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Vikes can count on Adrian Peterson

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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The football world in Minnesota is crumbling all around the Vikings, but Adrian Peterson simply smiles and goes about his business. Peterson has always been this way, extremely confident in his abilities and definitely not a superstar caught up in any behind-the-scenes intrigue.

His coach, Brad Childress, probably escaped being fired last week by Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf because of the contract extension he received at the end of last season. Childress waived Randy Moss last week without consulting Wilf, and then on Friday Childress and young receiver Percy Harvin had words on the practice field. Harvin, the team’s leading receiver, was tight with Moss.

But this season Peterson has been Childress’ guy. The coach has preferred to run instead of allowing Brett Favre to take more chances. Favre leads the NFL with 11 interceptions while Peterson leads the NFL with 776 rushing yards. At 110.9 yards a game, he’s on pace for 1,774 yards — or a tad more than his career-best of 1,760 yards in 2008.

But the big news is that he hasn’t fumbled this season after fumbling 20 times (losing 13 of them) in his first three seasons. He lost six fumbles last season, then added two more in the playoffs, including a big one in the red zone against the Saints in the NFC championship game.

During training camp this summer Peterson told me he was determined to correct this fumbling flaw. And if you’ve ever met Peterson and shook his hand, you’d wonder like I did how he could ever fumble. The guy almost breaks your hand shaking it. He’s had the same vise-like grip since I met him as a rookie. Ask anybody, and they will tell you the same story. His is one of the strongest handshakes in the world. In fact, I teased him about exactly that in camp and typical Peterson, he laughed and shook his head in agreement. How can a guy that strong ever lose control of the football?

The only knock on Peterson this season is his continued penchant for not shying away from collisions. He loves contact and especially enjoys dishing it out. That’s never a good long-range strategy if you want to live an extended lifetime in the NFL.

For fantasy players, Peterson could have a big day against the Arizona Cardinals, whose defense is allowing 143 rushing yards per game (27th in the NFL). The way Childress has fallen out of love with Favre, Peterson will be the featured offensive player today.

But this is never a good 16-game strategy if you want to win in the NFL. This is a passing league and a pass-first offense generally helps any running back. That’s why Arian Foster, 39 yards behind Peterson, has been such a big factor for the Houston Texans. Remember, Matt Schaub led the league in passing yards last season.

Look at Tennessee right now, where the player most happy about the arrival of receiver Randy Moss is running back Chris Johnson. Yes, Moss isn’t the same receiver he was a couple seasons ago, but he still demands defensive attention. The threat of Moss running deep will open some intermediate lanes for Johnson by taking a safety out of the box.

As much as I respect Peterson — he’s the ultimate runner in my opinion — I don’t think he will win the rushing title this season unless his offensive line blocks a lot better. He gets hit way too often before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. Plus, he needs Favre to get hot in order to remove the constant pressure and defensive attention.

NFL ON FOX GAMES: Arizona at Minnesota, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Not only is Vikings WR Percy Harvin unhappy about Randy Moss being waived, but his left ankle is so bad that he will be a game-time decision today. With Moss gone, this could be bad news for Brett Favre, who took 10 stitches to close a cut in his mouth last Sunday in New England. Favre’s ankle isn’t a big issue this week since he’s moving well. One would assume that the Cardinals, who have one of the worst defenses in the league, will see a lot of Adrian Peterson, the league’s leading rusher nearing the halfway mark in the season. If Harvin is a scratch, Favre will be looking for TE Visanthe Shiancoe and Bernard Berrian, who looked much better in practice last week.

RB Beanie Wells (left knee) starts for the Cardinals, who are sticking with Derek Anderson as quarterback after three rough outings by rookie Max Hall. Arizona’s quarterbacks have thrown 23 interceptions, a big reason why the Cardinals rank 31st in turnover ratio. They are minus-9, one better than the Panthers. Anderson will continue to force passes toward WR Larry Fitzgerald, who will be going against Vikes DB Antoine Winfield. This is a good matchup for Fitzgerald (6-foot-3) against the shorter Winfield (5-foot-9).

