Of the eight players already on Minnesota's injured reserve list, including four of its original starters on offense, running back Adrian Peterson has as realistic a chance as any to be designated for return later this season. If anyone can recover in time from a torn meniscus in his right knee, Peterson is probably the one.
''I look at it as he's going to do everything he can to get back,'' general manager Rick Spielman said. ''I look at it also as that's at least eight, nine weeks of not taking hits on that body, which is going to make him pretty fresh.''
The four-time All-Pro, who led the NFL in rushing last year, is facing an uncertain future with the Vikings, though. His contract in its current form calls for an $18 million charge against the salary cap for 2017, and the Vikings must decide whether to keep him prior to the start of free agency. With Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata sharing the position and Sam Bradford operating predominantly out of the shotgun formation, the Vikings have been more creative and versatile on offense, and shown what their post-Peterson scheme can look like .
''At the end of the season, we'll assess everything, where we're at,'' Spielman said. ''I have looked a lot at what our 2017 roster is going to look like and some of the significant contracts we may have coming up and some of the guys we may not be able to afford to keep. So you're always planning to look ahead from that front.''
WITHOUT BIG BEN: The Pittsburgh Steelers occasionally aren't comfortable in the role of favorites, particularly on the road. The latest chapter came in an ugly 30-15 loss to Miami last week that dropped the Steelers to 5-11 in their last 16 games away from Heinz Field against teams with losing records.
''We're not really helping with that statistic,'' joked linebacker Arthur Moats.
The reverse, however, is also true.
The Steelers (4-2) don't exactly crater when they face long odds, even without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is out for Sunday's game against New England after undergoing surgery on his left knee. Pittsburgh is 11-9 in games Roethlisberger hasn't started in his career and the Steelers have been competitive in every loss, all of which have come by 10 points or less.
The Patriots represent perhaps Pittsburgh's toughest test with Roethlisberger's No. 7 missing, though the Steelers don't have to think back far to gather proof they can hang in when they're up against it. They led eventual Super Bowl champion Denver in the fourth quarter on the road in the playoffs last season even though they were playing without injured running backs Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams and All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The oddsmakers, however, remain unconvinced. The line jumped to a touchdown when news of Roethlisberger's injury came out.
''We don't need everybody on our side,'' Bell said. ''Obviously my teammates, we're the people that need to believe in us. It's not about what the naysayers say. It's not about what social media says.''
HIGH SCHOOL HELP: The NFL will be providing funding to public high schools with football programs that have limited or no access to an athletic trainer.
Through the NFL Foundation, the program is an expansion of the athletic trainer initiatives developed and implemented over the past two years.
The NFL Foundation will partner with the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI), the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS) and Gatorade to award up to 150 grants to high schools in four pilot states. Each grant will be in the amount of $35,000 awarded over a three-year period to fund an athletic training program.
An athletic trainer is a licensed medical professional who has specific expertise in preventing, recognizing, treating and rehabilitating athletic injuries. However, nearly two-thirds of high schools across the country lack a full-time athletic trainer, and almost 30 percent of high schools do not have any athletic trainer at all, the league notes. This pilot program will test ways in which to address this issue.
''NFL teams have long seen the value of athletic trainers' knowledge and experience when it comes to health and safety,'' says NFL Foundation Chairwoman Charlotte Jones Anderson, ''and this program will help provide that same expertise at the high school level.''
MARTZ AND ZORN: Mike Martz and Jim Zorn will coach the teams in January's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
It will be the third straight year that Martz has worked the college football all-star game, played at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. He will coach the National team, while Zorn makes his debut in the game as coach of the American squad.
One year after coaching in the East-West Shrine Game, Zorn, former head coach of the Washington Redskins, moves to the Jan. 21 contest for draft-eligible players.
Martz was the heads coach of the Rams from 2000-2005, leading them to the 2001 NFC championship. He has won the Collegiate Bowl the last two seasons.
Founded in 2012, the annual game run by the National Football League Players Association draws nearly 200 scouts, player personnel staff, general managers and head coaches from the 32 NFL teams. Former NFL players are on hand to work with the prospects.
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner and Dave Campbell, and Sports Writer Will Graves contributed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL