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NFL Preview - Minnesota (3-8-1) at Baltimore (6-6)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Matt Cassel will be under center for Minnesota on Sunday as the Vikings try to play spoiler against the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.

The veteran signal caller confirmed the news on Wednesday after his coach Leslie Frazier hedged a bit, saying Cassel would "likely" start because Christian Ponder had not been cleared yet after suffering a concussion in the team's 23-20 overtime win over Chicago in Week 13.

Frazier has stubbornly stuck by Ponder this season despite egregiously poor play from the third-year signal caller. Cassel replaced the concussed former first-round pick late in the first half last week and finished the game 20- for-33 for 243 yards with one touchdown and an interception for the Vikings, who were coming off a tie with Green Bay. Ponder, on the other hand, was just 3-of-8 for 40 yards and flashed his now-patented awful pocket presence again and again.

Cassel has had a hand in all three of Minnesota's wins this season and has outperformed Ponder when given the opportunity. Against the Bears he moved the Vikings consistently and it finally paid off when Blair Walsh hit a 34-yard field goal with 1:43 left in the extra frame.

Adrian Peterson totaled 211 rushing yards on 35 carries and became the third fastest player to eclipse 10,000 career yards. His final three runs totaled 26 yards to set up Walsh's game-winner.

"That was a wild football game and I'm just glad we came out on top," said Frazier. "I'm very proud of the guys and the way they played."

Chicago began the extra frame with the ball and managed a pair of first downs, but had to punt near midfield.

Minnesota then got into field goal range and Walsh hit a 39-yard field goal for what appeared to be the winner. However, a face mask call on Rhett Ellison moved the ball back 15 yards, and Peterson lost three yards on a running play before Walsh missed a 57-yarder wide left.

Chicago's Matt Forte then carried the ball five times for 24 yards setting up the normally reliable Robbie Gould for a 47-yard attempt to win it on second- down, but he missed his chance to the right as the Vikings got one last chance.

A 4-yard run from Peterson was followed by a 17-yard catch from Greg Jennings to get the ball across midfield. After an incompletion, Peterson had runs of 11, 4 and 11 yards to get the ball down to the 16. Walsh then booted the ball through the uprights for the win.

"We always know if we get Walsh in a comfortable zone he is gonna knock it down and win the game," said Cassel. "It feels good to get the victory."

Baltimore also won a thriller in Week 13, edging AFC North-rival Pittsburgh 22-20 on Thanksgiving Night.

Justin Tucker drilled five field goals and Baltimore's defense came up with a decisive stop on a potential game-tying two-point conversion with 1:03 left to help the Ravens hang on.

Tucker's final field goal of the game gave Baltimore a 22-14 lead with 5:37 to play before Ben Roethlisberger guided the Steelers down the field, using a 29- yard catch-and-run from Le'Veon Bell to get the team to the Baltimore 20.

Two plays later, Roethlisberger fired a strike to Heath Miller up the middle for what appeared to be a 20-yard touchdown, but video review showed Miller's knee on the ground just before the ball crossed the goal line.

After being stuffed for no gain on the next play, Bell surged off the left side and dove for the end zone, where a huge collision ensued that sent Bell's helmet flying into the end zone.

Bell, who appeared to lose consciousness on the hit, fell backwards into the end zone for what was originally ruled a touchdown, but the rookie running back was ruled down just short of the end zone because his helmet came off before the ball broke the plane.

"I understand the rule that when a runner's helmet comes off, the play is over, but the issue that I had was I was told on the field that the touchdown was confirmed by multiple officials and then they reviewed it," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's my issue from a mechanics standpoint."

Following an incompletion on third down, Roethlisberger hit Jericho Cotchery on a quick slant for a 1-yard touchdown, but Emmanuel Sanders was unable to hang on to a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass on the next play.

Pittsburgh then attempted an onside kick, but the ball never came close to traveling 10 yards and the Ravens were able to run out the remainder of the clock with a series of kneel downs.