CZAR’S SCOOP: Lost in all the Minnesota chaos is the play of the defense. With the same personnel that led the league in sacks a year ago, the Vikings just became the first team in the 50-year history of the franchise to go three straight games without a sack. Jared Allen, an All-Pro the last three years, has one sack and is being controlled with straight one-on-one blocking. The team has only six sacks total. Meanwhile, the run defense that was No. 1 in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and No. 2 last year, has crumbled. It ranks 13th now, and NT Pat Williams, 38, is playing like an old man. Last week, Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 108 yards rushing in the second half.

Vikings WR Sidney Rice looked good in practice this week. Although he wasn’t activated for this game, Rice might be next week. Most of the veteran Minnesota players have put Moss in the rearview mirror, understanding that he wasn’t a good fit with their head coach. The main reason the Rams didn’t put in a claim on Moss was because the receiver wasn’t receptive to going to St. Louis. He basically told the Titans that he wanted to play there, and that’s why he’ll be reporting to Tennessee today. And the Titans needed him with Kenny Britt out 4-6 weeks.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Matt Ryan has a 16-1 record in the Georgia Dome and the Falcons have averaged 28.4 points in those games. However, he has an average passer rating of 61.0 in four career games against the Bucs, throwing six interceptions with only two touchdowns. He has also been sacked six times. Plus, the Bucs lead the NFL with 14 interceptions this season, led by Aqib Talib’s five picks. That being said, you can bet the house that the Falcons will try to pound the Bucs with RBs Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. The Bucs are allowing 149 yards per game on the ground. And if the running game works, that’s when Ryan will go deep to Roddy White, who leads the NFL with 54 receptions. White has 747 yards receiving and five touchdowns with 22 career 100-yard receiving games.

QB Josh Freeman leads the Bucs, and six of his eight career wins have come via fourth-quarter comebacks. Freeman has displayed exceptional poise for a second-year quarterback. Rookie WR Mike Williams has been playing hurt lately while the Bucs’ running game continues to rotate between Cadillac Williams and LeGarrette Blount, who had an exceptional second half last Sunday at Arizona. The former Oregon star rushed 22 times for 120 yards and two TDs and could eventually supplant Cadillac as the starter. On defense, the Falcons get back two starters — Dunta Robinson, who suffered a concussion against the Eagles in Week 6, and safety Thomas DeCoud, who suffered a head injury against Cincinnati in Week 7.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The Falcons really aren’t happy about Bucs coach Raheem Morris coming out after last week’s win over the Cardinals and proclaiming they were the best team in the NFC. “I told the guys this morning, ‘You get what you earn in this league,’” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They are 5-2, and they are playing as good of football as anybody right now. We look forward to the challenge.” Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson hit the rewind button when he first heard Morris declare the Buccaneers the “best team in the NFC.” Peterson said he was sitting with some friends when he backed up the TV stream. “Did he really say that? Tell him ‘thank you.’”

The Falcons have whipped some of the teams (Arizona, Cincinnati and Cleveland) that Tampa Bay has squeaked by. Also, Atlanta beat New Orleans, while the Saints routed Tampa Bay, 31-6. Both teams lost to Pittsburgh. The Falcons went down in overtime 15-9, while the Steelers beat the Bucs 38-13. “It’s good they’ve got that confidence to say they are the best team,” Falcons safety William Moore said. “You’ve got to back that up when you say stuff like that. We are definitely looking forward to the show.”

Falcons LT Sam Baker struggled early in the season and was in danger of losing his spot to Will Svitek. But Baker has gotten healthier as the season has moved along. He has a difficult task today against Stylez G. White, who leads the Bucs with three sacks.

