PLAYER IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Until further notice, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will remain the central figure under the spotlight, continuing an extraordinary season that has him in position to break Eric Dickerson's single-season NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards.
And yeah, even being 294 yards shy of that mark, Peterson believes it's possible he can break the record Sunday.
Consider this: Houston's Arian Foster is having another standout season and leads the AFC with 1,313 rushing yards for the season. Peterson? He also has 1,313 rushing yards -- in his past eight games.
Foster has rewarded his offensive lineman by buying them all Segways for Christmas. There's no word on what kind of gift Peterson might deliver soon.
Said left guard Charlie Johnson: "I'm just doing my job. I get paid pretty well to do what I'm doing. But, at the same time, I'm not going to turn anything away."
Johnson is one of 52 teammates inside the Vikings locker room marveling at Peterson's dominance and still amazed by his clutch 52-yard run in the fourth quarter in St. Louis.
Said Johnson: "To have the ability to start downhill one way yet have the ability to get back to the back side so quickly, it's something I've never seen before."
MOST PRESSING QUESTION
Can the Vikings neutralize Texans defensive end J.J. Watt?
As terrific as Peterson has been, Watt's production might be equally remarkable. Active in the trenches of Houston's 3-4 defense, Watt has an NFL-best 19 1/2 sacks plus 15 pass deflections. On top of that, he also has had his hand in nine Texans takeaways.
Said coach Gary Kubiak: "He's had as good a year as a football player as I've ever been around in the National Football League."
Johnson and fellow guards Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz will have their hands full as Watt moves around. Quarterback Christian Ponder will also have to work extra hard to create open throwing lanes and to stay poised in a pocket that may collapse frequently.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
The Vikings kickoff coverage.
In a season where so many dramatic improvements have been made in taking care of little things, the Vikings kick coverage has been underappreciated.
Sure, Blair Walsh has produced 47 touchbacks on 73 kickoffs. At the same time, the Vikings haven't allowed a kick return past the 25-yard line since Week 5, leaving special teams coordinator Mike Priefer commending the front office for supplying so many dedicated young players.
"Special teams in some teams is kind of an insult," Priefer said, "where here we've got guys itching to play special teams. And I think that's the mentality and the culture we've established here that's really made a difference."
Last week in St. Louis, the Vikings made kickoff stops at the Rams 12 and 14. A week earlier, they stopped the Bears at their own 17, 11, 14 and 15.
Despite clinching the AFC South last week, Houston still has everything to play for, needing a win to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Texans have outscored opponents 221-133 before halftime this season, imposing for a Vikings squad that's 1-5 when trailing at halftime. The Texans have also won time of possession in 12 of 14 games, ranking first in the NFL in that category (33:42 per game).
Defensive end Brian Robison returned to practice in a limited capacity Friday, fighting through the discomfort of his Grade 3 shoulder sprain. He is listed as questionable for Sunday. Coach Leslie Frazier is saying he will wait to see how Robison responds physically and mentally to the work he did Friday.
"What he has to say will make a difference," Frazier said.
Cornerback Chris Cook, meanwhile, will be activated off injured reserve and will play in Houston after missing the past six games because of a broken bone in his right arm.
Other players on this week's injury report, all probable, are: Matt Kalil (illness), Adrian Peterson (abdomen/groin), Antoine Winfield (knee), Jared Allen (shoulder), Chris Kluwe (left knee/right groin), Phil Loadholt (knee), Mistral Raymond (ankle), Everson Griffen (elbow) and Marcus Sherels (quadriceps/elbow).