Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/17/11
The recent history between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints has forever changed the two franchises since they met in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 24, 2010. New Orleans' 31-28 overtime victory propelled them to a win in the Super Bowl. The two teams met again in the season opener of the 2010 season with the Saints winning 14-9, the first loss in a season that led to the eventual dismissal of coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre. While it's little consolation at this point, some of the Vikings' players, including defensive end Jared Allen, say they'd still like the satisfaction of beating New Orleans. Minnesota (2-11) hosts the Saints (10-3) on Sunday. Here are five things to look for during Sunday's game: 1. How effective will Adrian Peterson be in his first game in four weeks? Peterson has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain and is listed as probable to return. Despite missing the three games and most of the game in which he was injured, Peterson still leads the Vikings with 872 rushing yards and his 12 total touchdowns are tied for fourth in the entire league. Peterson said he is about 85 percent recovered with his ankle injury and coach Leslie Frazier hinted Peterson wouldn't immediately return to a full workload in his first game back. After a tough first two weeks as Peterson's replacement, Toby Gerhart has gotten stronger in the past two weeks, rushing for 181 yards in losses to Denver and Detroit. Gerhart's progress gives Minnesota a good reason to not overload Peterson for his first game in a month. The Vikings' offensive line has also had two of its best run-blocking games of the season. The Saints are 15th in the league against the run, but teams have had to forgo the running game at times while playing catch-up against the explosive Saints. Minnesota has to stay close enough to stick with his fourth-ranked rushing offense. 2. Can rookie Christian Ponder demonstrate he is learning from his mistakes? Ponder is receiving valuable experience in his first season, starting Minnesota's last seven games. Poor decisions and bad throws have become too common for the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft though. Ponder has seemed to regress after a strong start. He had three turnovers in his first four games, but has had 10 turnovers (eight interceptions and two lost fumbles) in the past four games. Also limited with a hip pointer injury, Ponder was pulled from last week's game after four turnovers. Ponder has three more games to show he is making progress, learning from mistakes and to prove he is indeed the team's quarterback of the future. Other quarterbacks have struggled in their first seasons, but Ponder has to avoid repeating mistakes. 3. Does Minnesota's defense have any chance against Drew Brees? Quarterback Drew Brees is the key cog in New Orleans' No. 1 ranked offense. With Brees throwing to multiple targets, the Saints also have the top-passing offense in the league. Brees is on pace to snap Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing mark. Brees has 4,368 yards passing the most for any player through 13 games of a season. He's passed for 32 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. Jimmy Graham has turned into one of the league's best receiving tight ends with 80 catches for 1,101 yards and eight touchdowns. Six other players have caught at least 26 passes this season from Brees, including running back Darren Sproles' 74 catches. The Vikings' issues in the secondary are well documented at this point, with the team ranking 26th in the league against the pass. Minnesota will have a tough time keeping Brees from leaping closer to Marino's records. 4. Will Percy Harvin receive more chances on kick returns? Without Peterson in the lineup, receiver Percy Harvin has become the go-to player for the Vikings' offense. Harvin's put together some of the best receiving games of his career the past three weeks, while continuing to take carries in the backfield. Harvin's use on kick returns has been a season-long question though. Harvin's explosiveness provides a different look from Lorenzo Booker and Marcus Sherels. Harvin's last two returns have gone for 47 and 104 yards, but he's only had three returns in the past six weeks while his use on offense has increased. Harvin said he talked to coaches this week and was willing to take more kick returns. He's done his lobbying and believes he will see more chances with three games remaining, but do the coaches agree? 5. Can Allen keep up his sack pace? Allen had three sacks in last week's loss to Detroit and now has a league-leading 17.5 sacks this season. Putting himself in defensive player of the year consideration, Allen is nearing Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a season with three games left. Allen has been held without at least a half-sack just twice this season. Brees gets the ball out as quick as any quarterback in the league. He has been sacked 23 times this season, a very low amount considering his league-high 543 pass attempts. If anyone can get to Brees though, it might be Allen, who leads the NFL in sacks since 2004 with 100.5 and is second on the all-time list for most sacks in the first eight NFL seasons, trailing only all-time leader Reggie White.
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