New Orleans at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Considering they’re in third place in the NFC South, the Saints know they can’t afford to slip and fall to the Panthers, who gave them a major scare before losing 16-14 on Oct. 3 in the Superdome. There is a good chance that both Saints cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter will be back in the lineup against Panthers QB Matt Moore. The Saints have allowed more than 200 passing yards just three times in the first eight games, but need to keep WR Steve Smith in check. In four starts, Moore has 12 turnovers. Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams won’t play, which means Carolina needs Jonathan Stewart to deliver. The Panthers are scaling back their offense and dumping all trick plays for this game. They want to be boring and efficient. Since allowing 118 rushing yards to the Panthers, Gregg Williams’ unit has been much better against the run and will try to limit their effectiveness.

There is no question that Saints QB Drew Brees suffered an MCL strain in September, but he’s no longer wearing a brace to protect the left knee. He says that persistent reports that he may need microfracture surgery at the end of the season are ridiculous. Brees was impressive against the Steelers, and the Panthers will have their hands full with Marques Colston (46 catches) and Lance Moore, who leads the team with five TD catches. Saints RB Chris Ivory suffered a mild concussion against the Steelers, but he’s been a pleasant surprise with 332 yards rushing and a 5.0 average. The only knock on Ivory is that he’s not a natural receiver out of the backfield like Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Since Sean Payton’s arrival in 2006, he is 3-6 against Carolina coach John Fox, his old friend from their days with the New York Giants. “Carolina always plays us tough, despite whatever their record is,” Brees said. “Any divisional game on the road is a huge game, especially going into a bye week. So we understand the importance of this game.” In addition to building momentum, Payton will be looking for consistency in Sunday’s game. His team hasn’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season. To keep his players focused, there was no Victory Monday in New Orleans this past week. It was back to work for the players after the big win over Pittsburgh.

With his fumble recovery last Sunday from Steelers TE Heath Miller, Saints safety Darren Sharper now has 71 total takeaways (63 interceptions and eight fumbles). Bush did look better in practice this week, but he probably won’t be activated. Also, Thomas continues to sit on the sidelines with a bad ankle.

In last week’s loss to the Rams, Steve Smith had a pass hit him in the facemask while he was coming out of a break. “I'm 5-9, but I felt like I was 3-foot-2. I wanted to crawl into a hole,” said Smith, who did make his 600th career catch in that game. “It was such a crummy game, it was bad,” Smith said. “I’ve got nine more games to change that. We’ve got nine more games to change the way we’ve been playing.”

Chicago vs. Buffalo (in Toronto), 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Bills are 0-7 for first time since 1984, and they also lost back-to-back overtime games. If ever the Bears are to establish a run game, it has to be this week. No team in the NFL is worse defending the run than the Bills, who allow an average of 188.7 rushing yards per game and yielded 274 yards on the ground last week to the Chiefs. But the Bears are only tied for 26th in rushing yards per game, and they have topped 101 yards on the ground just once all season, when they piled up 218 yards on 42 attempts against the Panthers in Week 5. But in five of seven games this year, they have run the ball fewer than 20 times. Bears QB Jay Cutler will also be operating behind an offensive line that returns guard Roberto Garza. It’s the fifth different configuration of the unit this season, one that has allowed a league-high 31 sacks.

Defensively, the Bears will focus on stopping RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller while knowing that Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is on a hot streak. The Bears also must contain the Bills’ return game, which is comparable to their own, featuring Roscoe Parrish on punts and Spiller on kickoffs. Buffalo third-year WR Steve Johnson has touchdown catches in five straight games, tying a team record. Johnson already has career highs this year in catches, yards and TDs.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Although he said all the right things with the Buffalo media, former Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman wasn’t happy about being claimed off waivers. Merriman, who is in the last year of his contract, definitely won’t be re-signing with the Bills, who are clearly in need of outside linebackers. Bills GM Buddy Nix ran the S.D. college scouting department from 2002 to 2007 and had a big hand in the selection of Merriman as the No. 12 overall pick in 2005.

This is year three of the Bills' five-year deal with Toronto. The team is being paid $9.75 million per game for the eight-game series (five regular season, three preseason) that expires in the 2012 season. That’s $3 million more than what the Bills receive for a home game at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Not only is it a good financial deal for the Bills, but it has helped them increase ticket sales from fans in Southern Ontario. On the downside, the crowd can be fairly neutral and the game has generated little buzz in Toronto because it's no secret that the Bills aren’t very good.

