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Place: Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota
John Skelton returns to his role as Arizona’s starting quarterback when the Cardinals visit the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in a battle of playoff contenders.
Skelton won the job from Kevin Kolb coming out of training camp, but promptly sprained his ankle in Week 1. Kolb, a big reason for the Cardinals’ 4-0 start, injured his ribs in Arizona’s 19-16 overtime loss to Buffalo last week and is expected to miss 6-to-8 weeks.
The Vikings were allowing only 15.8 points per game before getting thrashed at Washington 38-26, so a better defensive effort is expected from sack specialist Jared Allen and Co.
Arizona Cardinals (4-2): Arizona yielded 22 sacks in the last three games – and an NFL-high 28 this season – and must brace for Allen, who has a sack in each of the last four games among Minnesota’s 15 sacks.
One way to keep the Vikings from pressuring Skelton is to jump-start the NFL’s No. 27 rushing offense at 83.2 yards per game, although Minnesota’s No. 11 rushing defense (96.0) may have something to say about that. Undrafted rookie William Powell, the third-string running back, had 70 yards on 13 carries last week in his first start.
Arizona’s No. 3 defense is third in sacks with 19, led by linebacker Daryl Washington’s four. The Cardinals are also eighth in the league with a plus-4 turnover margin.
Minnesota Vikings (4-2): Minnesota also must do a better job of protecting its quarterback as Christian Ponder has been sacked 13 times, tied for 11th-most in the league. Ponder went down four times last week, but did have time to complete 11 passes for 133 yards to Percy Harvin, who leads the NFL with 49 receptions.
Minnesota’s other top offensive weapon – running back Adrian Peterson – is seventh in the NFL with 499 yards, and leads the league’s No. 8 rushing attack which produces 126.8 per game. The Vikings have lost five fumbles – seventh-worst in the NFL – and must do a better job protecting the ball against Arizona’s opportunistic defense.
1. Skelton is 8-4 as a starter.
2. Ponder didn’t throw an interception in his first four games this season but has thrown four in his last two contests.
3. The teams have met four straight seasons with Minnesota winning three, including a 34-10 victory in 2011 when Peterson rushed for three touchdowns and 122 yards.
Vegas Prediction: Vikings 23, Cardinals 16