For the last several years, the NFC West has been referred to as the NFC Worst. Viewed by many as the weakest division in the league due in large part to substandard quarterbacks throughout the division – fantasy football owners aren’t clamoring over Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Russell Wilson or the tandem of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton – it has often been theorized that if a team in the NFC West wins eight games, that would be enough to win this division.
But, somewhere along the way, the defenses in the division began to improve to the point that it has become the dominant focus of the division. All four teams are currently .500 or better and the reason is simple – defense. Heading into this week, of the top five defenses in the NFL in terms of points allowed per game – the most basic of defensive statistics – the four teams from the NFC West are all in the top five. Chicago leads the league in points allowed per game (14.2), followed by Seattle (15.5), San Francisco (15.7), Arizona (16.2) and St. Louis (18.3). San Francisco’s 13-6 win over Seattle did nothing to dispel that tough defense is being played in the NFC West and the Cardinals are bringing that defensive mindset to Minnesota Sunday.
Through six games, opposing teams have put up point totals of 16, 18, 6, 21, 17 and 19 points against Arizona. They have beaten New England and Philadelphia, and in six games have allowed just eight touchdowns.
The Vikings are 1-0 against the NFC West, having handed San Francisco one of its two losses this year, and the Cardinals come into the Metrodome Sunday as six-point underdogs. The Vikings are clearly viewed as the better team heading into Sunday’s game, but that has been a common misconception throughout the season. Arizona was a prohibitive underdog at New England in Week 2 and a home dog in Week 3 vs. Philadelphia.
Much like the AFC North has been known for its defensive domination, all four teams in the NFC West have been built around strong defenses and have found ways to execute it effectively. At a time when the NFL is scoring points in unprecedented numbers, the games for teams from the NFC West are at shockingly low levels.
The conventional wisdom has it that the Vikings will win Sunday, but, if the game is the typical NFC West type of low-scoring, defense-dominated game, it will be up for grabs in the fourth quarter, which plays into the hands of the teams that have the stronger defense and, as far as points they allow, there’s no tougher teams than the Cardinals and their division mates in the NFC West.
Few, if any, teams have been as injury-free as the Vikings in terms of losing players for the season due to injury. The Vikings have placed just three players on injured reserve this season – WR Greg Childs, OT DeMarcus Love and DB Nick Taylor, none of whom were expected to be starters.
The final injury report will be released today based on the level of participation in today’s practice. For the second straight day, Adrian Peterson was given the day off to rest his ailing ankle Thursday. Jared Allen, who was limited with a groin injury Wednesday, didn’t practice Thursday, but, like A.P., it was viewed more as a precaution.
In contrast, five Cardinals have missed the first two days of practice – QB Kevin Kolb, FB Anthony Sherman, LB Reggie Walker, CB Greg Toler and S Kerry Rhodes.
The Vikings are asking fans to bring non-perishable food items to Sunday’s game as part of the Vikings partnership with UnitedHealthcare to collect food for the Second Harvest Heartland foodshelf.
The Vikings made a roster move Thursday, re-signing guard Tyler Holmes to the practice squad and releasing DE Ernest Owusu.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.