The Bears’ Israel Idonije played high school football in Canada and starred at Manitoba University, where he was team MVP in his senior season. His mother made him play football, although basketball was his first love. Eight years later, the 6-6, 270-pound defensive end is a full-time starter and leads the Bears with a career-best 4.5 sacks. This won’t be Chicago’s first game in Canada. George Halas brought his Bears north in 1961 to play an exhibition game against the Montreal Alouettes and won 34-16.

N.Y. Giants at Seattle, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This has the makings of a disastrous first start for Seattle QB Charlie Whitehurst, who was acquired in the offseason from the Chargers. Seattle’s offensive line is an injured mess and guard Chester Pitts will be at left tackle, trying to deal with DE Osi Umenyiora, who has eight sacks and seven forced fumbles. No. 1 pick Russell Okung is out once again. Okung has played only one full game all season. The Giants, who have an impressive defensive line rotation, have knocked five QBs out of games already this season. Whitehurst, who was a star at Clemson, does throw a beautiful deep ball, but his best receiver, Mike Williams, has been slowed by a knee bruise. Williams is expected to try to play.

If the Giants want to boast that they are the best team in the NFC, this is a game they should win. The Seahawks will rely on their defense, which has been forcing turnovers (plus-4) at home this season, and also need continued exceptional special teams play in order to win. Look for the Giants to kick away from the Seahawks’ Leon Washington. Seattle is 3-0 at home this season. The Giants do have a balanced offense with QB Eli Manning, throwing for 14 touchdowns (but also 11 interceptions), but Ahmad Bradshaw is a force running the ball while Brandon Jacobs has scored a touchdown in four games in a row. Seahawks rookie FS Earl Thomas has displayed tremendous ballhawk skills with four interceptions. Kentwan Balmer, who quit on the 49ers this summer, will start — replacing the Seahawks’ best defensive end, Red Bryant, who went on IR this week.

CZAR’S SCOOP: With kick returner Darius Reynaud out, newly signed Will Blackmon will handle the duties today for the Giants, who are also missing two offensive linemen in Shaun O’Hara and Will Beatty.

Coach Pete Carroll, with the help of GM John Schneider and pro personnel whiz Will Lewis, has been astutely rebuilding the Seahawks, who made many a bad move under former GM Tim Ruskell. They have shedded high-salaried receivers like Deion Branch and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, who has been struggling lately with the Ravens. Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t happy when Carroll traded a third-round pick next year for Whitehurst (while also flopping second-round picks this year with San Diego), but a quarterback was a definite need because of Hasselbeck’s many injuries (back and now a concussion) in the last couple of seasons. Still, insiders believe Hasselbeck is a more accurate short passer, which is what the Seahawks prefer to do on offense.

The Giants have been very pleased with safety Deon Grant, who was let go by Seattle, and also Antrel Rolle. New York is finally healthy in the secondary this season and that has helped the pass rush immensely.

Other Sunday games

NY Jets at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET: The Lions have the sixth-highest scoring average in the NFL (26 points per game), so they are certainly capable of giving the Jets a game. Lions rookie DT Ndamukong Suh already has 6.5 sacks (plus a TD) and the last NFL defensive tackle to have double digit sacks was Warren Sapp in 2006. Suh is a real threat to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and the last lineman to do that was Miami’s Tim Bowens in 1994. The Jets are now fining QB Mark Sanchez for negative body language (how ridiculous is that?) and the word is that he is struggling reading defenses this season. The Jets have won six straight on the road.

NFL BLITZ: WEEK 17

We get you ready for all this week's games with our NFL Blitz.

