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NFL Minnesota Vikings

NFL Playoffs: Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch In The Wild Card Round

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NFL Playoffs: Five Minnesota Vikings To Watch vs. Green Bay

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations for the Minnesota Vikings entering the regular season were not high, as they were widely considered the fourth-best team in the NFC North and not nearly as good as the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. 2012 would most certainly be a rebuilding year, especially with what looked to be a very challenging late season schedule.

The uncertainty surrounding running back Adrian Peterson’s health after the left knee injury he suffered on Christmas Eve 2011 served to further dampen the optimism surrounding the Vikings. An absolute best-case scenario looked like six or seven wins, with obviously no postseason hopes but hopefully something to build on for the 2013 season.

But the Vikings wound up being one of the most surprising teams in the league this season, going 10-6 and securing a playoff spot with a win at home over the Packers in Week 17. Peterson got off to a bit of a slow start as he worked his way back from his injury, but ultimately had one of the best rushing seasons in league history with 2,097 yards.

Now Minnesota will take their four game winning streak to end the regular season to Green Bay to take on the Packers for the second straight week and the third time overall this season. The Packers won the previous matchup at Lambeau Field back in Week 13, so the Vikings will be looking for a measure of revenge as well as a playoff upset.

Here are five players I feel hold the keys to a Vikings’ victory on Saturday night.

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5. DE Everson Griffen

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With Brian Robison dealing with a shoulder injury over the last few weeks, Griffen has gotten an opportunity to play more and has made the most of it. He had three sacks in Week 17 against Green Bay, and his eight sacks during the regular season were third on the team behind Jared Allen (12) and Robison (8.5). Griffen has difference-making potential as a physical mismatch for the Packers’ offensive line, and he needs to make an impact play or two in what will be a tough road environment.

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4. RB Adrian Peterson

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Putting Peterson on this list is obvious, and maybe he should be higher, but his production against the Packers this season (409 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) can’t be ignored. The running game will again be a critical component for the Vikings’ offense this weekend, and that clearly begins and ends with the NFL’s best running back.

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3. DE Jared Allen

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Allen did not approach the single-season record for sacks this season as he did in 2011, but he did lead the Vikings with 12 sacks, including three over the final two games and one last week against Green Bay. How effective Minnesota’s pass rush is on Saturday night will be one of the biggest factors in who wins the game, and Allen’s performance will be a key barometer for that.

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2. CB Antoine Winfield

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Winfield is dealing with a broken right hand that prevented him from playing in the second half against Green Bay last week, and his absence clearly affected the Vikings’ cornerback rotation as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers frequently targeted Marcus Sherels and A.J. Jefferson. Head coach Leslie Frazier has said he expects Winfield to play on Saturday night, and his mere presence on the field regardless of how well he plays could have a galvanizing effect on the team.

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1. QB Christian Ponder

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Ponder’s turnaround after struggling through the middle part of the season coincided with the Vikings’ winning streak, and he had perhaps his best game of the entire season against Green Bay in Week 17 (16-for-28 for 234 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions). Green Bay defensive cooordinator Dom Capers will most certainly dial up an aggressive blitz scheme on Saturday night, so Ponder will need to continue to perform well on third down and avoid bad mistakes for the Vikings to win.