Colts-Vikings is a must-win game for both teams
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tickets to see the Minnesota Vikings in their new home this season have been expensive. On Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts make their first visit to U.S. Bank Stadium, ticket buyers will be treated to a bunch of desperate playoff scenarios for free.
Both the Vikings (7-6) and the Colts (6-7) are clinging to hopes that they will be playing after Jan. 1, and both will need a win Sunday -- and plenty of help -- to get it done.
It's also billed as a meeting between two No. 1 overall NFL draft picks with Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (the top pick in 2010) facing Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (the top pick in 2012).
The injury bug seems determined to take a bit of the shine off that showdown. Luck missed practice Wednesday with a sore shoulder and elbow on his throwing arm -- leftover ailments from the Colts' loss to the Houston Texans last weekend in which he was sacked just once but hit on more than a dozen occasions.
"I didn't feel as good after that game as you would like," Luck said Wednesday. "December football. Nobody feels like they want to at this point. You just make sure you are ready to go on Sunday."
Bradford will also be ready to go Sunday and practiced Wednesday but was limited by a sore shoulder. But for the Vikings, Wednesday was more about one player who was back at practice and less about those who are missing.
Star running back Adrian Peterson, who has been out with a knee injury since the third quarter of Minnesota's Week 2 win over Green Bay, practiced with the team and offered an immediate emotional lift, although nobody has yet said he will be in uniform Sunday.
"It was great to see him out here in the walk-through today," Bradford said. "I think he's just one of those guys, he has been a leader on this team. Obviously, he's one of the best players in this league, and he has been for quite some time. So I think just having him back out at practice in the huddle, I think it's a definite lift to our guys."
The possible re-emergence of Minnesota's running game could hardly come at a better time for the Vikings, who won in Jacksonville last weekend despite getting stuffed on the goal line twice and ending up with zero points in two trips to the 1-yard line.
Defensive-minded Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he's just as focused on stopping the Colts' running game and speed at receiver.
"They have the eighth-best rusher in NFL history. So that's kind of a challenge. Frank Gore is a terrific back," Zimmer said. "They've got tremendous skill, speed with (Donte) Moncrief and (T.Y.) Hilton, obviously. They've got great speed.
"They've got two decent tight ends. One's a second-leading receiver (Jack Doyle) and defensively the 3-4 stuff. We've been in a little bit of a 4-3 mode the last couple of weeks. So we've got to get back to the 3-4 and the things we do there and changing some of that up."
Sitting third in the AFC South behind Houston and Tennessee, Indianapolis is in must-win mode and could be eliminated Sunday if it loses and the Texans and Titans both win. The Colts have won their last three road games but know a unique challenge awaits inside Minnesota's new stadium, which is notoriously noisy.
"We've got to go on the road in a hostile environment, in a new venue," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We understand the elements and the noise and all that other stuff that we have to deal with, that our offense has to deal with. We're trying to do the best we can to replicate that and put them under as much duress as we can."
The Vikings, who started 5-0 and have gone just 2-6 since then, cannot be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention Sunday but would face long, long odds with a loss. They close the season with divisional games at Green Bay on Christmas Eve and at home against Chicago on New Year's Day.