San Diego at Houston, 1 p.m. ET: Since 2007, the Chargers are 22-7 in November and December, but in this critical game to keep pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West they could be minus TE Antonio Gates, who has three different injuries — a toe, ankle and now plantar fasciitis. Gates took a painkiller at halftime last Sunday, and plans to test himself in pregame warmups. Philip Rivers is averaging 331 passing yards per game and has been sacked 21 times this season. The Texans are working on a short week and their secondary has been a sieve this season.

New England at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET: Rookie QB Colt McCoy starts his third consecutive game for the Browns, who have been surprisingly competitive this season. This is the first meeting between Eric Mangini and Bill Belichick since Mangini was coaching the Jets. Mangini, who worked for 10 years under Belichick, would love to thaw out the relationship with his former mentor, but Belichick is having none of it. I suspect paying a $500,000 fine might have something to do with that. The Patriots activated guard Logan Mankins for this game and he’ll start. Their defense will see a heavy dose of Browns RB Peyton Hillis.

Miami at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET: One streak will end today. The Ravens have won seven straight at home and the Dolphins are seeking their fifth straight road win. Both teams have been struggling on offense, not hitting on all cylinders. Safety Ed Reed has helped a shaky Baltimore secondary that will be tested by Chad Henne, as the Ravens have only 11 sacks on the season. Terrell Suggs has only 3.5 sacks. Believe it or not, the Dolphins are just as physical as the Ravens.

Indianapolis at Philadelphia, 4:15 p.m. ET: Yes, Michael Vick is back as the Eagles’ starting QB, but it’s the defense that’s a big concern in Philly. The Eagles are 32nd in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing 12 TDs in 16 trips inside the 20. They have been particularly weak against the pass in the red zone, allowing eight TD passes. Overall, Peyton Manning must be drooling because the Eagles have allowed 13 TD passes this season, putting them on pace for 30. The good news is that Andy Reid is 11-0 after a bye week, best in the NFL. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson will play, wearing a new helmet after suffering a concussion against the Falcons in Week 6. The Colts will be down to Donald Brown at running back with Mike Hart and Joseph Addai both out with injuries.

Kansas City at Oakland, 4:15 p.m. ET: The Chiefs and Raiders rank 1-2 in the NFL in rushing. The Chiefs are averaging 190.4 yards per game while Oakland ranks second at 168.5. In the last three games, the Chiefs have rushed for 738 yards, a higher total than 12 teams have accumulated all season. The last time these teams met with anything on the line was back in 1991 when the Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Raiders in the final game of the regular season to earn the home field in a wild-card game against those same Raiders. The Chiefs won the playoff game 10-6, beginning a decade of dominance over the Raiders. Raiders head coach Tom Cable is sticking with QB Jason Campbell for another week while Oakland’s receiving corps is very thin. This is Oakland’s first home sellout of the year.

Dallas at Green Bay, 8:20 p.m. ET: The Cowboys are talking about running the table, winning nine straight games, but QB Jon Kitna’s record as a starter is 46-70 and he’s only 1-5 against the Packers. He did have a memorable win in Lambeau Field when he helped Mike Holmgren win his “homecoming game” in 1999 with Seattle. The Packers activated safety Atari Bigby from the PUP list. With WR Donald Driver out, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers needs Jordy Nelson or James Jones to step up big in this game. The Cowboys are struggling in the secondary where CB Mike Jenkins and safety Alan Ball are having very poor seasons.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Raiders, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Pat Williams, Jon Kitna, Brett Favre, Mike Peterson, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Smith Sr., Stylez G White, Chester Pitts, Ed Reed, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Johnson, Matt Schaub, Eli Manning, Jared Allen, Michael Turner, Shawne Merriman, Roddy White, Mike Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Will Svitek, Lance Moore, Charlie Whitehurst, DeAngelo Williams, Will Blackmon, Alan Ball, Steve Smith, Adrian Peterson, Matt Moore, Pierre Thomas, Sam Baker, Chris Johnson, Mike Jenkins, Matt Ryan, Mike Hart, Stevie Johnson, Red Bryant, Thomas DeCoud, Percy Harvin, Donald Brown, William Moore, Earl Thomas, Mike Williams, LeGarrette Blount

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