In an effort to find out which team hits hardest, the Giants will travel to Mall of America Field on Sunday to compete against the rejuvenated Vikings in a pass-rushing, run-pounding affair (1 p.m., FOX).
Refusing to let injuries destroy their season, the Giants (8-4) bulldozed their way to two straight wins while remaining in contention for the NFC East crown. Wide receiver Steve Smith (torn pectoral muscle) participated fully in practice on Wednesday and is expected to return. He will be instrumental to the G-Men as three of their final four games are played on the road.
Minnesota (5-7), also on a two-game win streak, is undefeated under interim coach Leslie Frazier. Since Brad Childress’ firing, the Vikes’ run-heavy offense, powered by Adrian Peterson and rookie Toby Gerhart, has controlled the clock for more than 33 minutes in each game.
Looking for lanes
The Giants and Vikings — ranked seventh and fourth in run defense, respectively — own top-10 running offenses, complemented by excellent run-stopping defenses. Big Blue’s one-two punch in the bruising Brandon Jacobs and shifty Ahmad Bradshaw could be the difference in wearing down a stout defensive front. Steve Smith’s return should also bolster the running game by making the Giants’ fourth-ranked offense more dynamic.
Giveth and taketh away
Despite leading the NFL with 31 turnovers, the Giants often find ways to recover behind a defense that leads the league with 30 takeaways. The Vikings have the same turnover issue, ranking fourth with 29 giveaways. (Brett Favre has thrown 18 interceptions and Tarvaris Jackson threw three last week against Buffalo in relief duty.) If Eli Manning and the Giants offense can manage a mistake-free game, the G-Men should be able to exploit any Vikings miscues and leave with a third road victory.
Don’t go to Jared
Jared Allen is a defensive nightmare for offensive linemen — even for units as good as the Giants', which hasn’t allowed a sack on Eli Manning since Oct. 25. Allen leads the Vikings in sacks (8.5), and has recorded 7.5 of them in the last five games. He’s a disruptive force against the run, defends passes and even has an interception this season. With the offensive line slowly returning to health, its chemistry and readiness will be tested by Allen and opposite end Ray Edwards (5.5 sacks).
Favre (shoulder) has started an NFL-record 297 consecutive games, but will be a game-time decision after being crushed in the first quarter last week. Not expecting No. 4 to start on Sunday defies conventional NFL wisdom, but expecting him to finish the game defies Big Blue’s reputation. The ferocious Giants have recorded 35 sacks this season, tying them at second in the NFL, and should be able to attack an offensive line that’s allowed 68 hits on the quarterback.