The Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings are each closing in
on a division title, but neither was happy with its most recent
A steady defense has pushed the Bengals atop the AFC North, but
that unit faces possibly its biggest challenge of the season Sunday
while trying to help hand the Vikings their first home loss.
With a three-game lead over second-place Baltimore and
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati (9-3) is on the verge of clinching its
second division crown in 19 years and first since 2005. The Bengals
swept the season series with both the Ravens and the Steelers.
Minnesota (10-2), meanwhile, has a two-game lead in the NFC
North over Green Bay and already has won both meetings with the
Packers. The Vikings will wrap up a playoff spot with a victory
Sunday and a division crown will go along with it if Green Bay
The Bengals are being cautious, however. In 2006, they were 8-5
and a front-runner for the AFC wild card, but lost their final
three games to miss the postseason.
“It (the division title) has been mentioned one time, but it
hasn’t been the focal point,” receiver Chad Ochocinco said. “Coach
(Marvin) Lewis just stressed how important this game is for us
winning as far as having our own destiny in our hands.”
They’ll be looking to win a third straight Sunday when their
top-ranked scoring defense takes on one of the league’s most potent
offenses. Cincinnati is giving up a league-low 15.6 points per game
and that average is down to 11.5 over the last six, a stretch
during which none of its opponents have cracked 280 total
That unit figures to be tested by Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson
and the Vikings, who are second in the league in scoring, averaging
29.9 points, and are among the leaders in yards per game at
Plus, the Bengals will be without one of their best run stoppers
after defensive tackle Domata Peko underwent arthroscopic knee
surgery. He was inactive last week and was replaced by Pat
The Bengals are hoping to play better after unimpressive
performances against three of the league’s worst teams – Oakland,
Cleveland and Detroit. They lost to the Raiders while narrowly
escaping the Browns and Lions.
Cincinnati trailed in the second quarter last Sunday in a 23-13
win over Detroit, not getting the decisive victory it had been
seeking with rough road games against Minnesota and San Diego
“If there’s anything we’re guilty of, it’s playing to the level
of our opponents,” said Carson Palmer, who had a touchdown and two
interceptions versus the Lions. “When we’ve played good teams,
we’ve played better. It was hard not to look forward to these two
Cedric Benson looks to have another big game against one of his
former division rivals when two of the league’s best running backs
face off. Benson is third in the NFL with 96.9 yards rushing per
game while Peterson is fifth at 91.9 with an NFC-best 12
Benson tied Cincinnati’s franchise record with his fifth
100-yard rushing game of the season last Sunday. After missing two
games with a sprained hip, he ran for 110 yards on 36 carries
against the Lions. Three of the former Bear’s 100-yard games this
season are against NFC North teams.
The Vikings, however, have the NFL’s third-ranked rushing
defense, giving up 84.3 yards per game – 60.2 in six home
Minnesota has won all of those games – the last three by an
average of 23.0 points – but is coming off a poor effort on the
road in last Sunday’s 30-17 loss to Arizona.
The Vikings finished with 315 yards of offense – their fewest
since totaling a season-low 265 against Detroit on Sept. 20 – and
Favre threw a season-high two interceptions after coming in with a
total of three.
“I made some decisions that I haven’t made up to this point,” he
said, “and I’m disappointed about it.”
Favre did throw two for touchdowns in the loss. In 2008 with the
Jets, he had two TD passes and nine interceptions over the final
Peterson, meanwhile, had his worst game of the season with 19
yards on 13 carries. He’s been held below 90 yards rushing in three
consecutive games while averaging 3.0 per attempt.
The Vikings are looking to win seven home games in a single
season for the first time since 2000, when they went 7-1 at the
Metrodome and 11-5 overall, losing to the New York Giants in the
NFC championship game.
Minnesota will be without injured linebacker E.J. Henderson, who
had surgery in Phoenix after breaking his left thigh bone. Rookie
Jasper Brinkley will start Sunday.
This is the first meeting between these teams since Minnesota
won 37-8 at Cincinnati in 2005. The Vikings won the last matchup at
the Metrodome in 1998.