off returns, the Vikes also have explosive weapons away from their predictable Peterson proclivities. Look to Jennings in particular who rates Ponder's main go-to guy, now that fellow wide man Kyle Rudolph has fractured his foot.
In short, then, Minny look underrated at most levels on the Vegas line, while the Skins can't keep making big plays on defense to atone for Griffin's death-or-glory attitude. 2.111/10 for the Vikings in a proverbial toss-of-the-job looks fair. But you'll forgive me for not jumping for joy. Bad back, you know.
Back Minnesota Vikings to win on the Match Moneyline @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Minnesota Vikings (+1.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.865/6 or better
Back Minnesota Vikings (+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.84/5 or better
Back G.Jennings to Score First Touchdown @ 1211/1 or better