With the victory, Baltimore slid into the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, thanks to a tiebreaker advantage over the Miami Dolphins.

"We are position to control our own destiny," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That is what you try to accomplish going into December. Now it's up to us to make the most of it."

Joe Flacco finished 24-of-35 passing for 251 yards and a touchdown, with Torrey Smith hauling in the score en route to a game-high 93 receiving yards in the win.

"Any time you score 22 points and you basically kicked all field goals, you scored on a lot of drives," Flacco said of his ability to move the offense.

The game, of course, was also marred by Tomlin's strange behavior on a 73-yard kickoff return by Jacoby Jones.

With 6:26 remaining in the third quarter, the Jones was slowed by Tomlin's positioning as he returned the kickoff. Tomlin, who had his back to Jones, was standing in the restricted white border that surrounds the field and stepped foot onto the field during Jones' return.

Jones was ultimately tackled from behind after appearing to have an opportunity at a touchdown. Tomlin should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, but no penalty was called.

"I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization," Tomlin said in a statement after being fined $100,000 on Wednesday. "I accept the penalty that I received."

The Vikings and Ravens have spilt four prior meetings with Minnesota winning the last one, 33-31, on Oct. 18, 2009 in Minneapolis.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

This is one Baltimore has to get. After the Vikings, the NFL's only team without a road victory this season, the Ravens have division leaders Detroit, New England and Cincinnati on the schedule with the Lions and Bengals away from Maryland.

"The idea is to be at your best when it means the most," Harbaugh said. "That's what we try to do. We'll find out whether that is the case for this football team."

The Ravens are 5-1 at home and have allowed just 74 points or just over 12 points a contest.

The Vikings figure to try to make the Ravens one-dimensional on offense, a solid approach because Baltimore averages an NFL-worst 2.9 yards per rush. The Ravens, however, will counter with an imposing deep passing game against one of the league's worst secondaries.

The Ravens' offense could also get a big boost if tight end Dennis Pitta is ready to make his season debut Sunday after suffering a hip injury during training camp. Pitta set career highs with 61 receptions, 669 yards and seven TDs last season and Flacco has missed him, especially on third-down when trying to move the chains.

Minnesota continues to ride the quarterback carousel despite the fact Cassel has been far more effective than Ponder and its conceivable if the ex-Kansas City starter had been playing for a significant period, the Vikings would be in the hunt of what has turned out to be a rather pedestrian NFC North division.

Whomever starts at the game's most important position, however, the Vikings live and die with Peterson, who piled up 143 yards in his lone prior meeting against the Ravens. The best pure runner in football, Peterson leads the NFL with 1,208 rushing yards but hasn't been his explosive self this season due to a nagging groin injury.

"You have got to believe, you can't tuck your tail and run, you can't give up no matter how it looks you have to continue to fight," said Peterson when talking about Minnesota's current plight. "That's one thing that we have done all year; I haven't seen guys quit. When I look in their eyes there is fight there."

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Make no mistake, the Ravens were hoping to see Ponder because Cassel can at least take advantage of some of the eight-and nine-man fronts opposing defenses use to try to stop Peterson.

That said the Ravens have won 26 of their last 30 in the Charm City and Flacco is an imposing 10-1 on his home field against NFC opponents, while the Vikings are the only NFL team yet to win on the road this season.

This will be tougher than most think because of Cassel's presence but Baltimore will hold serve in the end.

