A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Vikings game Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Minnesota:
**Which defense gets the nod?
The stats say these are two of the best defensive teams in the NFL. The Cardinals are second overall in total defense, the Vikings third. The Vikings have the best scoring defense in the NFL, allowing just 16.9 points a game, while the Cards are tied for third at 17.8. The Cardinals have allowed the fewest yards per play in the NFL. The Cards have been able to move the ball on offense of late (the Vikings, with all their injuries, have had a harder time) but haven't scored nearly as much as their yards would seem to indicate. It may not be a repeat of the 6-6 Seattle game, but the potential is there.
A hearty – and hearing -- test for the offensive line
The Cardinals started John Wetzel at left tackle last week for the first time, but that was no comparison to what Wetzel and his linemates will see this week. The Vikings have an excellent defensive front, and they will have a loud stadium. How Wetzel and right tackle D.J. Humphries hold up to both the rush and the noise will be key to the game. Bruce Arians also wants to see guards Earl Watford and Mike Iupati play better than they did against Carolina's tough D-line. The play along the line of scrimmage could very well determine a win or loss.
Patrick Peterson, can you Diggs it?
Arians said Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson will cover emerging star receiver Stefon Diggs this week. Now, Diggs often lines up in the slot, which is not where Peterson usually resides. Diggs has back-to-back 13-reception games, but the production differed greatly – against Detroit two weeks ago, those catches were worth only 80 yards, last week against Washington, it was 164. Diggs has been by far the Vikings' top offensive weapon. So it's no surprise the Cardinals will use Peterson to try and tamp him down.
Fitz fits, or can Floyd flourish while Smoke shines?
Michael Floyd had his first 100-yard game of the season last week, and now the St. Paul native will play at home. Arians keeps saying John "Smokey" Brown is nearing where he needs to be to be truly effective. Meanwhile, Larry Fitzgerald is banged up – although he is coming off season-highs in targets (18), catches (12) and yards (133). It's not easy to pass on the Vikings. But it may be harder to run on them. The Vikings, depending on game-day health, are fairly deep in the secondary, but this is a game where one of the Cards' big three pass catchers should be able to get free. How much of an impact they can make is crucial.
Tilting the season
In a lot of ways, this is a playoff game. No, nobody is eliminated with a loss. But a fifth straight loss for the Vikings, at home, against a team they are fighting with for a playoff spot would be rough. And the Cardinals need to topple the Vikings – the Cards can't afford to cede any more ground to teams already ahead of them in the standings. The Cardinals have not won a game in Minnesota since 1977, a streak of eight straight losses. It's not an ideal setup, but it's the only one the Cardinals have.