In Need of Victory

Minneapolis, MN - After a 1-3 start, the Minnesota Vikings are now one win away from clinching their first division title since 2000.

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Standing in their way will be an upstart Atlanta Falcons team that has just as much motivation this weekend.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook have made the Vikings –3.5 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Falcons. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 54% of more than 7,632 bets for this game have been placed on the Falcons +3.5.

The Vikings host the Falcons on Sunday, looking to wrap up the NFC North with their fifth straight victory.

Minnesota (9-5) has overcame a slow start in which the offense averaged just 17.8 points in the first four games to take a one-game lead over Chicago in the division. While the Vikings' offense has been vastly improved, averaging 29.8 points in their last four contests, their defense has also been strong, holding opponents to 18.0 points.

With a win Sunday or a Bears' loss on Monday to Green Bay, Minnesota would clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2004 and a division title for the first time since 2000.

"Coach wants us to go one game at a time, but of course we do think ahead a little bit," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "But that is motivation. The thing is it's right there for the taking.

"These are teams that I feel we can really beat," he added. "I'm going to say something kind of outlandish, but if we play our A-game, I don't see any team in the NFL beating us, to be honest."

The Vikings have good reason to feel confident with Adrian Peterson - the NFL's leading rusher - on their side and a dominant 35-14 win over Arizona last Sunday to build on.

Minnesota rushed for a season-high 239 yards and backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw for 163 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in place of injured starter Gus Frerotte. It's expected Jackson will start again this weekend, although Frerotte, who is bothered by a sore back, returned to practice on Wednesday and coach Brad Childress said he will evaluate the situation over the next few days.

The only bad news to came out of the win was an injury to nose tackle Pat Williams, who will be sidelined two to six weeks after suffering a broken scapula against the Cardinals. Williams had received permission from a federal judge to resume playing despite a ban by the NFL for four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He has 44 tackles this season.

His absence will hurt the Vikings' No. 1 rushing defense, which has held opponents to 71.2 yards per game. The Cardinals managed just 43 yards last weekend - the fourth time this season Minnesota held a team below 50 yards rushing.

Backup Fred Evans will get most of the playing time in Williams' place, though Childress said the team will look at every option.

"It's a good dynamic," Childress said. "They all push each other and they understand they all have roles and some of their roles change week to week; but they all want to improve and get better."

Sunday's game pits the NFL's best rush defenses against one of the top rushing offenses. The Falcons (9-5), who can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by Tampa Bay and either Dallas or Philadelphia, average 148.7 yards per game on the ground, tied with the New York Giants for most in the NFL. The Vikings are third at 147.6 yards.

Coming off a 4-12 season in 2007, the Falcons have been one of the league's biggest surprises and a playoff berth could cement first-year coach Mike Smith as coach of the year.

Atlanta hasn't made the playoffs since 2004 when it won the NFC South. It went 19-39 over the next three seasons and had a particularly dismal 2007, when coach Bobby Petrino quit after 13 games and quarterback Michael Vick's legal troubles left the Falcons in turmoil.

"We just need to go out and play well," Smith said. "At the end of it, the league will tell 12 teams that they will get an opportunity to continue playing. That is how we have to look at it. I don't think we need to concern ourselves with any of the scenarios."

Atlanta has won three of its last four, including a 13-10 overtime victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday. The Falcons rushed for 175 yards - their most in six games - led by Michael Turner, who had 152 yards and one touchdown.

Turner is second to Peterson for the league lead in rushing. Peterson is averaging 112.9 yards while Turner is at 101.5. Turner leads the league in rushing touchdowns with 15, scoring six times in the last four games.

"It's going to be great," Turner said of facing Peterson. "The top two rushers in the league going at it."

The Falcons are looking for a cleaner performance against the Vikings after committing seven turnovers in the last three games.

"We've been very fortunate to win (when) we were minus-3 in the turnover ratio," Smith said. "That doesn't happen very often statistically, somewhere around 10 to 15 percent of the time when you're minus-3, so it's something that we have to continue to harp on and make sure that we don't put ourselves in those situations.''

It's especially important since the Vikings are tied for second in the league in forced fumbles (19).

Minnesota beat Atlanta 24-3 on Sept. 9, 2007 at the Metrodome and is 10-3 at home in the all-time series.

Top Public Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
ATLANTA is 4-3 against the spread versus MINNESOTA since 1992
MINNESOTA is 4-3 straight up against ATLANTA since 1992
4 of 7 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
MINNESOTA is 1-0 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
MINNESOTA is 1-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at MINNESOTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 2-1 against the spread versus MINNESOTA since 1992
ATLANTA is 2-1 straight up against MINNESOTA since 1992
2 of 3 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at MINNESOTA over the last 3 seasons.
MINNESOTA is 1-0 against the spread versus ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
MINNESOTA is 1-0 straight up against ATLANTA over the last 3 seasons 
1 of 1 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries:
[RB] Thomas Brown IR - Leg - 08/30/08
[WR] Laurent Robinson missed last game, "?" - Hamstring - 12/14/08
[S] Antoine Harris IR - Groin - 12/09/08
[OT] Renardo Foster is out for the rest of the season. - Knee - 11/21/08
[TE] Ben Hartsock IR - Toe - 11/26/08
[CB] Von Hutchins IR - Foot - 07/28/08
[DE] Jayme Mitchell IR - Knee - 08/09/08
[WR] Darius Reynaud missed last game, "?" - Toe - 12/14/08
[LB] Heath Farwell IR - Knee - 08/11/08
[DT] Kenderick Allen IR - Wrist - 08/19/08
[TE] Garrett Mills missed last game, "?" - Ankle - 12/14/08
[CB] Charles Gordon expected to miss rest of season - Ankle - 11/10/08
[DT] Pat Williams injured last game %27?%27 - Arm - 12/14/08
(!) [QB] Gus Frerotte missed last game, doubtful - Back - 12/14/08
[DE] Kenechi Udeze IR - Illness - 08/16/08
[LB] E.J. Henderson IR - Foot - 10/04/08
[OT] Artis Hicks missed last game, "?" - Elbow - 12/14/08

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Posted: 12/17/08 11:08PM ET

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