"We just have to win. If we win games, things are going to work out for us," Harbaugh said.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 27, Vikings 20

12/05 11:45:36 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
ECU 58
FRES 52
Final
CIN 59
NCCU 50
 
12:00pm Today
UNC
BUT
 
2:30pm Today
ECU
HAW
 
5:00pm Tonight
DUKE
FUR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
POR
 
7:00pm Tonight
NCSU
RICH
 
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
CAR
 
Final
WAS 102
ATL 106
Final
MIA 97
GSW 114
Final
MIL 98
DET 86
Final
NOP 89
SAC 99
Final
DEN 114
CHI 109
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
BRK
 
7:00pm Tonight
ORL
GSW
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
POR
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLE
WAS
 
7:30pm Tonight
DET
LAC
 
7:30pm Tonight
DAL
NYK
 
7:30pm Tonight
ATL
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
MIL
 
8:00pm Tonight
HOU
SAC
 
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
UTA
 
8:30pm Tonight
SAN
IND
 
9:00pm Tonight
PHO
DEN
 
10:30pm Tonight
LAL
MEM
 
Final
UMO 21
OHIO 24
Final
ECU 58
FRES 52
Final
ELON 74
MRGST 73
 
Final
MIZZ 61
PURD 82
Final
MAR 55
HAW 62
Final
UNF 77
LIB 57
 
Final
CHAM 85
BYU 121
Final
BUCK 58
MDES 55
Final
UGST 85
WCU 70
Final
UWGB 64
EVAN 62
Final
ARST 71
ALA 76
Final
OHIO 69
ARKPB 60
 
Final
UNH 75
BU 68
 
Final
OU 70
CHIST 57
Final
TOL 79
DET 82
Final
CLMB 57
FD 47
 
Final
QUIN 50
HART 54
 
Final
SFLA 71
HOF 70
Final
HARV 84
HOU 63
Final
BONA 79
JST 71
 
Final
STJOE 74
LIU 70
 
Final
SYR 70
GHND 37
 
Final
MLOWELL 102
MTIDA 57
 
Final
CIN 59
NCCU 50
 
Final
VT 54
NIOWA 73
Final
WOFF 82
OHVALLEY 54
 
Final
TEMPL 76
PENN 67
Final
RUTG 50
PETE 68
Final
BGU 62
SEMIZ 54
Final
LAS 73
Terriers 60
 
Final
UVA 79
TENST 36
Final
KENT 92
TXARL 44
Final
FSU 66
CITA 55
Final
PBY 63
TOCC 40
 
Final
COOK 56
TENNM 74
 
Final
WMARY 83
WILL 49
Final
USB 71
WKENT 61
 
Final
HIGH 88
WMPEACE 71
 
Final
SMU 72
ARK 78
Final
ARMY 80
BING 54
 
Final
CSOU 80
CARK 67
 
Final
UMBC 54
HOW 68
 
Final
ARZ 72
KYST 68
Final
OREG 63
VCU 77
Final
PSU 78
AKR 72
Final
SCST 92
CIU 55
 
Final
CREI 75
EILL 53
Final
ALAAM 61
JVST 67
 
Final
ABCHRIST 91
JCHR 65
 
Final
TXSA 57
LOYC 71
Final
NDST 64
MNCROOK 63
 
Final
NEB 80
NEOM 67
Final
VANDY 63
NORST 53
 
Final
STLU 57
NCAT 54
 
Final
MTST 65
NARZ 53
Final
TTU 75
NWST 64
 
Final
TULA 74
SOUTH 59
 
Final
ILLCH 87
STXAVIER 76
 
Final
TEX 78
RFLSH 46
Final
BRAD 52
TAMCC 38
 
Final
SMISS 72
TROY 70
Final
DRAK 73
IUPUI 60
Final
ARKST 58
LAM 63
 
Final
FLGC 62
USF 47
Final
COL 68
AFA 53
Final
IDAHO 75
BSU 86
Final
GRCN 64
BUF 80
 
Final
ORU 52
LALAF 76
Final
CHAR 74
MIAMI 77
Final
ISU 63
MD 72
Final
UMO 46
NW 55
Final
SACST 97
BRISTOL 63
 
Final
MICH 55
VILL 60
Final
SDST 74
PITT 57
Final
USC 53
CSFU 49
Final
STAN 84
DEL 47
12:00pm Today
UNC
BUT
 
