November 11, 2015

Neither was among the first two quarterbacks chosen in the 2014 NFL draft, nor were they the most hyped.

It's unlikely the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders are regretting their decisions to make Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr the present and future faces of their franchises, however.

The second-year standouts square off for the first time when the surging Vikings return to the Bay Area for Sunday's matchup between two of the NFL's first-half surprises.

Minnesota nabbed a sliding Bridgewater with the 32nd and final pick of the first round of last year's draft, four spots ahead of the Raiders' selection of Carr. One has quickly emerged as one of the league's most efficient passers, while the other has his team in prime playoff position at this season's midway point.

Carr's 19 touchdown passes are tied for third-most in the NFL and he's tossed four in each of the last two games, helping long-suffering Oakland (4-4) already surpass its victory total of his 3-13 rookie campaign. The 24-year-old is on pace to record only the third 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history.

"I think Carr's doing a great job of recognition, getting the ball out," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He has a little bit of a gunslinger mentality. He's not afraid to throw the ball into tight cover, down the field, take his chances. It looks like he's playing with a lot of confidence to me."

While Bridgewater hasn't been as impressive statistically, his 12-8 record since becoming the Vikings' starting quarterback four games into last season is easily the best of a 2014 class that contains two other first-round picks in Jacksonville's Blake Bortles and Cleveland's Johnny Manziel.

Six of those victories have come over a seven-game stretch that has Minnesota (6-2) tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North in Zimmer's second season.

Bridgewater wasn't able to finish the latest win after sustaining a concussion early in the fourth quarter of last week's game against St. Louis. He was cleared to practice Wednesday and is on track to start Sunday.

Shaun Hill replaced Bridgewater, knocked out by a shot to the head from Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, though it was Adrian Peterson who had a greater impact on the 21-18 triumph. The star running back recorded 21 of his 125 yards in overtime to set up Blair Walsh's winning field goal.

Peterson is averaging 108.7 yards and 4.8 per carry over the last three weeks and the Vikings have been stout defensively as well during their four-game win streak, yielding 306.8 yards and holding opponents to an 18 percent success rate (9 for 50) on third downs.

"The last three or four ballgames, this kind of shows what kind of team we are as far as how we are on offense, how we are defensively and how we are on special teams," Zimmer said. "We're probably not going to go up and down the field like the Greatest Show on Turf. This is how we're built to win right now."

Minnesota's sixth-ranked pass defense (220.6 ypg) will be challenged by the improving Carr and his formidable receiver tandem of Michael Crabtree (47 receptions, 591 yards, 5 TDs) and rookie Amari Cooper (45 receptions, 653 yards, 4 TDs). The rejuvenated Crabtree has four touchdown catches over the past three weeks and posted his second straight game of seven receptions and 100-plus yards in last Sunday's 38-35 loss at Pittsburgh.

Oakland's dangerous passing attack may not have to lead the way again this week, as leading rusher Latavius Murray practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a concussion in Pittsburgh.

The Raiders, though, might have to air it out after surrendering a whopping 597 total yards to the Steelers, with Antonio Brown accumulating 284 on a franchise-record 17 catches.

"It is definitely not something that the secondary is proud of," cornerback David Amerson said. "We know we are better than that. We have to get back to the board and we have to practice to get better."

The secondary may be getting a boost in the expected return of safety Nate Allen, sidelined since the season opener by a knee injury.

Oakland has won five of seven at Coliseum dating to last season and is 5-1 all-time at home against Minnesota, which also was dealt an unwanted result when it visited the Bay Area in Week 1. The Vikings gained a season-low 248 total yards in a 20-3 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 14.

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