Bengals-Vikings Preview

The Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings are each closing in

on a division title, but neither was happy with its most recent

performance.

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

loses.

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

yards.

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

399.3.

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

Sims.

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

ahead.

“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

upcoming games.”

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

touchdowns.

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

games.

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

five games.

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.