12:00pm Today
FRES
MAR
 
12:00pm Today
CHAT
RMU
 
12:00pm Today
EMICH
ROCH
 
1:30pm Today
MRGST
LIB
 
2:00pm Today
HAMP
AMER
 
2:00pm Today
BEL
DEN
 
2:00pm Today
UMASS
NE
 
2:00pm Today
JMU
SHU
 
2:00pm Today
KNST
SAMF
 
2:30pm Today
ECU
HAW
 
2:30pm Today
CHAM
MIZZ
 
2:30pm Today
OKLA
UCLA
 
2:30pm Today
CCAR
LAMON
 
4:00pm Today
ELON
UNF
 
4:00pm Today
UWMIL
ORU
 
4:30pm Today
WCU
CHIST
 
5:00pm Tonight
DUKE
FUR
 
5:00pm Tonight
BYU
PURD
 
6:00pm Tonight
EVAN
USF
 
7:00pm Tonight
COL
GTDNS
 
7:00pm Tonight
VERM
BRY
 
7:00pm Tonight
OSU
CAMP
 
7:00pm Tonight
CORN
CAN
 
7:00pm Tonight
LOU
CLST
 
7:00pm Tonight
UCF
DAVID
 
7:00pm Tonight
IONA
DELST
 
7:00pm Tonight
OU
UGST
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOWS
GOUCHER
 
7:00pm Tonight
ND
GRAM
 
7:00pm Tonight
YALE
LAF
 
7:00pm Tonight
GWU
LONG
 
7:00pm Tonight
VT
UMO
 
7:00pm Tonight
WAKE
MNTER
 
7:00pm Tonight
NAVY
PSUHARRIS
 
7:00pm Tonight
NCSU
RICH
 
7:00pm Tonight
MINN
STJ
 
7:00pm Tonight
JVU
TRINBAPT
 
7:00pm Tonight
YOUNG
UMKC
 
7:00pm Tonight
UAB
WISC
 
7:30pm Tonight
PITT
KYST
 
7:30pm Tonight
WVU
VMI
 
8:00pm Tonight
DEP
LEH
 
8:00pm Tonight
UNT
MVSU
 
8:00pm Tonight
MARS
MORE
 
8:00pm Tonight
TCU
RAD
 
8:00pm Tonight
SELA
TENT
 
8:00pm Tonight
SMU
TXSOU
 
8:00pm Tonight
UTAH
TXPA
 
8:00pm Tonight
LMU
UCR
 
8:00pm Tonight
SCAR
UNCA
 
8:00pm Tonight
SD
WAYNEST
 
8:30pm Tonight
UWGB
FLGC
 
8:30pm Tonight
IOWA
NILL
 
9:00pm Tonight
ORST
AUB
 
9:00pm Tonight
MONT
CARROLLMT
 
9:00pm Tonight
SUTAH
EKENT
 
9:00pm Tonight
NMST
FAM
 
9:00pm Tonight
WYO
STET
 
9:05pm Tonight
EWASH
NKENTUCKY
 
9:05pm Tonight
IDST
WLVRN
 
9:30pm Tonight
GEOR
UF
 
9:30pm Tonight
GONZ
UGA
 
9:30pm Tonight
NIOWA
NW
 
10:00pm Tonight
SDST
ARZ
 
10:00pm Tonight
CAL
CPSL
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCD
UTST
 
10:30pm Tonight
NDAK
ALAST
 
11:00pm Tonight
CSNO
PORST
 
11:30pm Tonight
AKAN
PAC
 
11:30pm Tonight
OKST
TULSA
 
Final
CLB 2
WIN 4
Final
NAS 4
LOS 3
Final
STL 2
OTT 3
Final
DAL 3
EDM 2
Final
ARI 3
COL 4
Final
ANA 3
CAL 2
Final
VAN 2
NJD 0
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
WAS
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
WIN
 
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
CAR
 
7:30pm Tonight
TAM
NYR
 
7:30pm Tonight
DET
PHI
 
7:30pm Tonight
PIT
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
LOS
 
9:00pm Tonight
COL
CHI
 
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
CAL