December 24, 2015

The Minnesota Vikings may already be in the playoffs by the time they take the field Sunday night while the New York Giants know they won't have a chance to join them.

The Vikings and the red-hot Teddy Bridgewater are in pursuit of the NFC North title as they host an eliminated Giants team that is without suspended wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Minnesota (9-5) will secure a playoff berth before taking the field if either Seattle wins or Atlanta loses Sunday. The Vikings can also make the playoffs with a win, and can clinch their first North crown since 2009 with a victory over the Giants and one next Sunday at Green Bay.

"We just have to understand the situation," Bridgewater said. "It's the time of the year where teams are playing their best football, and I'm glad that we're on the upside of that right now and have momentum heading into this next game. It's good to get things going in December, especially with the chance to make a playoff run."

New York (6-8) was eliminated when Washington captured the NFC East title Saturday by winning at Philadelphia.

That lessens the impact of the loss of Beckham, suspended Monday for his conduct in last Sunday's 38-35 loss to Carolina. The ban was upheld Wednesday after hearing officer James Thrash listened to an appeal by the dynamic wide receiver. Beckham earned the suspension after drawing three personal foul penalties, including one for a diving helmet-to-helmet hit on Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.

''I owe some people an apology. I wasn't raised to act like I did the other day,'' Beckham said in a statement issued by the Giants.

''I am not here to make excuses for my conduct. This isn't about anything that was said or done to me. This is about my behavior, and I am responsible for my behavior. People expect better from me, and I expect better from myself.''

New York expects to be in a difficult position without Beckham, who has 91 catches for 1,396 yards and 13 touchdowns, tied for the league lead. His seven TD receptions of at least 20 yards are tied for second-most in the NFL.

"We got to go forward. Period," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Obviously you would like to have that player with you."

Bridgewater has stepped up his play in the last two games, throwing a career-best 335 yards in a loss at Arizona on Dec. 10 and posting a career-high 154.4 passer rating in last Sunday's 38-17 win over Chicago. Against the Bears, Bridgewater had more touchdown passes (four) than incompletions (three) and became the second quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 85 percent of his passes while throwing four TD passes without an interception and running for a score in a single game.

''These last two weeks, I've seen a different look in his eyes,'' teammate Adrian Peterson said. ''I really don't have to say much to him.''

The second-year quarterback has a favorable matchup going up against a Giants team that is last in the league in pass defense, allowing 308.4 yards per game. Cam Newton threw five TDs last Sunday and New York hasn't picked off a pass in the last four weeks as opponents have a 105.8 passer rating in that span.

"We just have to continue to execute with the same intensity and have the same mindset going into this game," Bridgewater said.

Although Bridgewater is getting more comfortable in the offense, the Vikings are still a run-first team.

Peterson, Minnesota's lone Pro Bowl pick, has a nine-yard lead on Tampa Bay's Doug Martin for the NFL rushing title and is confident he'll play after being forced out for part of last week's game with a sprained left ankle. Peterson was hurt in the second quarter and only rushed six times after halftime but said he'll be fine.

He faces a Giants defense that allowed 171 rushing yards to the Panthers and is yielding 5.9 yards per attempt over the last two weeks.

The Minnesota defense could have safety Harrison Smith (knee/hamstring), linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (foot) back. They've each essentially missed the last three games and Joseph played four seasons with the Giants and won a Super Bowl with them.

''If the guy is iffy health-wise and we we're already in the playoffs, then I may sit him for another week,'' coach Mike Zimmer said.

The Vikings may see the Giants keep the ball on the ground a bit more with Beckham being suspended and Rashad Jennings coming off a season-high 107 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

However, Eli Manning had his second straight four-touchdown game last week and Minnesota has allowed its last three opponents to throw seven TDs and record a 115.2 passer rating. Manning has already set a career high with 32 touchdown passes, besting the 31 he threw in 2010.

The Giants have won the last two meetings with the Vikings, who are looking to reverse their trend of poor play in night games.

Minnesota is 3-18 in night games since 2009 and has lost five straight Sunday night contests.

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