By Joseph Gunther
December could be a month to remember or a month to forget for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have games against the two teams tied atop the NFC North Division (the Chicago Bears on Dec. 9 and the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 30), the AFC South Division leading Houston Texans on Dec. 23 and the St. Louis Rams (who are just a half game behind the Vikings in the standings) on Dec. 16. Vikings fans have plenty of things to look forward to in December.
Peterson’s chase for history
Adrian Peterson is on pace to have his best professional season and maybe the best season by a running back in NFL history. He is just 660 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 set in 1984.
It is a lot of yards to get in just four games. In order to reach the NFL record books, the sixth-year running back needs 165 yards per game (he has surpassed that number in three of the last four games). Going even deeper into the numbers, it equates to 8.25 yards per carry if he has 20 rushing attempts per game (he reached that number twice in the last four games this season) and if he gets 25 carries per game it is 6.6 per rushing attempt (he had that average four times). He just ran for 210 yards against the Packers and will face that same team again in Week 17.
The big question is that if he does break the record, can he win the MVP Award? If the Vikings make the playoffs, yes. If not, it will be difficult for voters to overlook that fact.
Christian Ponder has had a rough go of it lately. The second-year quarterback was helping the Vikings through the first five weeks (the team was 4-1 at that point), but in the seven weeks since, he has had only two games completing more than 60 percent of his passes and only two game throwing for more than 200 yards. He has finished with less than 65 yards passing twice in the last six games.
Last Sunday’s two-interception performance brought his struggles to a head. Fans have begun begging for the former first round draft pick to be benched in favor of former sixth round draft pick Joe Webb, but Leslie Frazier is sticking by his 24-year-old signal caller.
“I haven’t really considered it,” he said responding to a question about pulling Ponder. “It hasn’t come up at any point this season where I thought we needed to pull him out of a game, that hasn’t occurred. We’re always trying to get the best out of all of our players and you need the quarterback position to play well in order to win in our League. It’s rare that you can win in our League when you don’t get good production out of that position. There are times you can overcome it, but in general that’s not the case. At this point, Christian [Ponder] has done a good job on occasion. We have to get him to consistently do well and, as I mentioned before, no time bigger than now.”
Ponder’s future with the Vikings may not be tied to the final four games this season, but will set how much leash he will have going forward.
Also, the Vikings are just one game behind the final wild card spot in the NFC playoffs. Ponder’s future and the team’s playoff chances are very closely tied to the quarterbacks success the rest of the season.
Playoff or draft scenarios
When the NFL season reaches its final quarter of the season, playoff and draft positioning become a major storyline for every team. It could be anywhere from the No. 1 overall draft pick to the top seeds in each conference.
The Vikings currently are tied, but lose the tiebreaker to all three teams it is tied with, for seventh in the NFC. They are one game behind the Seattle Seahawks. Splitting the remaining four games is probably the most realistic prediction. An 8-8 record will not get into the playoffs.
In terms of draft positioning, the Vikings currently own the 17th pick in the first round of the draft. The tiebreaker is its strength of schedule (the Vikings have tougher schedule than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but easier than the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins).
It will be an interesting final four games of the season.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.