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.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGLOBAL.com have made the Vikings –6.5 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 54% of bets for this game have been placed on the Vikings –6.5 (View NFL bet percentages).
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 lost 37-8 at Cincinnati in 2005. The Vikings won the last matchup at the Metrodome in 1998.
Posted: 12/9/09 7:31PM ET